A Proposed Bill in New York Seeks to Prohibit the Shipment of Live Animals by Mail After Recent USPS Delays Reveal Devastating Impacts

Nicolette Merlino

On February 4, 2021, New York Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal introduced a bill (A4611) which, if enacted, would amend New York’s agriculture and marketing law to prohibit the shipment of certain “live animals” by postal mail into or within the state of New York and from the state of New York to points outside the State. 

The proposed legislation is a response to the devastating impact that recent USPS setbacks are having on the lives of animals shipped by postal mail. As a result of drastic financial cuts, USPS has recently experienced an elevated level of shipment delays and heightened reports of lost mail. Shipping live animals through the postal system is a common practice in the United States as it is generally a less expensive alternative to other transportation methods. However, recent delays have resulted in some vendors suspending USPS shipments after an increased number of animals arrived dead in the mail. While mail carriers are subject to precautions to ensure the safe delivery of animals, such attempts are clearly inadequate where increased delay is inevitable. For example, in August of 2020, it was reported that thousands of live chicks were being delivered dead in the northeast. In many of the cases, the live chicks were left inside warehouses for up to 75 hours before delivery. According to concerned veterinarians, a major issue with the shipment of birds by postal mail is the inability to regulate the temperature necessary to keep chicks warm. The consequences are especially detrimental to chicks because they are generally shipped when newly hatched. As such, these mailed chicks often spend a critical learning period inside a dark box.

The United States Postal Service has allowed for the shipment of certain live animals since 1918. USPS guidelines designate which animals are considered “legally mailable” subject to the requirement that “proper conditions” are met. According to the USPS website, “mailable animals,” include adult birds and day-old “poultry,” such as chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and partridges, other small, harmless cold-blooded animals, like frogs, toads, and baby alligators, as well as certain insects. The United Parcel Service (UPS) similarly permits the shipment of small, harmless cold-blooded animals, all fish, and non-nuisance insects.

While the recent postal crisis has resulted in a spike in the number of animal fatalities, the harmful impacts associated with the practice of transporting animals through the mail are well-established. According to a January 2013 article by Farm Sanctuary, more than one hundred chicks mailed that month from Texas and expected to arrive Alabama traveled close to one thousand miles in the wrong direction as a result of mailing address error. The chicks ended up in Washington D.C., where the package sat unclaimed at a post office until postal workers eventually realized the problem and contacted animal control. A similar event occurred in July of 2015, where a box containing sixteen chicks and mailed from Wisconsin arrived to and remained at a New York post office unclaimed. Despite the fact that the package contained several live chicks, postal workers almost stamped the box “Return to Sender.” Fortunately, in this case, a concerned postal worker the chicks in the box and took them home to care to them. For many animals, however, the result of having to travel back several days to the return address could be the difference between life and death. Notwithstanding the apparent serious consequences, this standard procedure is implemented on all unclaimed packages, including those holding live animals.

            The proposed New York bill defines “live animal” relatively broadly, as meaning “any mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian.” The ban would prohibit both the shipment of “live animals” out of and into the State of New York. As such, if enacted, the legislation would represent a positive step in the advancement and recognition of animal welfare. However, like much of the legislation enacted for the benefit of animals, potential constitutional issues have emerged. Following the bills proposal, commentators raised possible preemption issues as the law would serve to prohibit practices that would otherwise be legal under Federal law. Specifically, the broad definition of “live animals” would effectively incorporate a large majority of  the “mailable animals,” currently legally shippable under USPS guidelines. Thus, there is a possibility that the proposed bill, if challenged under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution of the United States, would be considered invalid. 

One Response

  1. […] Nicolette Merli, A Proposed Bill in New York Seeks to Prohibit the Shipment of Live Animals by Mail After Recent USPS Delays Reveal Devastating Impacts (Mar 1, 2021), https://animalblawg.wordpress.com/2021/03/01/a-proposed-bill-in-new-york-seeks-to-prohibit-the-shipm…. […]

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