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] 

The OIG Audit of the USDA/APHIS/AC

The Office of the Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture recently released a report that examined the enforcement of the AWA by the Animal Care division of the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA. This audit had many findings, which are contained in an Executive Summary which is contained in Appendix C of this report.

In brief, the OIG report stated that the enforcement efforts of the Eastern Regional Office of USDA/APHIS/AC have actually declined, cutting the number of cases referred for prosecution to 82 (2004) from an average of 209 during the 2002 & 2003 years. This represents a reduction of 61% in prosecutions, at a time when the number of violations increased by 44% and the number of animals who were negatively impacted by these violations increased by 321% overall.

Similarly, according to the OIG audit, stipulated fines are often discounted (agency wide) by as much as 75%. So, even though the ability of the USDA/APHIS/AC to assess fines is somewhat limited, once fines are meted out, they are routinely reduced by ¾ to make the machinery of government run more efficiently (reducing court cases).

USDA policy has apparently not changed since the publication of the OIG audit. The $25,000 fine assessed in the case of Ronald Armitage, Arbuckle & Ozarks Development Company d/b/a Animal Paradise AWA Docket No. 05-0033 1/30/06 was totally suspended. In the case of Chester Gaither d/b/a Chet’s Pets, AWA Docket No. 04-0034, December 16, 2004 a fine of $200,000 was reduced to $1000. In the case of Tom Parker d/b/a African Northwest, Inc,. AWA Docket No. 03-0002, December 16, 2004 a $15,000 penalty was reduced to $6000. In the case of DEVA EXOTICS, INC, a Wisconsin corporation, and successor-in-interest to DEVA EXOTICS, LLC, a Wisconsin limited liability company; MICHAEL V. DEMMER; AN INDIVIDUAL; and JOANNE VASSALLO, an individual. AWA Docket No. 02-0027, October 12, 2004, while licenses were revoked – no fines were assessed. In cases since the issuance of the OIG audit report, the USDA is still reducing/eliminating fines so as to make them essentially meaningless.

This must make anyone with a skeptical mind wonder if the USDA/APHIS/AC (or at least the hierarchy of this agency) really wants to enforce federal law. The law is being broken more often, more animals are feeling the negative consequences of these violations, but fewer enforcement actions are being taken, and the fines which result from these enforcement actions are being reduced (making them virtually meaningless) or eliminated entirely. If any private individual had this kind of record in the private business world – they would be terminated immediately.

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