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UPDATE: USDA SEEKS PUBLIC INPUT

On August 23, 2017, the USDA announced that it is considering updates and potential revisions to the licensing requirements under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations.

The Department is asking for input from the public.

The Animal Welfare Act is the federal law that requires certain businesses, such as animal breeders, dealers, exhibitors, transporters, and researchers, to obtain a federal license to operate. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), within the USDA, is responsible for upholding and enforcing the AWA, which includes conducting inspections and issuing licenses. NOTE: The Department has the authority to make changes to the regulations that govern the AWA (the law). This advance notice (for public comment) is part of the legal process to allow changes to the regulations.

Link: AWA and Regulations

Each year, the USDA issues nearly 6,000 licenses to people who breed, sell, or exhibit animals for commercial purposes.

The concerns

Unfortunately, how the USDA interprets and enforces the AWA has contributed to the problem of puppy mills and has, through licensing and regulations, supported the growth of these businesses and others that exhibit animals, breed and sell animals for use in laboratory experiments, or use certain animals for commercial purposes.

Numerous complaints have been filed against the USDA for its actions or lack thereof. Multiple audits of the USDA, too, have profiled problems.

Over the past years, Animal Folks has submitted complaints, requesting action. These complaints show why licensing requirements must be improved.

The USDA, through this rule-making process, is now looking for ideas to improve its licensing practices. Scroll down for examples.

 

Take action. Here's how:

The USDA is accepting comments up until October 23, 2017. Animal Folks will be

submitting comments. You can submit your comments by visiting:

regulations.gov

Click on the blue Comment Now! link. You can also mail your comments to the USDA. Address is posted on link above.

Suggestions for preparing comments:

Read this link from the USDA that provides further details about what types of regulatory changes the USDA is considering.

• Be concise. Where possible, cite examples or stories.

• Be respectful. Be passionate, but not offensive.

• There is no minimum or maximum length for an effective comment.

• The USDA said "The comment process is not a vote — one well supported comment is often more influential than a thousand form letters."

If you don't have specific ideas for improvements of licensing requirements, you can still submit a brief statement of support for USDA efforts to improve the regulations. To get an idea of what has already been posted by others, go to: Animal Welfare - Comments 

Tips for submitting effective comments (prepared by regulations.gov)

Some considerations are below.

 

The concerns: examples

The USDA is using this process to solicit "public comment on potential revisions to the licensing requirements to better promote sustained compliance with the AWA, reduce licensing fees and burdens, and strengthen existing safeguards that prevent individuals and businesses who are unfit to hold a license (such as any individual whose license has been suspected or revoked or who has a history of noncompliance) from obtaining a license or working with regulated animals."

The USDA has listed some specific questions in regard to licensing on the Proposed Rule Document but they will review all comments submitted.

There are numerous examples that illustrate problems in the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act by the USDA and the licensing of facilities. Below are a few examples.

 

1. SUPPORT - Disclosure of any animal cruelty convictions.

• Background: The Animal Welfare Regulations do not allow initial licenses to be granted if the applicant has been found or is in violation of any Federal, State, or local laws (see complete language: Title 9, Chapter 1, Subpart A, Part 2, section 2.11). Further, renewal licenses may also be terminated for reasons defined in section 2.11 (see section 2.12).

• USDA is proposing: "Require license applicants to disclose any animal cruelty convictions or other violations of Federal, State, or local laws or regulations pertaining to animals."

• Public input: Support this proposal (above) by the USDA; and also require USDA inspectors or representatives to report animal neglect or cruelty they suspect or witness to local authorities. (In many states, veterinarians are mandated reporters of cruelty; if an inspector is a licensed veterinarian for a state with reporting laws, he or she is required to report it.)

• Supporting data: Animal Folks had filed a complaint against a MN dog breeder (Rowell, former USDA license number 41-B-0268, located in Cass County) who was suspected of animal cruelty, resulting in an animal cruelty conviction and the seizure of the animals. At the time of the complaints and seizure, this kennel was licensed by the USDA. Other dog breeders in Minnesota, such as Kathy Bauck and Dayna Bell, who violated state animal anti-cruelty statutes, were also licensed by the USDA and were in business during the time of the local investigations and subsequent legal actions. The fact that breeders are still operating with a federal license while the facility is in violation of state and/or local laws must be challenged. To better protect animals, changes must be made to AWA licensing requirements to improve animal cruelty reporting procedures and interactions between federal, state and local authorities.

 

2. OPPOSE - Eliminating the application fee and reducing license fees.

• Background: Currently, the application fee for a USDA license is $10 and the annual renewal fee is on a sliding scale based on revenues (see charts below).

