U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

In a bulletin published on September 25, 2018, USDA announced “four overarching goals for advancing animal disease traceability to protect the long-term health, marketability and economic viability of the U.S. livestock industry.”

Advance the electronic sharing of data among federal and state animal health officials, veterinarians and industry; including sharing basic animal disease traceability data with the federal animal health events repository (AHER).

Use electronic ID tags for animals requiring individual identification in order to make the transmission of data more efficient;

Enhance the ability to track animals from birth to slaughter through a system that allows tracking data points to be connected; and

Elevate the discussion with States and industry to work toward a system where animal health certificates are electronically transmitted from private veterinarians to state animal health officials.

Animal disease traceability has been a long-term goal of state and federal officials, as well as farmers and ranchers interested in protecting their livestock from the spread of contagious, infectious diseases.

A State-Federal Working Group reviewed the existing program and potential future goals, the results of which are published in a Summary of Program Reviews and Proposed Directions, dated April 2018.

The working group expressed general concerns about, in part: (1) confidentiality and security of information systems; (2) producer liability based on disease transmission, and animal and human injury resulting from applying and reading identification tags; (3) cost; (4) lack of proportionality of scale for small compared to large producers; and (5) beef feeder cattle under versus over the age of 18 months; practicality of identifying livestock at birth premises; flexibility, among other issues.

There was particular concern over electronic ID (EID), related technology and costs:

  • “If radio frequency ID (RFID) is to be utilized, the establishment of standards, including one technology (low-frequency (LF) vs ultra-high frequency (UHF)) is critical. Most stakeholders supported a dual technology tag as an interim measure.
  • The infrastructure must be in place to support the transition to EID.
  • Cost remains the primary concern of producers and representatives from other sectors of the industry for both the reader infrastructure and tags; however, the use of EID would provide substantial savings due to the increased efficiency associated with the technology.
  • Availability and use of electronic forms, in particular, electronic ICVIs. Obtaining records electronically would decrease cost and improve the completeness and accuracy of the data. Additionally, retiring animal numbers at slaughter would be feasible, where it has been cost-prohibitive with visual-only tags.
  • A cost analysis on metal NUES tags to show the full cost of tags when working cattle to manually record ID numbers (labor, stress and shrink, injury, etc.), as well as their limitations relative to traceability, e.g., tag retirement, to more accurately illustrate the 14 costs of both visual-only and EID tags.
  • Proportionally higher implementation costs for smaller producers, who sell direct to consumers and believe their livestock are already highly traceable.”

USDA’s current goals build on its final rule adopted on January 9, 2013, “Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate,” which requires cattle, bison, horses and other equine species, poultry, sheep and goats, swine, and captive cervids moving interstate to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection (ICVI) or other documentation, with limited exemptions.

The proposals from the Working, as published in the report, include:

