Health Certificates Necessary for Shipping?

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Q: We have received a lot of conflicting information concerning the need for health certificates. Some of the airlines insist on us having them, claiming that it is federal law; others say health certificates are not necessary. Still others have some employees that require them, and others from the same company say they are not required. Isn’t the law the same for everyone? We have asked our veterinarian, and he said that the certificates are required, but, of course, he is the one who makes all the money on them. I would rather not have to pay my veterinarian $35 every time I want to ship a bird. How have you handled this situation? Do you present health certificates to the airlines in order to ship birds to other states?

A: I have been shipping birds interstate via commercial airlines for more than 20 years. During the height of the baby season, I will send out as many as eight shipments a week. I have never presented a health certificate to any airline for interstate shipments. There are now a few states-Virginia, Connecticut and Hawaii among them-that require health certificates for birds that enter their state. This, however, is a state law, not a federal one. The buyers in these states are required to have these certificates on hand for inspection by the state authorities if they should ask for them. These requirements have nothing to do with the airlines.

The airlines are governed by federal regulations concerning interstate transportation. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations state that health certificates must accompany interstate shipments of animals. As of this writting, birds do not require health certificates under USDA regulations. They do not fall under the USDA definition of animals-animals, birds, reptiles and fish are definitively separate in USDA terminology.

The problem arises when some well-meaning, inexperienced cargo agent decides that birds are animals. They are usually thinking in terms of everything on the planet is either animal, vegetable or mineral. Although this very broad definition is accurate within its own frame of reference, it has nothing to do with the definitions that concern interstate shipments. I once ran into such a situation when a new agent began receiving cargo for one of the commercial carriers. He, under the above broad definition, demanded that I show him the health certificate that listed all of the birds as being examined by a veterinarian and in good health. I was finally able to drive the point home by reminding him that if birds are animals and, therefore, require health certificates, then he should have also required health certificates for the shipment of 10,000 tropical fish bound for New York, as well as the millions of microbes present in a shipment of biological samples being shipped to Texas A&M University.

You should not allow ignorance to take away your hard-earned money. If these agents will not listen to reason, call the USDA and request a letter that states that birds are not animals and do not need health certificates. Communicate with the head cargo office of the company that is giving you the problem, show them the letter, and tell them to send a memo to the offending station. A colleague of mine recently accomplished this with USAir in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She, rather than her veterinarian, now has an extra $35 in her pocket after each shipment.