4 Inch Tortoise

By Richard Fife

We at Riparian Farms have been trying to legalize the sale of turtles, tortoises, and terrapins which are under four inches to informed adults. So far we have been unsuccessful. In 1998 we proposed an amendment to the 1975 FDA, sale of turtles less than 4-inches Regulation. It took five years of work to convince the FDA to review the proposal.

Finally by mandate from President Bush (2003) the FDA was required to review my petition to allow the sale of turtles less than 4-inch to responsible adults. After the FDA review, their response is that they will not make any changes to the current turtle regulation.

The FDA (Department of Health & Human Services), however stated in their review of the petition that hobbyists already are excepted from the regulation (see definition of hobbyist). They also stated that if, one is raising a rare turtle species and one has a bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibitional purpose for selling, holding for sale, or distributing them, then the current regulation already exempts this conduct from the sale prohibition. They further state that relating to conservation efforts of private breeders and animal dealers "they already may be excepted from the regulation's sale prohibition if the turtles are used for bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibitional purposes."

(Please note that the above excerpts taken from the Department of Health & Human Services letter dated May 29, 2003 in response to my "Citizen's Petition Docket No. 98P-0680/CP contains additional information that must be taken in context with the above "excerpts".)
Important: my turtles and tortoises are sold for scientific or educational purposes

All of my turtles and tortoises are sold for the explicit purpose of enhancing the public's awareness, edification, and education of these wonderful creatures. I further reserve the right to collect data, relating to each turtle or tortoise that has been sold (from the original buyer), for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of turtle and tortoise care, captive reproduction, longevity, etc. This information may be used in future publications, updating care sheets, articles, etc. When possible credit will be given to the individual contributor but no monetary compensation will be paid for any information that is used or published.

Amendment to allow the sale of baby turtles to adults proposed
For information purposes we have included some background information on the proposed amendment even though it has been complete rejected by the FDA.

In 1975 the Food and Drug Administration enacted a regulation that prohibits the commercial sale or public distribution of turtles, tortoises, terrapins, and all the animals of the order Tesudinata, class Reptilia, except marine species, that have a carapace length of less than 4 inches. The purpose of this regulation was to control the spread of Salmonella by the common red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans. Persons in violation of this regulation are subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, for each violation.

In recent years more and more dealers and commercial breeders have been in blatant violation of this regulation. The regulation has been disregarded at most reptile trade shows and expositions. On Aug. 11, 1998 I proposed and amendment (by Citizen Petition) to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration to allow the sale and distribution of turtles under 4 inches to adults, with certain restrictions.

Unfortunately the regulation that allows for a 'Citizen's Petition' to request a review of an existing regulation or to amend an existing regulation (21 CFR 10.30) also allows a governmental agency to do nothing "because of the existence of other agency priorities" (21 CFR 10.30 (e) (2) (iii), which is the response that I received after the required 180 day comment period. Incidentally the FDA received only 18 letters concerning this amendment. 4 of these letters were opposed to the amendment and 14 were in favor of it. I continued to work on getting my petition reviewed. In 2003 a Mandate from President Bush required the FDA to finally review the petition.

The FDA then completely rejected the petition stating that there was already allowances for turtles that are less than 4-inches to be sold to responsible adults by allowing the sale for "Scientific or Educational Purpose"

The proposed amendment, which was rejected is as follows:

I propose to add to section (d) Exceptions, the following exception: (5) The sale, holding for sale, and distribution of live turtles and viable turtle eggs (but not to include Trachemys scripta elegans, red-eared slider) for the sale to or the distribution to adults 18 years old or older. A sign must be posted in a conspicuous location where turtles are offered for sale that states: "Turtles with a carapace length of less than 4 inches are not intended as pets for children and cannot be sold to minors under the age of 18 year old. The highest sanitary measures must be taken, when handling turtles to reduce the possible is of Salmonella". A similar statement must be provided to the purchaser of any turtle under four inches.

B. statement of grounds
    I believe there are reasonable grounds for this proposed amendment:
  1. The keeping of turtles has progressed to a much higher standard than in 1975 when the regulation was first implemented. There is an abundance of information available for the husbandry of turtles including the sanitary measures necessary to reduce the risk of salmonella.
  2. Keeping of turtles has become an adult hobby. Turtle organizations have sprung up all over the country to educate the public concerning the keeping, care, and conservation of turtles and tortoises.
  3. Many rare species are being bred in captivity in this country and the distribution of these turtles to responsible individuals becomes quite a hardship because of the cost and time to raise them to four inches. Some species are adults at only 4 inches.
  4. Many turtles are still being collected from the wild even though they could easily be bred in captivity. The legal sale of captive bred turtles could reduce the numbers of those that come from the wild.
  5. In most cases captive produced turtles are healthier and there survival rate in captivity is much greater than that of wild caught turtles.
  6. The posting of notices would help discourage the sale of any size of turtle to children and would help educate potential buyers of the concern of salmonella.
  7. This amendment would greatly benefit the conservation efforts made by private breeders, and animal dealers who are not affiliated with Zoos or Universities.
    I Believe grounds that may be considered unfavorable to this amendment are as follows:
  1. This amendment may be used by some to hide the distribution of live turtles to children and other under the age of 18.
C. Environmental impact

I claim for categorical exclusion under 25.30, 225.31, 25.32,25.33, and 25.34 of this chapter.

D. Economic impact

Not required

E. Certification
The undersigned certifies that to the best knowledge and belief of the undersigned, this petition includes all information and views on which the petition relies, and that it includes representative data, and information know to the petitioner which are unfavorable to the petition.

Signed by: Richard Fife (520) 378-4059

Comments should be sent to the FDA at:

Dockets Management Branch
Food and Drug Administration
Department of Health and Human Services, Rm. 1-23
12420 Parklawn Dr.
Rockville, MD 20857

Reference: Docket number 98P-0680/CP 1

For additional information (complete proposal which includes the existing regulation) see: reptilia-tech.com/four inch.html