  1. Maintain the policy that traceability regulations do not apply to interstate movements to a custom slaughter facility in accordance with Federal and State regulations for preparation of meat.
  2. Maintain the current population of livestock covered by the official ID requirements. The ADT rule will continue to include:
  • All dairy
  • Beef cattle > 18 months of age
  • All rodeo and exhibition cattle.
  1. Cattle should be identified to their birth premises , thus the official ID records must provide birth premises information for the animal. APHIS should revise Federal regulations to include interstate commerce and the appropriate authority – either USDA or State officials – should establish regulations that trigger official ID requirements at:
  • Change of ownership
  • First point of commingling
  • Interstate movement (may reflect no sale and no commingling).
  1. The United States must move toward an EID system for cattle with a target implementation date of January 1, 2023. A comprehensive plan is necessary to address the multitude of very complex issues related to the implementation of a fully integrated electronic system. A specialized industry-lead task force with government participation should develop the plan, with a focus on several key objectives (see report for specifics).
  2. APHIS and States must make the advancement of electronic records an immediate high priority. The enhancements recommended below would increase the ease of collecting data in a standardized format and subsequently provide access to accurate data in near real-time, greatly enhancing the effectiveness of U.S. traceability and disease control programs. (See report for specifics).
  3. Enhanced enforcement of existing regulations.
  4. APHIS should continue the efforts of the State/Federal Slaughter Plant Working Group to improve the rates of ID collection and correlation at slaughter.
  5. APHIS and States need to establish a partnership with industry that would enable utilization of private information systems for disease surveillance and response events. Ideally, establish a communication protocol between the private systems and an animal disease traceability portal that would allow producer data to be maintained in the private systems and made available to animal health officials only when needed for animal disease control and response. Producers would have the choice to maintain their data in a private or public system. APHIS and the States would continue to protect producer data held in their systems and use it only for disease response. (See report for additional details).
  6. Review and update existing exemptions for official identification requirements.
  7. Concerns about electronic ICVIs and other electronic movement records are a high priority . . . Stakeholders support consistent requirements; however, the State of destination should be responsible for determining the documents appropriate for collection and compliance of key traceability components for livestock arriving to that State.
  8. Address lack of uniformity of state importation regulations. 9 CFR Part 86 should provide the national standards for official ID and movement documentation. APHIS should continue revision of the regulations to increase standardization considering that eliminating various exemptions will lessen confusion and State differences.
  9. The working group feels there is value in considering a standard, or uniform, official eartag to increase awareness and understanding that it is unlawful to remove the tag. APHIS should conduct a study to determine the potential advantages and disadvantages of having one national ID eartag for cattle. The study should examine the merit a standardized tag might bring to ease of recognizing official tags and its effect on compliance. The study should also include cost comparisons of the use of numerous tag styles, sizes, etc. versus one standard, uniform tag. APHIS should review this information and, if having one uniform tag has significant advantages, publish the one tag concept for public comment through the Federal Register. The actual change, if pursued, would require rulemaking.
  10. The ability to maintain the identity of imported cattle is essential. As such, the working group recommends that APHIS allow the retagging of such animals with an official EID tag by revising the traceability regulation to define an “Import Tag” (with a specific range of AINs and tag color). For example, APHIS could reserve a range of 840 numbers starting with “8409” for use on these tags. To help distinguish “Import Tags” that have a panel component, the panel piece of the tag should include the text “Import”. This ID option would clearly identify animals tagged with an 840 Import Tag after importation to the United States; provide producers the option to use compatible EID technologies as preferred; and allows for re-tagging visual only tagged imported cattle with an 840 EID Import Tag (even if the visual only official tag of the exporting country is in the ear). Producers using UHF technology could use USDA approved UHF 840 tags or the USDA approved UHF NUES tags when the State Animal Health Official authorizes this option. The recordkeeping requirements for tagging imported animals would remain the same as currently written in 9 CFR Part 86 for retagging and adding a second official tag. The working group recommends that APHIS prohibit the use of visual only 840 tags in imported animals.
  11. Considerations related to official identification of beef feeders to include beef cattle under 18 18 month of age after additional analysis.

“Moving forward, USDA wants to continue to build on the current momentum around animal disease traceability, and will begin implementing these ADT goals starting in fiscal year 2019.”

State Departments of Emergency Management prepare and respond to natural disasters by implementing the orchestrated emergency response plans, which state, federal and non-profit partners help develop over the years. These plans, that also include responses to the intentional or accidental introduction of highly pathogenic zoonotic or strictly animal diseases, are considered ever-green and updated based on emerging technology and review of tabletop exercises.

For those farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, zoos, aquaria, equine facilities, animal shelters, pet stores, biomedical research facilities and companion animal owners in need of assistance following Hurricane Florence and then Hurricane Michael in the South East, I hope the following resources can be of assistance.

South Carolina

On October 8, 2018, South Carolina State Veterinarian Boyd H. Parr, DVM implemented “temporary exceptions to the regulations governing the importation and exportation of animals coming into and leaving South Carolina as a result of Hurricane Michael.  All animals moving under these exceptions are expected to return to their state of origin no later than 10/31/18 unless this order is extended or revised.”  The exceptions, set forth at the Clemson Livestock Poultry Health website, permit interstate movement without a Coggins test result form or Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.

A comprehensive list of resources are available on Clemson’s Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery website, including, for example, links to (1) Hurricane Guidance for Livestock Owners; (2) Disaster Plan for Horses; (3) Emergency Equine Stable Sites; Flooding Hay Request Form; (4) Animal/Agriculture Emergency Support Function (ESF)-17 Ag Damage Assessment Information Form; and (5) Business Continuity for Agriculture/Secure Food Supply Plans.

In the face of Hurricane Florence, South Carolina previously suspended certain motor vehicle requirements, including, “such federal rules and regulations, in conjunction with S.C. Code Ann. §§ 56-5-4010 et seq., which establish size, weight, and load requirements for South Carolina highways, for, in relevant part, “Persons and vehicles transporting livestock, poultry, food for livestock and poultry, and crops ready to be harvested.”

