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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

The Defender
Vol. 3, No. 2 - Winter 2004-2005

The Betrayal of Animal Protection - - The Corruption of the USDA

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHS) has been charged with enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) since the inception of this legislation. Over the years amendments have been made to the AWA to provide for things, such as exercise for dogs and environmental enhancement for primates. Despite these legislative improvements, the situation of animals within entities, such as laboratories, exhibitors and dealers, has not improved substantially, leaving many people puzzled. After all, we would like to think that more and tougher regulations would improve the lot of animals.

The thought which underlies this line of reasoning assumes that the agency charged with enforcing these new regulations actually has some interest in living up to its mandate. However, it has become quite clear that the USDA/APHIS is more interested in serving its customers (labs, dealers, exhibitors, etc.), than law enforcement.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the USDA. In 1992 USDA/APHIS was audited by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the USDA with respect to enforcement of the AWA regarding animal dealers. The report was summarized: “Our audit concluded that APHIS cannot ensure the humane care and treatment of animals at all dealer facilities as required by the act. APHIS did not inspect dealer facilities with a reliable frequency, and it did not enforce timely correction of violations during inspections.”

USDA/APHIS was not enforcing the law regarding animal dealers. This situation is echoed by the words of Marshal Smith, a former USDA inspector: “My territory included 40 kennels in northwest Arkansas. I approached my new job conscientiously. Records of these pet producers were transferred to me from a retiring inspector who told me, "If you’re smart you'll do what I did, you’ll check everything is OK." I told him that I intended to abide by the law. Another assumption: I assumed he was a lazy good old boy, that he was not voicing the agency's mindset. The kennels I visited had seemingly never been inspected. I was overwhelmed by what I saw: the wretched looking animals, the mounds of fecal matter reaching in some cases to my knees, at very least to the wire caging of the rabbit hutches which most puppy millers used to house the dogs. In every instance that I recall, the filth and deprivation were shocking. I recorded scores of violations prompting complaints to my supervisor in Little Rock. . . .

I assumed that further measures were taken to enforce the regulations and bring offenders into compliance. I later learned that cases were not developed for enforcement, and that those that were would languish years before coming to hearing, when they would invariably be dismissed. Thus some of the most horrendous conditions under which dogs were bred festered, unfettered by federal intervention.”

In 1996 the OIG audited the USDA/APHIS with respect to animal exhibitors. The findings were no more encouraging:

“Although APHIS Class “C” exhibitor licenses were intended solely for those who wish to exhibit animals to the public, our visits to 28 APHIS-licensed exhibitors in 3 states disclosed that 18 (64 percent) did not actually exhibit their animals, but instead maintained them as pets. Using the regulations broad definition of an exhibitor, individuals obtained exhibitor licenses in order to circumvent state or local laws intended to protect the public by restricting private ownership of wild or exotic animals such as bears or tigers.”

In this instance APHIS regulations and enforcement practices of the AWA actually allowed individuals to circumvent local laws and potentially endanger the public.

Similar information has come to light in the statement of current USDA Animal Care Specialist Richard Botelho. A five-year veteran of almost 1000 inspections inside Florida, Botelho has made some familiar-sounding statements about the USDA: “Failing to enforce the minimum standards and regulations of the AWA has harmful risks to the animals and to the public. Potentially dangerous animals are being allowed to be exhibited to the public without direct control of a handler(s), or sufficient distance or barrier between the animals and the public.”

In 1995 USDA/APHIS was again audited by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the USDA. This time the investigation dealt with enforcement of the AWA in laboratories: “APHIS does not have the authority, under current legislation, to effectively enforce the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. For instance, the agency cannot terminate or refuse to renew licenses or registrations in cases where serious or repeat violations occur (such as the use of animals in unnecessary experiments, or failure to treat diseases or wounds). In addition, APHIS cannot assess monetary penalties for violations unless the violator agrees to pay them, and penalties are often so low that violators merely regard them as part of the cost of doing business.”

Essentially, the OIG said that USDA/APHIS lacked sufficient authority to enforce the AWA within labs, and that the agency didn’t effectively utilize the limited authority that it did have. Have things changed since 1995? Apparently nothing is significantly different. In fact, the USDA/APHIS hierarchy may have become openly hostile to effective enforcement of the AWA.

In 2000 Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown, another former USDA inspector, issued the following statement at a news conference in Portland, Oregon: “The research institutions I visited, including the Oregon Primate Center, were not happy to see me coming once they realized that I was going to hold them to the law. This reaction I expected. What was surprising to me was my own supervisors were disappointed and unsupportive of my efforts to simply enforce the bare minimum standards in the Code of Federal Regulations. The USDA has a good ol’ boy relationship with the research industry and the laws are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. More than once, I was instructed by a supervisor to make a personal list of violations of the law, cut that list in half, and then cut that list in half again before writing up my inspection reports. My willingness to uphold the law during my site visits at the Primate Center led to me being “retrained” several times by higher-ups in the USDA.”

To summarize the situation at the USDA/APHIS, apparently there is little interest in actual enforcement. In fact, it appears that the USDA/APHIS hierarchy is openly hostile to law enforcement (Botelho):

“AC management does not support their inspectors, but supports high profile licensees when complaints are initiated against them, especially if such facilities threaten lawsuits against the agency. . . . Since inspectors fear complaints against them and do not get support from the management, most end up picking their battles at certain facilities, turning their heads from citing enforcement resulting in poor work ethics. Other federal employees are given ultimatums to resign or be fired.”

Dr. Johnson-Brown echoes this idea: “As Oregon’s only inspector, I was responsible for the oversight of over 120 facilities throughout the state. I barely had time to visit each facility as required, which for some facilities was no more than once every three years. If that wasn’t enough, I soon found out that my own supervisors were working against me at every turn.”

We must wonder how many people must say that the Animal Welfare Act isn’t being enforced before someone will believe it. The federal government has had ample time to change this situation, with no meaningful results.

It is clear that instead of being part of the solution to the nationwide problem of animal abuse at the hands of labs, dealers, and exhibitors, the USDA has become a supporter of animal suffering by engaging in an agency-wide policy of non-enforcement. Apparently USDA/APHIS is far more concerned about keeping registrants and licensees happy than it is about enforcing the law it is charged to regulate. If the situation within any of these entities is ever to change, then the USDA must be reformed. If no changes are made, then the Animal Welfare Act may as well not exist.

Please join our campaign to force the USDA to enforce the law as it exists. The health and well-being of animals held by laboratories, dealers, and exhibitors is at stake.

Please visit our website www.saenonline.org for more in-depth information, and do these three things:

1. Contact the Chairs of the House & Senate Agriculture Committees to demand that they immediately convene investigative hearings to examine how USDA/APHIS has not been enforcing the Animal Welfare Act.

Bob Goodlatte
2240 Rayburn House Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20515
202-225-9681 (fax)

Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
416 Russell Senate Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20510
202-224-0103 (fax)

2. Contact the Office of the Inspector General to demand that the current OIG audit of USDA APHIS deal with the agency’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

United States Department of Agriculture
Office of the Inspector General
Room 41-W Jamie Whitten Bldg
1400 Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20250

3. Contact the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture to demand both stricter enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and an internal investigation of the allegations made by the present and former USDA staff quoted in this article.

Mike Johanns
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave SW Room 200A
Washington, DC 20250
[email protected]

Return to The Defender Vol. 3, No. 2 - Winter 2004-2005
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