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Include Mice, Rats and Birds in the Animal Welfare Act

By January 17, 2013

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Most people don't realize that the Animal Welfare Act exempts most animals used by humans, including 95% of the animals in laboratories.

Rats, mice and birds used in laboratories are not covered. Livestock are not covered. Cold-blooded animals like snakes, frogs, turtles and fish and not covered. Granted, the protection is minimal. Under the AWA, laboratories are still allowed to perform experiments on guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs and monkeys, but the AWA has basic requirements for food, water, and shelter. And the AWA requires reporting, so we may finally discover how many rats and mice are used in experiments every year.

To be clear, animal rights advocates oppose vivisection no matter how well the animals are treated. From an animal rights viewpoint, using animals for experiments violates the animals' rights to be free of human use and exploitation, and regulating food, water and cage size will never make those experiments acceptable. In our society, animal protection laws tend to regulate the conditions under which the exploitation takes place, but right now, the rats, mice and birds don't even have that.

Rats, mice and birds have not always been excluded from the AWA, but they have never been protected, either. This is because the law does not specify standards for protecting animals, but directs the USDA to adopt regulations to protect the animals, and the regulations have not always matched the law. The original AWA passed in 1966, but did not include rats, mice or birds. Originally, the law covered only cats, dogs, nonhuman primates, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. When the law was amended in 1970 to include all warm-blooded animals, the Secretary of Agriculture excluded rats, mice and birds from the regulations. In 2002, the law itself was amended to exclude rats, mice and birds in laboratories, although these same animals in pet stores would be covered by the AWA.

Now, there is something we can do about this.

Rats being used in vivisection
White rats in a laboratory.
China Photos / Getty Images.

What you can do: U.S. Representative Gerald Connolly has introduced a bill to include rats, mice and birds under the AWA. According to Animal Legal Defense Fund, "a USDA inspector discovered a rat dying in a University of Hawaii freezer, yet could not enforce this 'egregious lack of humane care' because rats are not protected" under the AWA. ALDF is asking supporters to contact their federal legislators to ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 6693. You can look up your U.S. Representative on the House of Representatives website, while your senators can be found on the official Senate website. A personal communication is always best, but if you're short on time, use the ALDF webform to contact your legislators. Just click here.

Never contacted your legislators before? Learn more about grassroots lobbying here.

Learn more about the Animal Welfare Act and about H.R. 6693.


January 19, 2013 at 11:11 am
(1) Susan McCauley says:

Thank you so much for this article and all of the others. I’ve shared on fb.

May 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm
(2) kathy says:


April 9, 2014 at 1:53 pm
(3) Wyatt says:

the reason it is like that is becasue it would cost millions of dollars to keep track of all the information required when testing is done. that money is gotten through grants from the government and organizations. also, would you rather them test stuff on people?

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