USDA ponders disastrous plan to allow self‑policing by licensed breeders, zoos, and researchers

By on January 17, 2018 with 21 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

After purging thousands of Animal Welfare Act inspection reports and violation notices that used to be available to the public and were searchable online, the political operatives who took over at the U.S. Department of Agriculture a year ago say they now want to turn over federally funded inspections of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and research labs to the very groups using the animals. This plan would enrich these parties with your tax dollars and set up a free-for-all when it comes to animal care and well-being in the United States. While we have long criticized the USDA for lax enforcement, we have always valued the independence of those government inspections and worked to make them better and more vigorous and hard-hitting. This proposed retreat from an independent, government-run inspections program is the latest deregulation maneuver by the USDA, which last month proposed eliminating a previously approved USDA plan to strengthen animal welfare standards for farmers operating under the organic animal welfare label.

Since last year’s removal of inspection reports from the USDA website for these regulated facilities, it’s now virtually impossible for The HSUS, the media, or private citizens to learn who the worst animal welfare violators are, or whether the USDA is fulfilling its obligation to enforce the law. Although a small subset of records has been restored, most of the information about violations by puppy mills and roadside zoos is still sorely incomplete and lacking the critical details, with key data and information redacted. For example, local officials and pet stores have no way of knowing whether they are buying dogs from breeders with recent Animal Welfare Act violations, and it’s more difficult for the public to distinguish responsible breeders from puppy mills. If the agency adopts this latest hand-over of its enforcement programs to the very industries it’s been charged with regulating, it would both shroud and cripple federal animal welfare inspections. It’s the greatest set of self-inflicted wounds to the USDA’s 50-year history of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, and it marks the latest outrageous maneuvering from the crowd running the USDA during this past year.

The man who led the USDA transition for the Trump administration is Brian Klippenstein, who also ran a super PAC called Protect the Harvest. That PAC, funded by multimillionaire Forrest Lucas, has fought against any and all animal welfare standards, battling on behalf of puppy mills, trophy hunters, horse soring practitioners, pro horse-slaughter interests, and factory farms. This proposed change in the inspections program comes right out of the playbook of Protect the Harvest.

In 1966, the U.S. Congress charged the USDA with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, including conducting inspections to ensure compliance by licensees and registered facilities. That’s the way the system has operated for more than 50 years – indeed, this federal law requires regulated entities to allow APHIS officials access to inspect their properties. The answer to lax USDA enforcement and weak laws is to strengthen those efforts, not to outsource oversight and enforcement to industry. In 2017, a bipartisan group of more than 220 U.S. Senators and Representatives sent letters to key appropriations committee leaders, urging vigorous funding for enforcement, restoration of the purged inspection documents, and a crackdown on rampant abuses by violators of the Animal Welfare Act.

The USDA’s past experience with delegating its animal welfare responsibilities to private inspection entities has been widely recognized as an unmitigated failure. Decades ago, the USDA set up an industry-run enforcement system under the federal Horse Protection Act (HPA) to conduct the bulk of inspections at Tennessee walking horse shows, where some trainers in a segment of the industry intentionally burn or otherwise injure the front feet and legs of the horses in order to induce an exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick.” These private inspectors are employees of horse show organizations and are often exhibitors of Tennessee walking horses themselves. A 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General exposed how horse trainers go to great lengths to evade detection and industry inspectors often disregard violations. So flawed is this system of industry self-policing, the audit recommended that the agency abolish it and resume full oversight authority over the industry. In a decision that further exacerbated the ineffectiveness of this program, in 2015, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the USDA cannot require these private inspection programs to impose penalties under the HPA, thus making violations cited by those programs (in the absence of USDA inspection or enforcement action) immune to the penalties contemplated by the Act. Representatives Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., both licensed veterinarians, introduced legislation, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which would do away with this failed system, impose tougher penalties on perpetrators, and ban the use of stacks and chains commonly used to inflict pain on the horses’ feet. Their legislation has the bipartisan support of 277 cosponsors in the House — nearly a two-thirds supermajority of the chamber — and is endorsed by hundreds of horse industry, veterinary, and animal protection groups.