• USDA proposal: The USDA is considering: "eliminating the application fee and annual license fee and assessing reasonable fees only for licenses issued" — which may be every 3-5 years, if the USDA chooses to extend the license expiration period.

• Public input: Please ask the USDA to consider raising the application fee and annual licensing fees to more accurately reflect the cost of administering the regulations and to reduce the burden on taxpayers. In addition to increasing the fees, create additional categories for Class A and B licensees who have higher gross sales (above $100,000) and/or number of animals.

• Supporting data: Considering that an animal, such as a puppy, if sold wholesale, could generate $200 (or more) each or, if sold retail, could be in the thousands of dollars each, a license fee of $30 to $750 is not a burden on a breeder, broker, auction house, or exhibitor. The USDA has stated it is trying to reduce regulatory burden. How is "burden" defined? Is this burden on the USDA, the licensee, or the citizens and taxpayers who pay for the USDA personnel and/or assume the costs of rescue efforts and veterinary care should animals be harmed? 

3. SUPPORT - Streamlining how a license is denied, terminated, or suspended.

• Background: Currently, an individual is granted an initial USDA license if he or she meets the definition of the Animal Welfare Act and his/her application is approved. The individual is then sent a renewal application form six weeks in advance of the renewal date — each year. This form needs to be signed and submitted to APHIS, along with a renewal fee and a tax identification form. Essentially, the renewal process for a license is automatic — and administrative. If there are violations of law (noncompliances as documented on inspection reports), the "enforcement" process kicks in with legal procedures and hearings. The enforcement process to terminate or revoke a license can take years. Current language in the Animal Welfare Act and the Regulations provide options for actions, but this is not always pursued by the USDA. For instance, at the bottom of the initial license application form and at the bottom of the renewal license form it states:

"...I hereby acknowledge receipt of and agree to comply with all the regulations and standards in 9 CFR, Subpart A, Parts 1, 2, and 3. ..."

Licensees sign this form and yet many, as documented by inspection reports, do not comply with the regulations and standards. The USDA still grants a renewal license, even though they know the licensee is in noncompliance.

• USDA is proposing: "Streamlining the procedures for denying a license application, terminating a license, and summarily suspending a license."

• Public input: Support this proposed regulatory change (above).

• Supporting data: Animal Folks filed a complaint against S. Glenice Viken (41-A-0298; located in Roseau County, MN) with the USDA, showing repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act over many years. (A similar complaint was also filed with the county sheriff, reflecting violations of Minnesota's animal anti-cruelty statutes.) As of this date, this breeder is still licensed by the USDA and is still operating. It is assumed that each year when her license is renewed, this breeder has continued to sign the renewal form that states she is in compliance when this is not accurate. New regulations must be established to streamline how the USDA-APHIS denies, terminates, or suspends a license. This authority and procedures are especially needed when a licensee has repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act, as documented through inspections. Allowing a breeder to commit and then "fix" the same violations year after year is in direct violation of current law.

 

4. SUPPORT - Strengthen existing prohibitions and close loopholes.

• Background: The Animal Welfare Regulations do not allow circumvention of the law. See Title 9, Chapter 1, Subpart A, Part 2, Section 2.11 (6) (d). (Section 2.12 applies to termination during the license renewal process.) Animal Welfare

Regulations also do not allow initial licenses to be granted if the applicant has been found or is in violation of any Federal, State, or local laws (see Section 2.11). Further, renewal licenses may be terminated "for any reason that an initial license application may be denied" (section 2.12).

• USDA is proposing: "Strengthening existing prohibitions to expressly restrict individuals and businesses whose licenses have been suspended or revoked from working for other regulated entities, and prevent individuals with histories of noncompliance (or orders suspending or revoking a license) from applying for new licenses through different individuals or business names."

• Public input: Support this proposed regulatory change. Also, close the loophole that allows a licensee to cancel his or her license during a revocation process in order to stop the process and circumvent the law.

• Supporting data: Animal Folks filed a complaint against two dog breeders located in Morrison County, Minnesota, requesting an investigation of a Consent Order by the USDA. One of the breeders was being investigated by the USDA for a history of violations; however, this breeder cancelled her USDA license during the process and the investigation was then stopped. The kennel was flipped to the breeder's daughter-in-law who was granted a new USDA license on the same day as the license cancellation and on the same day of the Consent Order. Further, no restrictions were placed on the Consent Order prohibiting the original kennel owner from working at the newly-licensed kennel, and the original owner was allowed to reapply for a license in just three months following the Order, essentially wiping out any prior violations. This breeder had also violated a local law (permit) by exceeding her limit of adult dogs at the kennel in four separate years; violating local law is a violation of the AWA.

 

 

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