Georgia

In Georgia, the Department of Agriculture has a Hurricane Response Center available on its website that also provides links to relevant information, including tips for those impacted by the storm.  Guidance is available related to livestock, pets, food, fuel, crops and other important information, such as:

0/12/2018 Commissioner Black Gets First Glimpse of Hurricane Michael’s Damage

10/12/2018 Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool

10/11/2018 Hurricane Michael Devastates Georgia’s Agricultural Industry

10/10/2018 Disaster Assistance Fact Sheet

10/10/2018 Press Release: Georgia Department of Agriculture Responds to Threat of Hurricane Michael

10/10/2018 Hurricane Michael: Animal Interstate Movement Requirements for Entry into Georgia from Florida are Temporarily Suspended UPDATED!

10/09/2018 Georgia National Fair Press Release: Fair Closed Wednesday October 10th, 2018

10/09/2018 Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 92 counties in Georgia

Resources for Animal Food Producers in Flooded Areas of Gulf Coast

Like South Carolina, Georgia  and Florida temporarily suspended their interstate importation requirements for the transportation of animals.

Florida

Florida, with its long history of exemplary emergency preparedness and response, continues to implement those plans, including “[s]upporting pet-friendly shelters, agricultural producers, and local communities with various needs for supplies, transportation and staffing.”

North Carolina

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, N.C. State University Cooperative Extension and N.C. Cattlemen’s Association issued a warning on Sept. 22, 2018 to its constituents that “an individual was offering operational recovery assistance to producers with the claim that he had been authorized by the South Carolina state government. A background check on this individual proved this to be false.”

We are asking that if you are contacted by organizations or individuals that you do not know and you have a concern about their legitimacy, to please get the name of the individual/team, phone numbers, emails, license plate numbers, etc. and share that with your county Emergency Management Services.

USDA

A long-time partner with state departments of agriculture in emergency response, USDA provides resources and information on its website.  Its role  is “to provide food, emergency housing, community, as well as farmer and rancher assistance to individuals and small businesses affected by severe storms and flooding . . . [and] to work with states affected by severe storms and flooding regarding requests for various assistance, waivers and flexibilities in administering federal nutrition assistance programs.”  USDA also provides link to FEMA’s app for shelter and related information, as well as disaster assistance programs for farmers.

FDA

FDA, concerned about contamination of crops from floodwaters, provides relevant guidance on its website, “Crops Harvested from Flooded Fields Intended for Animal Food: Questions and Answers.”  In some cases, and with specific FDA approval, crops intended for human consumption can be used for animal feed.

The FDA will work with producers to consider requests to recondition an adulterated crop into animal food on a case-by-case basis. FDA’s compliance guide (CPG 675.200) provides a step-by-step process for reconditioning requests.

AVMA

The AVMA helps veterinarian impacted by disasters and provides emergency preparedness guidance on its website.

Hopefully, everyone impacted by these recent storms will find these and other resources helpful as they rebuild their properties, care for their animals, and recover.

On Wednesday, November 15, 2017, Las Vegas City Council voted to enact “Bill No. 2017-40 – which repeals a formerly adopted ordinance which prohibits pet shops from selling or disposing of dogs, cats or potbellied pigs other than those obtained from an animal care facility or nonprofit animal rescue organization.”

As both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) stated in written testimony, the misrepresentations about the puppies sold at pet stores harms puppies, breeders, pet stores and consumers by removing a highly regulated source of healthy puppies for people desiring a lifelong pet with specific behavioral and physical characteristics they prefer for their families.

As PIJAC explained:

Even as we have worked to raise standards of care, PIJAC has battled misconceptions about the quality of pet store animals and the sources of such animals. The unsubstantiated assertion that pet store animals generally come from substandard breeding facilities is commonly used as a smoke screen to obscure the fact that the overwhelming majority of pet owners who choose to purchase from pet stores bring home a happy, healthy pet and remain highly satisfied with their pet store experience.

The reality is that almost all pet store puppies originate from USDA licensed breeders who are regularly inspected and found to comply with appropriate care standards. By contrast, many of the dogs and cats from other sources, including rogue Internet operators, private sales, shelters and rescues, did not come from licensed breeders.

AKC stated:

An important part of ensuring the success of a pet with a new owner is to ensure that it is an appropriate fit with the owner’s lifestyle. Treasured pets may be obtained from a variety of sources, including breeders, pet stores, rescues, and local shelters.

Under the current law, families in Las Vegas have lost an important source for choosing a quality pet that is the best fit for their lifestyle and circumstances.

There is no credible evidence that puppies purchased from pet stores originate from “puppy mills,” large commercial substandard breeding facilities, or that pet store puppies contribute to shelter populations-misrepresentations that form the bases for pet store sourcing bans.

Las Vegas City Council repealed the pet store sourcing ban. Hopefully, other communities will follow suit.

