Congress To Consider Ban On Exotic Pets

An April hearing on federal legislation could halt the trade of nonnative animal species in the U.S. commonly kept as pets.

A hearing is set for April 23 on federal legislation that could halt the trade in thousands of nonnative animal species in the U.S., including most birds, reptiles, fish and several mammals — hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and ferrets — commonly kept as pets.

The bill, House Resolution 669, the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, would exempt dogs, cats, horses and goldfish and a variety of farm animals. It will be considered before the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a Washington, D.C.-based pet industry trade group, is urging pet industry members, including veterinarians, to contact the subcommittee with concerns about the proposal.

Marshall Meyers of PIJAC has been invited to speak as the sole spokesman for the private sector, including pet owners and the pet industry. He will testify against the bill in its current form.

PIJAC has posted a list of subcommittee members.  

Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Assn., also opposes the bill as written. 

“If passed, it could negatively impact the entire pet industry,” he wrote in a letter to members and the media.

“In a nutshell,” Vetere wrote, “this bill will require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to produce two lists of pets after conducting a risk assessment for each nonnative wildlife species in the U.S. to determine if it is likely to ‘cause economic or environmental harm or harm to other animal species’ health or human health.’  “In order to be placed on the ‘Approved’ list, it must be established that the species has not, or is not likely to, cause ‘harm’ anywhere in the U.S.  Otherwise it goes to the ‘Unapproved’ list.

“’Nonnative species’ in the pet trade encompasses virtually every bird, reptile, amphibian, fish and a number of mammals (hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, ferrets) commonly kept as pets,” Vetere noted. 

“The way the bill is written, HR 669 would essentially ban all species that do not appear on the approved list, regardless of whether they have ever been petitioned for listing or are sufficiently well-studied to enable a listing determination.”

APPA and PIJAC agree with the underlying intent of HR 669 to establish a risk-based process to prevent the introduction of potentially invasive species.

“It has been clear for quite some time that steps are needed to enhance and improve the current listing process for species shown to be injurious under the existing Lacey Act,” Vetere said.

He said that among his concerns with the bill is the listing criteria mandate “proving a negative that no harm has, or is likely to occur within the whole of the United States. We all know how difficult that is.”

The lists would be created based on risk assessments of the species’ potential likelihood to “cause economic or environmental harm or harm to another animal species’ health or human health.”

Currently, species are banned under the Lacey Act only after they are determined to be an actual threat.

One of PIJAC’s concerns with the legislation includes the difficulty in proving that a species, including the thousands that have already been in trade in the U.S. for decades or more, would not be able to establish and spread wild populations in some portion of the country. For example, would a species that could be a threat in Hawaiian waters really be a threat in Kansas or Arizona?

PIJAC is also concerned that the legislation calls for funding the risk assessment program through user fees, which could be difficult to raise for smaller-market species.

PIJAC contends that the Fish and Wildlife Service does not have the resources to conduct risk assessments under the legislation’s timetables–37 months from the bill’s enactment to assess all nonnative species, compared to average four years to find a species harmful under the current Lacey Act.

The wildlife service could also determine if it has insufficient scientific and commercial information to determine a species is either approved or unapproved, effectively banning trade in those species.

The legislation would prohibit import into or export from the United States, and interstate transportation of any species not specifically listed on the approved list.

It would ban the possession or trade, breeding and release into the wild of such species.

Animal owners who obtained their animals before the risk assessment’s beginning would be allowed to keep their animals.

Species that may be harmful but are already “so widespread in the United States that it is clear to the Secretary that any import prohibitions or restrictions would have no practical utility” could be included on the approved list.

PIJAC calls the risk assessment too simplistic and prefers a risk analysis approach instead. The risk analysis would consider socio-economic factors as well.


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