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June 25, 2013

Independent Reports Highlight Problem with Federal Programs Related to Animal Treatment, Enforcement

We’ve seen some positive action from the federal executive agencies lately – for example, a Department of the Interior proposed listing of all chimpanzees as endangered, and a favorable U.S. Department of Agriculture announcement to close a loophole dealing with downer cows. We’ve also seen some adverse moves, including a series of de-listing actions of gray wolves, leaving them vulnerable to state fish and wildlife agency plans for trophy hunting and commercial trapping. We are expecting some major announcements in the next few days on a number of issues.

But preceding so many of these decisions, or in fact helping to trigger reforms, have been reports from the USDA Office of Inspector General and the National Academy of Sciences that have exposed mismanagement of federal programs, poor decision-making, or lax enforcement – on everything from wild horses, to the operations of pig slaughter plants, to horse soring and puppy mill oversight.

I’ve worked with our staff at The HSUS to give you a run-down of some of the findings of these reports issued within the last few years. These reports paint a vivid picture of what’s going wrong with federal enforcement efforts. In some cases, the reports have provided an impetus for policy changes, as with the use of chimps in laboratories, or the selling of puppies over the Internet. Here’s a rather remarkable summary of what’s been highlighted and exposed, along with corrective action.

Human Toxicology Project

In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences report, entitled “Toxicity Testing in the Twenty-first Century: A Vision and a Strategy,” proposed a new approach to assessing chemical safety that moves away from animal testing. Commercial chemicals, pesticides and other substances are typically tested for safety by dispersing large doses to groups of animals and then observing the animals for symptoms of disease. The report stated that these animal tests are of questionable relevance for humans, provide much information that isn’t useful, are time-consuming and costly, and cannot handle the enormous backlog of untested agents or meet new multiplying challenges of chemical safety. In the years following the report, a government-sponsored collaboration, called Tox21, has been set up between the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The mission of Tox21 is to serve as a catalyst for the prompt, global, coordinated implementation of pathway-based toxicology, which will better safeguard human health and hasten the replacement of animal use in toxicology. This approach is also gaining acceptance internationally.

Class B Dealers

In 2009, the National Academies Institute for Laboratory Animal Research released a report that concluded that Class B dealers – animal dealers whose operating licenses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture allow them to round up dogs and cats from animal shelters, auctions, private individuals and other “random sources” (which could include stolen pets), and then sell them for experimentation – are not necessary to provide dogs and cats for research. The report was issued in response to a request by Congress through the National Institutes of Health for a critical evaluation of the need to use random source dogs and cats from Class B dealers in NIH-funded research. In 2011, NIH notified its grant recipients that as of 2015, the use of NIH funds to acquire dogs from Class B random-source dealers will be prohibited, and it advised its grantees to identify new sources for such animals. In 2012, NIH implemented the recommendations from the report and stated that awards issued after October 1, 2012 will prohibit the use of NIH funds to obtain cats from Class B random source dealers.

Puppy Mills

150x150_MO_PUPPY_MILLIn 2010, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General criticized the agency’s long history of lax oversight of commercial dog breeders under the Animal Welfare Act. The report reviewed inspections and enforcement actions taken against dog dealers and found that USDA inspectors failed to cite or properly document inhumane treatment and brought little to no enforcement actions against violators. In response to this audit report, the USDA significantly increased its inspections and enforcement actions against noncompliant dealers. Although the USDA still has a lot of work to do to ensure that all dealers are complying with the AWA, it is moving in the right direction and focusing its enforcement resources on the worst offenders. In addition, the audit highlighted how some prolific dog dealers are escaping USDA oversight because they sell dogs directly to the public, including over the Internet. The USDA agreed to seek changes that would close this regulatory loophole to require all large scale breeders to be covered by the USDA’s AWA regulations and we are currently awaiting the USDA’s release of this final rule.

