USDA Proposes Letting Industry (Secretly) Police Itself

The US Department of Agriculture is soliciting public comment on a discredited idea that would undermine the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) by putting animals at the mercy of the industries that exploit them. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is responsible for AWA and Horse Protection Act enforcement, wants input on how it should recognize “third-party inspection and certification programs as a positive factor when determining APHIS inspection frequencies at facilities licensed or registered under the [AWA].” Translation: APHIS wants to allow industry self-policing.

Under this proposal, puppy mills and other unscrupulous breeders, exhibitors, and laboratories would escape the stricter scrutiny of the USDA if they are accredited and inspected by industry trade groups. Such “inspections” would be infrequent and announced beforehand, and resulting reports would not be publicly available.

Self-policing rarely works. USDA inspectors have reported numerous deficiencies at zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and—as noted in the AWI Quarterly, spring 2012—at laboratories accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC). One prominent AALAC-accredited research institution was cited for shortcomings in veterinary care and environmental enrichment for primates. Another was cited repeatedly for a long list of problems that resulted in the suffering and deaths of monkeys, rabbits, and other animals. AZA-accredited exhibitors have been written up for various infractions; one accredited zoo paid a $45,000 fine to settle 51 willful violations of the AWA.

In short, there is no substitute for the unannounced compliance inspections conducted by the USDA’s experienced staff, for public access to inspection reports, and for the enforcement mechanisms available under the law.