2005 Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act:
Whose Side is the USDA on?

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2005 Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act: Whose Side is the USDA on?
By Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director, SAEN
[email protected] 

Executive Summary

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the only piece of legislation which protects animals held in laboratories, dealers, or exhibitors, is being violated at an increasing rate and the number of animals potentially injured by these violations is increasing at an even higher rate. The Animal Welfare Act was violated 20,845 times during the reporting year ending in September of 2005 impacting 1,364,358 animals -- a three-year increase of 44% in violations (6384) and 321% in animals impacted (1,040,268). As the violations are increasing the USDA is doing less and less about it. Fewer enforcement actions are being taken; fines are routinely reduced by 75%, or in some cases eliminated entirely.

The USDA routinely promulgates misleading, if not downright dishonest statistics regarding the use of animals by laboratories, which is not surprising since (according to the USDA OIG) in many instances inspectors do not even bother to count animals in labs when they are inspected.

Animals used in federally owned labs are excluded from currently published national totals, making comparisons with previous information which did include these federally owned animals meaningless and deceiving. Many other animals in labs are not counted in these totals including animals held for breeding or conditioning. Additionally, animals used in agricultural research (including the majority of those used in the USDA’s own labs) are totally excluded from protection by the AWA and from all national statistics. When these exclusions (for agricultural research) are ignored and all animals listed as being covered species (regardless of type of research they are used in) are counted the USDA is, itself, the federal agency using the largest number of animals in labs.

Clearly, the USDA is not protecting animals adequately whether they are in facilities owned by labs, dealers, or exhibitors. Animals are not counted; as violations and animal suffering increases enforcement decreases; millions of animals are excluded from any legal protection, and the public is deceived as to the size of animal experimentation as well as which federal agencies conduct it. The labs of other federal agencies receive no outside inspections whatsoever. One of the prime beneficiaries of this combination of exclusion and secrecy is the USDA itself. The agricultural exemption removes the majority of animals in USDA labs from protection, and the omission of reporting on federally owned facilities hides the fact that the USDA is one of the largest users of animals in experimentation in the United States.

The conclusion of this report is that the USDA has far too much of a vested interest in the area of animal experimentation to adequately enforce the AWA with regard to laboratories, and historically the agency has been too lenient with regard to enforcement at all varieties of facilities. It is the opinion of this author that enforcement of this crucial law which impacts public safety as well as the lives of tens of millions of animals should be delegated to an independent entity which is empowered to inspect labs owned by all federal agencies and which is not tied in any way to the performance of animal experimentation. The USDA has conducted itself as though promoting public safety and protecting the animals who the Animal Welfare Act was designed to protect has become little more than an annoyance which gets in the way of other important activities – such as protecting laboratories from the intrusive eyes of the tax-paying public.

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