On a related note, Circuit Judge Hamilton dissented from the majority opinion in a constitutional challenge to a pet store ban in Chicago (Park Pet Shop, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 872 F. 3d 495 (7th Cir. 2017) “[o]n two points critical to the federal Commerce Clause claim.”

First, the Supreme Court itself has not yet confined the balancing test under Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137 (1970), as narrowly as my colleagues suggest. The majority writes that Pike balancing comes into play ‘only when the law discriminates against interstate commerce in practical application.’ Ante at 502 (emphasis in original), citing National Paint & Coatings Ass’n v. City of Chicago, 45 F.3d 1124, 1131 (7th Cir. 1995) . . . . The majority would apply Pike only when the challenged law gives ‘local firms any competitive advantage over those located elsewhere’ . . . The Supreme Court’s more recent discussions of Pike, since we decided National Paint in 1995, are difficult to reconcile with this approach. For example, the Court has explained that federal courts ‘generally leave the courtroom door open to plaintiffs invoking the rule in Pike, that even nondiscriminatory burdens on commerce may be struck down on a showing that those burdens clearly outweigh the benefits of a state or local practice.’

 

Judge Hamilton also found that “the majority errs by applying a stringent version of Iqbal and Twombly to find that plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged sufficiently burdensome effects on interstate commerce.”

 

Judge Hamilton found that the complaint had sufficiently alleged plausible impacts that the pet store sourcing ban would result in the alleged harms, concluding,

I don’t know whether the plaintiffs in this case could ultimately meet the demands of the Pike balancing test. They should be permitted to try, though, particularly now that the ordinance has taken effect and evidence of actual effects should be available. I would reverse the dismissal for failure to state a claim and remand for further proceedings.

 

 

As USDA had previously suggested, it just posted a new version of the searchable database that had been dismantled this past February.  Access to the new version is available here.

Many animal rights organizations and animal-trade organizations had expressed outrage or concern when USDA initially dismantled its database.  The current version may not effectuate changes to those positions, since much of the information about individual licensees (compared to licensed businesses) appears to be redacted.

Also, it seems as if license numbers are not available for individuals, but it could be I need to more carefully review the instructions for searching the new database to find that information.

It is a given, that those clamoring for this data will be hard at work deciphering what is and what is not available.

For those pet stores and dealers in towns, cities and states that are required to provide inspection reports to sell puppies, it seems as if the only way to provide such documents from breeders licensed as individuals is to obtain the reports directly from those breeders.

The recent horrific attacks in Syria reminded me of the concerns following 9/11 about potential attacks on livestock and poultry.  Those concerns rose to the highest echelon in our government and others, exemplified by the first International Symposium on Agroterrorism, held in Kansas City, Missouri on May 5, 2005.

I attended that meeting and was awestruck by the opening video-a poignant memorial to the farmers and others involved in agriculture from across the country, highlighting their back-breaking work that feeds and clothes everyone in the United States, and much of the world.  I would love to see that video again-if anyone has a link, please share.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III greeted the attendees, describing the unique challenges involved in distinguishing intentional acts of agroterrorism from natural disease outbreaks:

This distinction is important. If a car bomb explodes outside of a building, we know the attack was intentional. But if a cow contracts Foot and Mouth Disease or a soybean plant exhibits rust, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether the attack was intentional or occurred naturally.

Director Mueller highlighted the federal, state and local public-private efforts then recently adopted and deployed to investigate a potential threat:

Several months ago, the State Department received an anonymous tip that an unknown individual had threatened to introduce a virus to a large pig farm in Kansas. The State Department passed this information to the Secret Service, which notified one of its agents in Kansas. This agent was part of the FBI’s local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Together, we got the investigative ball rolling.

We coordinated with a local veterinarian, the USDA, and the FDA to assess the threat. Working with INS and local law enforcement, we found this man and questioned him. As it turns out, he had recently returned from South Africa, and it was possible that he could have transported a virus with him.

In the end, this investigation turned out to be a poison pen letter. The man we questioned had no intention of spreading a damaging virus. But because of our established networks, we were able to quickly assess the threat and move to prevent any attack.

In 2008, the FBI, Department of Justice and USDA published the “Criminal Handbook for Agroterrorism,” which “represent[ed] a joint effort of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division; the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations; the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; the Department of Homeland Security; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General.”

The handbook was considered important since “[a]n attack against the food or agriculture sector . . . requires a high level of cooperation . . .  to identify . . . the threat, prevent . . .the spread of the disease or further contamination of a food product, prevent . . . public panic, and apprehend . . . those responsible. Lack of mutual awareness and understanding, as well as the absence of established communication procedures, could hinder the effectiveness of joint law enforcement investigations. Due to the continued likelihood of attacks against the U.S. food and agriculture sector, the effective use of all resources during an incident will be critical to ensure an efficient and appropriate response.”