Horse Soring

Later in 2010, the USDA’s OIG released another audit addressing animal welfare. This one was directed at the USDA’s oversight of show horses under the Horse Protection Program. This law gives the USDA authority to ensure that Tennessee walking horses and other breeds are not subjected to the abusive practice of soring – the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force an artificial, exaggerated gait. The OIG released an audit of the program echoing what we’ve said all along - that industry self-regulation does not work. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service agreed to abolish this industry inspection program and to take a more direct role in licensing and oversight of inspectors, and mandate across the board penalties for violators. The agency has yet to implement changes to remove industry groups from the inspection program, but did issue a rule requiring those groups to impose uniform mandatory minimum penalties on violators. One of the groups sued APHIS in an attempt to block the rule, but it is in effect while the suit is pending. In response to this audit, along with HSUS undercover investigations exposing terrible abuse, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., have introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (H.R. 1518), which makes much needed reforms to the Horse Protection Act, including ending the failed industry self-policing system, strengthening penalties, banning the use of stacks and chains on horses’ feet, and making the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling him or her illegal.

Horse Slaughter

In the same audit as horse soring, the OIG also reviewed the slaughter horse transport program and found that APHIS needs to improve its controls to ensure that horses being shipped to foreign plants are treated humanely. One of the OIG’s recommendations was that the USDA should withhold shipping documents from individuals who violate humane handling regulations and who have outstanding fines. However, the USDA has yet to implement this recommendation, three years later. As a result of the USDA’s failure to strengthen its enforcement oversight, horse slaughter transporters have little incentive to transport horses humanely. The auditors also recommended that the USDA finalize a rule to increase its authority over horses being transported (to include all transport of horses once they are identified as slaughter horses, to any intermediary point between the sale barn/auction and the slaughter plant). The USDA’s previous rule prohibiting the use of double-deck trailers only covered horses that were directly being sent to a slaughter facility. This broader rule is critically important to improve the humane transport of horses for slaughter. The USDA issued this final rule soon after the audit was released.

Chimpanzees

CHIMP5_106269In 2011, the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine issued a report that found the current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is largely unnecessary. The Institute of Medicine report was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health following an outcry over the agency’s 2010 proposal to move 186 federally-owned chimpanzees from Alamogordo, N.M., to the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio. The report makes plain that the limited usefulness of chimpanzees will diminish further over time, especially as alternative methods are developed. In response to the IOM report, the NIH assembled a working group to offer recommendations on how to implement the findings of the report and examine the NIH’s future role in chimpanzee research. In January 2013, the working group issued its recommendations, calling for the retirement of the majority of government-owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories to sanctuary and no revitalization of chimpanzee breeding for research purposes. The director of the NIH is expected to decide this week on whether or not to adopt the working group’s recommendations.  

Pigs

In May of this year, the OIG audited the Food Safety and Inspection Service enforcement and inspection activities at swine slaughter plants and found that FSIS enforcement policies do not deter swine slaughter plants from repeatedly violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act and that “there is reduced assurance of FSIS inspectors effectively identifying pork that should not enter the food supply.” In addition, the OIG found that FSIS inspectors did not take appropriate enforcement actions for violations of the Humane Method of Slaughter Act, and as a result, many slaughter plants are not improving their slaughter practices, and FSIS could not ensure the humane handling of swine. We have discussed the audit with FSIS and encourage the agency to make these much needed reforms.

Wild Horses

In June, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, and made recommendations for future approaches. The report stated that the BLM’s procedures for monitoring and surveying wild horses and burros are flawed, inconsistent, and actually contribute to high horse population growth rates. For instance, the report took issue with the BLM’s practice of managing wild horses “below food-limited carrying capacity” by rounding up and removing a significant proportion of the herd’s population every three to four years, stating that this is one of the factors contributing to a costly roundup and remove cycle. As a potential solution, the report suggests that the agency should end its reliance on short-sighted roundups, and instead, keep horses on the range while humanely limiting reproduction through the application of a contraceptive vaccine. This could, over the long term, reduce the significant and unnecessary economic burden the BLM shoulders as it maintains approximately 50,000 horses in holding facilities. The HSUS provided the agency with a detailed plan for implementing the changes to the program called for in the NAS report and is awaiting the agency's response.

These reports provide a valuable, independent look at enforcement of our federal animal welfare laws, and make a remarkably persuasive case for changes in policy and execution. We’re working to hold all of the agencies involved accountable and to get the right outcomes for animals and for the nation.

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