An administrative hearing is underway with respect to allegations of Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations leveled by the US Department of Agriculture against Moulton Chinchilla Ranch (MCR), a supplier of chinchillas for experimentation. (See AWI Quarterly, fall 2020.) The USDA complaint alleges, among other things, that respondent—MCR owner, Daniel Moulton—willfully violated the AWA, failed to provide USDA inspectors access to his facilities, failed to provide adequate veterinary care to the animals, and failed to comply with minimum standards for humane handling, care, treatment, housing, and transportation of animals. The grave nature of the allegations has prompted online articles by both Science and National Geographic, based in part on information supplied by AWI.
Although such hearings are normally in person and open to the public, Moulton sought to prevent public access to this phone-in hearing. The judge did grant access—but attached conditions that AWI believes impinge on our First Amendment right to observe and disseminate information about the proceedings. AWI did not accept the conditions and is therefore excluded from the hearing while we continue to seek unfettered access.
The USDA’s own attorneys have strongly objected to the unconstitutional conditions, stating:
“In order to provide a fair hearing for both USDA and Respondent, it is important that the public be granted unlimited access to the hearing. … The conditions of the Respondent’s facility, the way the Respondent treats his chinchillas, and the Respondent’s inability to comply with the AWA, Regulations, and Standards should be for all to see and hear. If the Respondent is afraid of the facts, then he should not have violated the AWA and its Regulations and Standards, as alleged.”
The case is expected to continue through September. As we obtain it, information on MCR—including USDA inspection reports and photographs, court filings, AWI Quarterly articles, and media coverage—will be posted on our website.