Bird Shippers of America Answer HSUS Charges

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Bird Shippers of America Answers HSUS Charges

In a letter dated November 21, 2005, Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), wrote Postmaster General John E. Potter citing "long-standing concerns" of the practice of the air mail of birds because of the "sever humane implications for millions of birds mailed across the county every year." Pacelle indicated shipping of day-old chicks currently "warranted attention on the possibility of a worldwide pandemic related to avian influenza" caused HSUS to bring the issue to the attention of the Untied States Postal Service (USPS).

Citing the discretionary aspect of legislation authored by Senator Charles Grassley R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and passed by the Congress that mandates air carriers to accept live animals as mail if the carrier "commonly and regularly" carry animals as cargo, Pacelle urged the USPS to immediately rescind its current policy of requiring airlines to accept live day-old chicks for shipment. 39 USC §5402(e)(2)(A).

At the urging of Senator Grassley, on August 26, 2005, Paul Vogel, Vice President for Network Operations Management of the USPS wrote Federal Express demanding it carry birds under its mail contract since FedEx does, in fact, carry animals as cargo and is, therefore, covered by the statute. FedEx replied on September 30, 2005 that since it "commonly and regularly" refused to carry certain animals, it is exempt from coverage by the statute. This issue has yet to be resolved but in the HSUS letter, Pacelle also urged the USPS to continue to permit FedEx not to carry birds under its mail contract.

Pacelle stated that bird breeder companies are catering to "backyard poultry" customers that has resulted in "HSUS and other animal protection organizations regularly [receiving] complaints about birds dying after they were sent by U.S. Mail." Pacelle further claims that an official of the USPS was told by the Bird Shippers of America (BSA) that "last year more birds arrived at their final destination (sic) dead than alive."

Firstly, no one representing BSA ever said that statement as it is not a fact. Secondly, the official at the USPS denies he ever made that statement to HSUS or anyone else. In another factual misrepresentation, Pacelle claimed the Northwest Airlines (NW) "decided to no longer accept baby birds on commercial flights after 300 chicks died from exposure to rain on a routine lay-over." However, NW has told the BSA that the reason it declined to carry ANY air mail on domestic flights is that its share of the total air mail market went from 12% to 2% after the USPS went from negotiated contracts to bid contracts. More significantly, however, NW does, in fact, carry day-old chicks by airmail out of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit and continues to carry poultry as cargo. And finally, the USPS and NW have been in discussions relative to NW again carrying lives by mail throughout its system. In another inaccuracy that HSUS used in opposing the successful effort to obtain the legislation mandating air lines to carry lives as mail, it Firstly, HSUS ignores the science acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other veterinarians that since chicks are hatched in 99° F and brooded in 95° F. Consequently, shipping them a day after birth in 95° F is not inhumane. Secondly, day-old chicks feed on the unabsorbed yolk for at least 72 hours after being hatched. Thus, the food and water issue is not an issue for day-old chicks.

The thrust of the letter is clearly to raise the issue of a H5N1 strain of avian influenza outbreak. To date, there is not sufficient data to cause any drastic action resulting in a ban of interstate commerce in shipping day-old birds. More significantly, however, there is no scientific evidence any where in the world to indicate that day-old birds have been a carrier of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

BSA will be contacting officials of the USPS and Members of the Congress regarding the misinformation and statement raised in the HSUS letter. Further, the members of BSA pledge to work with federal and state health officials to insure that only disease free poultry will be shipped in interstate commerce whether by surface of air transport.