The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is issuing a final rule amending the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations to implement a requirement for contingency plans for the handling of animals during emergencies. This lifts a stay on a December 2012 rule that requires regulated facilities to develop contingency plans and train their employees on implementing those plans during an emergency.

Past emergencies and disasters, such as hurricane Katrina and wildfires in the West, have shown the need for AWA-regulated facilities to have contingency plans at the ready to safeguard the welfare of—and even save the lives of—their animals. A critical part of ensuring animal welfare is making sure that facilities can continue to provide food, water, housing, protection and appropriate veterinary care for animals during an emergency, especially if facilities are damaged or animal handlers cannot get to the facility. 

As such, planning ahead is vital to being prepared for unforeseen emergencies or disasters, and under the final rule, regulated facilities are required to proactively develop specific, thought-out contingency plans via an easily fillable form to address steps they will take to safeguard their animals.

As part of their plan, facilities need to identify types of emergencies common in the local area and that may impact their particular facility; establish a clear reporting chain of command for employees, as well as specific tasks they would need to undertake to protect their animals; and identify nearby auxiliary materials and resources essential to their animals’ welfare and where to locate them. Additionally, facilities will be required to train their employees on how to implement these plans.

Just like families carefully plan how they will react and respond to emergencies or disasters that affect them, this rule will ensure regulated businesses take the time and care to think ahead of their animals’ welfare and ensure it’s a priority. 

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APHIS is now issuing this final rule, with a few additional modifications, including updating the compliance dates listed in that stayed rule to 180 days after effective date of final rule; modifying the dates in the final rule regarding when facilities must provide training to personnel to 60 days after the contingency plans are put in place; and making minor editorial revisions to several sections of the stayed final rule to clarify APHIS’ intent.

This final rule may be viewed at https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/2021-26174/handling-of-animals-contingency-plans. It is effective January 3, 2022.

APHIS is committed to ensuring the welfare of regulated animals and continues to carry out the critical day-to-day work of ensuring the humane treatment of vulnerable animals through unannounced inspections, pre-compliance visits, horse protection inspections, and other activities.