What’s the next step in this USDA abdication of authority? We don’t have to use too much imagination to guess that the American Kennel Club (AKC) – which fights state and federal bills to crack down on puppy mills and profits from registering dogs from these delinquent operators – would be at the top of the list to take on inspection authority of commercial dog breeding facilities under the Animal Welfare Act. While the AKC holds itself out as “the dog’s champion,” on numerous occasions, law enforcement has rescued imperiled dogs from substandard AKC-inspected breeding facilities—and, in some cases, facilities that had just days earlier passed an AKC inspection. In 2012, The HSUS and local law enforcement groups rescued 60 dogs from the facility of AKC breeder Mike Chilinski, many of them emaciated and suffering from open wounds. Chilinksi disputed the charges, testifying that he was confident he was in compliance because he had recently passed an AKC inspection. Despite his protests, a court convicted him and sentenced him to a lengthy prison term. There have been plenty of other cases involving AKC-registered breeders. What’s more, while the AKC claims to conduct inspections, it provides no reports on the results of the inspections or any penalties meted out to delinquent breeders.

The new USDA proposal would apply to exhibitors as well, including facilities that maintain some of the world’s most dangerous wild animals. While the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a very reputable organization, with a robust accreditation system for its 230 or so members, there is another deceptively named organization called the Zoological Association of America that is something of a front for the exotic animal industry and roadside zoos, with an inspection process that is anything but rigorous. The HSUS estimates that there are as many as 2,000 roadside zoos, and having ZAA inspect the facilities would give these operators a free pass to keep the animals in substandard facilities and to allow a bad situation to become worse.

The situation for animals in laboratories would be no better. The Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) would likely be tapped to do inspections for laboratories and use of animals in research. This is an industry organization, and the findings of AAALAC’s site visits are not made public, there are no penalties for noncompliance, and site visits are infrequent and scheduled (rather than unannounced), providing the opportunity for facilities to clean up their act before the site visit team arrives. A 2013 HSUS undercover investigation at Texas Biomedical Research Institute revealed serious welfare problems, and the facility has been cited for several Animal Welfare Act violations by the USDA over the years. Despite this, it remains AAALAC-accredited.

The USDA should be moving in the opposite direction – more transparency, tougher enforcement of existing regulations, and strengthening those regulations to improve living conditions for dogs. Congressmen Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., and Charlie Crist, D-Fla., have introduced two bills to strengthen enforcement and to fortify regulations. Other lawmakers, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Ron Wyden, both Democrats from Oregon, have introduced legislation to require the USDA to restore inspection and violation records on the USDA’s searchable website.

If the 2017 data takedown was not perhaps the most outrageous maneuver in contemporary times by the USDA to cover up for the industry, it is eclipsed only by this reckless and backwards-looking proposal. American citizens and Congress should not stand for it. It’s not a cost-saving measure – it is a financial and regulatory giveaway to private industries with notable records of non-compliance or outright disobedience to the law. We shouldn’t outsource enforcement to industry any more than we would put the beef industry in charge of food safety and humane slaughter inspections at slaughter plants, or allow the construction industry to oversee all workplace safety on the job.

The USDA has already been too lenient toward these industries, blurring the line between the regulators and the regulated community. Tell the agency to permanently shelve this proposal and to do its job to protect animals, as instructed by the American people and by Congress.

Animal Research and Testing, Companion Animals, Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Carole Chen-Garson says:

    This is totally unacceptable. We need signatures and a lot. Thank you for keeping us posted.

    • Lorie Reichl says:

      We need to start all over rid the government of all the corrupt politicians that side with NRA hunting Ag and get people in that will rid this country of puppy mills… slaughter of horses breeders… trophy hunters… it’s all about them making money.., I think our country sucks… I’m ashamed of this damn country

    • Cheryl says:

      I agree. What is there to ponder about!!! This needs to be fought against with slot of dignatures.

  2. Gael Bourquin says:

    This can not happen. Those that exploit animals will be given a free hand.

  3. Cynthia Boatright says:

    This is the purview of the USDA. Those participating in breeding, selling, and otherwise abusing animals should not be self policing.

  4. Melissa Pach says:

    Please allow proper regulatory agencies continue to monitor these places. I helped a lion at a crappy roadside zoo that had almost died from a vitamin A deficiency. I contact d the USDA with a video of the lion. They went to the facility pretty quickly and were cited with 15+ violations. This place also had a very lethargic newborn zebra. I’m pretty sure it died. Without this inspection, I can say with certainty that many more animals were going to die.

