MSU Animal Welfare Clinic urges USDA to step up animal protection

Michigan State University Animal Welfare Clinic students and clinic director, Carney Anne Nasser, traveled to Tampa, Fla., March 8 to testify regarding a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposal that could negatively impact the welfare of millions of animals in the United States. The USDA's misguided proposal would reduce the frequency that the agency inspects puppy mills, circuses, roadside zoos, and other commercial animal facilities for compliance with the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

The purpose of the AWA is to "to insure that animals intended for use in research facilities or for exhibition purposes or for use as pets are provided humane care and treatment," and the USDA has been repeatedly criticized by its own internal auditors for failing to hold licensees accountable when they violate the AWA's minimum standards of care. Rather than listening to auditors and exercising more meaningful oversight and enforcement of chronic AWA violators-like puppy mills that refuse to provide injured dogs with veterinary care, or circuses that use tiny transport cages as permanent housing for tigers-the USDA is proposing to do even less.

The USDA's proposal to reduce the frequency of inspections for commercial animal facilities that participate in an industry certification program is merely the latest in a string of proposals to minimize agency transparency and cater to industry above animal welfare. Existing certification programs for puppy mills, circuses, and roadside zoos are industry-run and pose an inherent conflict of interest. Moreover, industry groups do not inspect for animal welfare and are not subject to Freedom of Information Act disclosure requirements. Allowing trade groups to substitute their own inspections for those of the USDA would constitute an outrageous conflict of interest, an improper delegation of agency authority, and a legally untenable infringement on the public's right to access information about what goes on behind closed doors at federally-licensed facilities.

"The USDA is already failing to adequately ensure the humane care and treatment of animals used in commercial industries," says Nasser. "It defies logic and federal law for the agency to suggest that puppy mills, roadside zoos, and circuses should be left to police themselves."

Published: Fri, Mar 23, 2018