The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
USDA Loosens Oversight of Puppy Mills and Other Operations
O_Lypa / iStock / Getty Images Plus
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors documented 60 percent fewer violations at facilities that use animals in 2018 compared to 2017. The drop, reported by the Washington Post this week and also documented by our researchers here at the Humane Society of the United States, is the latest sign that the federal agency is pulling back from its job of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which protects animals used by puppy mills, zoos and research labs, among others.
The Post also noted a drop in the number of "critical" or "direct" violations issued by the USDA — serious violations that would trigger faster follow-up by the agency and possible enforcement action. In 2017, inspectors recorded more than 4,000 citations, including 331 marked as critical or direct. In 2018, the number of citations fell below 1,800, including 128 that were critical or direct.
The agency now appears to be giving the facilities it inspects more leeway to cover up their deficiencies and their misdeeds. Above, a dog at a USDA-licensed puppy mill.USDA
HSUS researchers have come across instances where inspectors found animals who were clearly injured or emaciated, but did not write up a critical or direct citation or even require a puppy mill owner to take a sick dog to a veterinarian for an examination. For instance, in June last year, a USDA inspector visiting a commercial dog breeding operation in Kokomo, Indiana, came across a female boxer who was nursing a litter of puppies.
The dog's ribs, spine and hip bones were protruding, but the inspector simply allowed the breeder to talk to a veterinarian on the phone, who instructed that the dog be given a different diet. The dog was not examined by a veterinarian in person and no tests were done to check if she was sick due to a non-dietary reason, like an underlying infection or parasite — an omission that could endanger her life and the lives of her puppies.
This slackening of enforcement commitments is just the latest in a long-running and disturbing saga that has unfolded at the USDA under the current administration. The agency now appears to be turning a blind eye to most violations while giving the facilities it inspects more leeway to cover up their deficiencies and their misdeeds.
Meanwhile, the public is being largely kept in the dark about what goes on behind closed doors at such facilities. In February of 2017, the agency deleted inspection reports of thousands of these facilities that groups like ours had relied on for years to inform the American public of how businesses treat the animals in their care. We are challenging that decision with a lawsuit, but to date, the USDA continues to redact breeder names, addresses and license numbers on its public Animal Welfare Act records.
In April 2018 the USDA announced a pilot program that alerts some facilities about upcoming inspections in advance. This gives some breeders and other regulated facilities time to cover up violations or even hide or destroy sick or injured dogs.
In May 2018, a new USDA tech note explained facilities can now "self-report" to avoid having certain violations identified in their records, even some critical violations, as long as they follow certain guidelines. That same month, the USDA issued a revised Animal Welfare Inspection Guide that was missing many important elements, such as the long-standing requirement that a facility's written program of veterinary care be signed by an actual veterinarian, and requirements related to identifying suffering animals and taking sick animals to a veterinarian.
In October last year, the Post reported that the USDA issued only 39 written warnings in the first three quarters of 2018, and had settled only one civil complaint against a puppy mill operator. This was a huge drop from just two years before, when the agency issued 192 warnings and filed civil complaints against 23 licensees.
To make matters even worse, the recent government shutdown, the longest in American history, resulted in many puppy mills operating without an inspection during the early part of the year.
A USDA spokesperson admitted to the Post reporter that the agency is backpedaling on enforcement, stating that it is putting more emphasis on "working with" the regulated community instead. But this makes no sense because the USDA's own audits show that this approach has failed in the past. In reality, the lack of enforcement is likely due to the influence of vested interests, including Big Ag groups and breeder collectives, which, under the current administration, have an unprecedented amount of influence on the agency's strategy. It's the fox in the henhouse.
Ironically, the only class of dealers that the USDA is increasingly cracking down on is animal rescues, especially nonprofit pet rescue transporters that obtain minor fees for moving dogs and cats from overburdened rural shelters to shelters that have more space. In 2018, the USDA updated the interpretation of its rules to require some pet rescues to obtain a license under certain circumstances, even if payment they receive to transport pets is just compensation for vet care or gas money.
We are keeping an eye on these developments and challenging them whenever possible, but we cannot do it without your help. Please contact your U.S. Representatives and ask them to join a member sign-on letter to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that will be circulating soon. The letter will shine a spotlight on these problems at the USDA and call for tougher enforcement. Also ask your Representatives to support the Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, H.R. 1002, in Congress.
This important bill would require the USDA to ensure that pet breeders demonstrate compliance with the Animal Welfare Act before their licenses can be renewed, and it would also prevent puppy mill operators whose licenses have been suspended or revoked from opening a new license in a different name.
- USDA abruptly purges animal welfare information from its website ... ›
- We Asked the Government Why Animal Welfare Records ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.