On June 4, the regulation titled “Thresholds for De Minimis Activity and Exemptions From Licensing Under the Animal Welfare Act” which purportedly implement[s] amendments to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), was published by USDA-APHIS, effective on the date of publication.
The regulation expands some exemptions to the licensing requirements pursuant to the AWA. There are some unintended consequences to these expansions that may be detrimental to certain animal owners. For example, the ever-expanding pet store sourcing bans often limit sources to USDA-licensed dog breeders—if these professional breeders are not entirely excluded. Many exempt breeders—those who own four or fewer breeding females—would prefer to be licensed so that they can sell to pet stores. However, because the provision that permits an exempt breeder to apply for a voluntary license was previously deleted from the regulations, these breeders have cannot obtain an USDA license.
USDA notes that the “four or fewer exemption” has been in place since 2004 (addressing a comment related to licensure of small exotic and wild animal owners), there was no discussion about the growing impact to dog “hobby” breeders, perhaps because no one submitted a relevant comment. (There was a comment that permitting these breeders to go unlicensed created a loophole, but USDA “made no changes in response to that comment”).
If these breeders were to try to use third party certifiers to prove to the public that it complies with or exceeds standards required pursuant to the AWA, the reliance on such certification may be questioned based on USDA’s recent announcement that it “will not establish new criteria for recognizing third-party inspection and certification programs when determining the Agency’s own inspection frequency under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).”
In this case, APHIS found the vast majority of the comments we received to not be in favor of establishing new criteria for recognizing third party inspection and certification programs. Stakeholders on all sides of the issue expressed concern about APHIS’ ability to maintain responsibility for inspections and AWA compliance should third-party inspections be taken into account when determining APHIS inspection frequencies.
APHIS will continue to use its current risk-based inspection system to determine the frequency of inspections, and will continue to promote compliance with the AWA by conducting quality inspections, offering voluntary compliance support and learning opportunities, and taking enforcement action, as appropriate.
Still, no one should be surprised if activists use USDA’s decision to support their unsubstantiated position that certain third party certifications are meaningless.
While it is understandable that USDA has adopted this rule to “allow . . . APHIS to focus its limited resources on situations that pose a higher risk to animal welfare and public safety” I hope that these exemptions do not create additional hardships for animal owners, breeders, and exhibitors. More to follow in PART TWO.