It is no secret that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is failing to enforce federal laws meant to protect animals. Too many times we have seen headlines involving horrific cruelties at zoos, puppy mills, research labs, horse racing facilities and aquariums that have occurred despite the USDA's oversight.
In many cases, violators of the Animal Welfare Act, Endangered Species Act, and Horse Protection Act have had their licenses renewed by the USDA, even after the department conducted inspections and documented such violations.
Last August, the USDA opened up a public comment period regarding their licensing regulations, stating they were looking for input on ways to, "...strengthen existing safeguards that prevent any individual whose license has been suspended or revoked, or who has a history of noncompliance, from obtaining a license or working with regulated animals." They received over 47,000 comments. However, there has yet to be any news of such regulation enhancements.
Rather than take accountability for their failures, and strengthen their licensing and inspection regulations, the USDA is now considering handing off part of their inspection responsibilities to non-government, trade groups who potentially have a financial interest in using animals themselves. This includes those who make a profit from puppy mills, zoos, lab testing facilities, and aquariums.
An idea that makes as much sense as having restaurants conduct their own health inspections, or worse yet, allowing criminals to police themselves.
The USDA has attempted a similar approach in the past when they allowed inspections of the 'Big Lick', Tennessee walking horse competitions, to be conducted by the very individuals involved in those horse organizations.
The 'Big Lick', is a term used for horses that walk with an exaggerated gait, often a result of inflicting severe chemical burns to the front feet of horses, so they lift their feet high off the ground to prevent pain. The USDA is responsible for enforcing the Horse Protection Act, which is meant to prevent such cruelties. A primary aspect of such enforcement is inspections, to determine who is using those methods.
Following the USDA's short-sighted decision regarding those inspections, an audit conducted by the USDA Inspector General in 2010, revealed horse industry inspectors were disregarding violations of the HPA. This is unsurprising, because why would those making a profit from the 'Big Lick' industry take any steps towards preventing that profit flow?
At first glance of the USDA's most recent disastrous inspection proposal, it appears the Dept. is considering allowing input from non-governmental, third-parties, on how frequently inspections are conducted for those licensed and regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Again, this includes puppy mills, zoos, lab testing facilities, and aquariums.
This is an unnerving notion as it is. Undoubtedly, there is a conflict of interest here. Irresponsible and self-interested, third-party trade groups who make money off abusing animals would certainly push for fewer inspections.
It is also undoubtful that such groups would be the first to jump at the chance to become inspectors; something that the USDA clearly has shown no interest in preventing in the past.
When reading further down into the notice, the USDA asks even more suspicious questions such as, "What are the advantages and disadvantages of voluntary, third-party programs to support compliance under the AWA?" This implies that the USDA is considering more than just third-party input regarding inspection frequency, such as the inspection process in general, or conducting the actual inspections, and that it would be on a voluntary basis.
The USDA also asks, "What potential benefits and costs might accrue to regulated facilities that elect to use a third-party program?" This indicates that the USDA is looking into providing a financial incentive to those in the business that choose to be inspected by non-government officials.
The federal register also includes the question, "What are the risks associated with using a third-party program?"
The fact that the Federal Agency responsible for enforcing laws that prevent animal cruelty are asking what the risks are by involving those who potentially make money off animal abuse in inspections, is utterly pathetic, and frighteningly transparent.
Although the USDA does not blatantly specify it on the Federal Register, it is quite clear where they're heading with this. And not only does this concept reveal the Dept.'s lack of interest in doing their job to ensure fundamental standards of care for animals, but it reeks of corruption.
We must demand that the USDA withdraw this horrendously irresponsible, ill-considered and life-threatening concept immediately, and that they focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of their regulations, rather than handing off their duties to potential animal abusers. The animals forced to endure cruelty by those who see them as mere dollar signs will be thankful that we do.
Deadline: March 21 - 11:59pm
1a. ASPCA Easy Form
Submit a comment to the USDA via this link from the ASPCA. The USDA may not count duplicate comments, even if submitted from different individuals, so be sure to personalize your message. Also be sure to take a screenshot of your comment before submitting, so you have a copy for your records.
1b. Submit Comment Directly To USDA
Follow this link
Click the blue Comment Now Button
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