  5. Joe says:

    Who ever wrote this does not understand the scope of the USDA, and how the HSUS and PETA had hijacked the USDA during the Obama years of terror. A USDA licensed facility is without question the very best in the world, to be calling people names is not only incorrect but should open the author for law suites by the thousands, but of course PETA and the HSUS go about calling people names I suspect the “N” word is popular as well. Now the USDA/APHIS group is charged with enforcing the AWA, a job that should be left to the Justice Department, after all it is a federal law. APHIS has a bunch of lawyers trying to be animal husbandry people, simply equates to expecting the parts clerk at the auto parts store to provide brain surgery, If we want to really look at this miss directed agency trying to appease the AR crowd opposed to doing a great job we deserve from our Government agencies. They are missing the real violators of the intent of the AWA, licensed and inspected facilities are the good guys, period. If these overbearing crazed AR people would open their eyes they will see those who are licensed share the same concerns for the animals as they do more times than not. The objective should be to Teach and educate and support our great American breeders opposed to conduct witch hunts, calling people names, with goals to steal their property (animals). and then dump them on some unsuspecting shelter, more times than not resulting in their death.

    Presently there is a massive document over 230 pages of regulations for licensed facilities. A total administrative nightmare for APHIS. Thisa in itself reflects the nature of the Business of APHIS, managed by lawyers and created by lawyers and lawyers do what? They write books of regulation, totally misplaced for the Farmer, but perfect for a lawyers they like farming paper, a lawyers crop is paper.

    This comment by the HSUS expressing concern for third party inspections is strange as Mr Pacelle has been promoting this for years. In understanding the real intent of law, a person should not be required to incriminate ones self, that can be found in the constitution, we also have the right to have and own property and the right to secure our papers from unwanted violation, our rights of privacy. All of which are violated daily by the USDA, and the AR crow thru trumped up complaints.

    It would seem to most a thoughtful review of all of these bad laws to eliminate the bad and to set the correct direction for this Agency to follow. There are thousands of places that have no license and are allowed to operate outside the law, Some state have no one assigned to even investigate or supervise the license process, some states think they are exempt from the USDA all together.

    The bottom line here is, the federal govt is not suited to police every farmer in the United States, this should be left to local state law and authorities. The way it is today people are under ground like moonshiners, and Pot Growers have done for years.

  6. Tlh says:

    I believe that any organization or facility should meet the same standards .
    If your housing dogs or cats you should be inspected and made to follow the SAME regulations.

  7. Linda says:

    Leave it to the USA to totally turn on many damn hunters holding office.time to clean house.Get some younger compassionate people in.

  8. Kathleen Stokes says:

    This is very unacceptable the Government needs to over see the standards for such places. The animals have rights and need food, medical care, no starvation and dens and larger cages than legally required.


    Why would the government turn a blind eye to such cruel and inhumane treatment of animals? This idea needs to end before it begins.

  10. Mary Ellerbrook says:

    Sanctioning and or legislating the law enforcing that water, air or land creatures, domestic, livestock or wild kinds aren’t to be exploited, breed, eaten, worn, abused, used as entertainment, be used for experimentation or be killed unless brought to a qualified veterinarian. Police officers must be protecting human and creature rights to quality of life, giving protection to every communicating or voiceless living human and creature kind, making arrests whether violator is in, or outside of their jurisdiction. Criminal record charge(s) and lifetime ID red flag implementation restricting violator from purchasing, volunteering for, working near, caretaking, or being around any creature at any level in the wild or in domestic areas without official supervision.

  11. Shawndi Hoy says:

    This is an abomination.
    The USDA has already been too lenient toward these industries, blurring the line between the regulators and the regulated community. Tell the agency to permanently shelve this proposal and to do its job to protect animals, as instructed by the American people and by Congress.

  12. Shawndi Hoy says:

    This is an abomination.

  13. Anonymous says:


  14. Mrs. Lee Durbin says:

    The USDA has already been too lenient toward these industries, blurring the line between the regulators and the regulated community. You need to permanently shelve this proposal and to do your job to protect animals, as instructed by the American people and by Congress.

  15. Gretchen Woodman says:

    This is so blatantly wrong. Our organizations must be so corrupt to not care about the welfare of animals. It is mind-boggling that so many humans in a position of influence simply do not care to improve and protect the lives of animals.

    What is the cost of protecting these animals ? Why can’t we be humane? How can these people not enforce protections – how can they turn away and allow abuse and suffering? What is missing in these humans?

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