Protecting the food supply in this country remains a priority of the FBI, according to Mollie Halpern (not a relative), explaining:

One way the FBI ensures the safety of the nation’s food from farm to fork is through agroterrorism workshops. Our 56 field offices across the country host these workshops, which bring together the public and private sector—such as farmers, law enforcement, federal regulatory agencies, and academia. Supervisory Special Agent Kelly Decker says outreach, liaising, and awareness are the best defenses against agroterrorism.

USDA has continued its efforts to protect the nation’s food supply.  The Office of Inspector General at USDA published a report in March 2017, “Agroterrorism Prevention, Detection, and Response

“to evaluate if USDA’s [Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Coordination’s] OHSEC had developed and communicated effective plans and procedures to prevent, detect, and respond to agroterrorism threats.”

The OIG recommended:

Development and implementation of written processes to effectively oversea USDA’s agroterrorism prevention, detection, and response activities;

Development and implementation of a comprehensive process to track USDA’s compliance with Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-9; and

Improvement of the process used to create the Sector Specific Plan (SSP).

The recommendations were largely accepted and will hopefully be completed before they are needed.

 

Genetic testing in human and animal medicine has been used for some time, and shows great promise, when used judiciously.  For example, genotyping the avian influenza virus and other pathogens has helped animal and human health officials understand the spread of pathogens so that measures can be implemented to prevent or mitigate such spread.

As reported by Greg Cima, “[f]aster, cheaper genome sequencing is helping public health researchers identify the risks of drug resistance and medical treatment failure . . . The sequences also may help federal investigators find outbreak sources, by geographic location and species, as well as guide vaccine and antimicrobial development.”  Finding risks in a flood of genetic data, JAVMAnews Issues, Aug. 1, 2016. .

According to Dr. Jerold Bell, a small animal practitioner and adjunct professor at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, “[c]ompanies are using diagnostics to determine what breeds exist in a mixed-breed dog . . . Some companies take it one step further and also tests for genes controlling body conformation and known disease-causing mutations.”  M.S, Filippo, Genetic testing for pets quickly catching up to its human counterpart, AVMA press release, 8/8/2016.

Diagnostic test results are rarely dispositive, and the reliability of the results can be influenced by many factors, including, but not limited to: sample collection; quality control and quality assurance of test reagents; method and proficiency of testing; and interpretation of test results.  Even tests performed by USDA-APHIS-approved laboratories that are part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, using reference materials and proficiency tests produced at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory that are accredited to international standards, must be interpreted by knowledgeable clinicians.

As a large animal veterinarian, when I received laboratory results from state or private laboratories that did not seem consistent with my patient’s clinical signs, I would consult with the laboratory director and other officials to discuss those inconsistencies.  Sometimes, additional testing was warranted.  In some cases, the final results were never definitive.

As the Director, Division of Animal Health, New Jersey Department of Agriculture I was responsible for the oversight of the only animal health diagnostic laboratory in the State, and for interpreting laboratory results related to regulated and reportable diseases.  That analysis started with the laboratory test results, and where the results appeared inconsistent with the clinical signs of the tested animal, an in depth review of the testing process from sample collection to results ensued.

Based on this extensive background and understanding of testing, I am concerned about the inappropriate use of certain genetic tests to refute the pedigree registration status of purebred dogs.  As several courts have held, genetic testing is currently not dispositive of pedigree registration status.  See, e.g., Sandra Shines v. Furry Babies Stratford Square, Inc., No. 13-3592, slip op. at 9 (Ill. 18th Jud. Cir. Jan. 22, 2014) (finding DNA test results unreliable to support plaintiff’s claim that the cocker spaniel in dispute was a mixed breed).

Mars Veterinary, a business unit of Mars Petcare that sells a DNA genetic test called Wisdom Panel® warns that the test is not “intended to be used in any judicial proceedings” and further suggests that “[i]f questions arise as to a purebred dog’s pedigree and breed ancestry, parentage testing through the AKC is the appropriate course of action. For this evaluation, the documented sire and/or dam are examined to ensure they were the genetic contributors to the dog in question. If they are confirmed as the parents, their pedigree (and breed) is conferred onto the puppy.”  See Wisdom Panel® Terms and Conditions.

The purebred status of dogs is based on documentation confirming each dog’s lineage, required by the relevant breed canine breed registries—not the results of DNA testing.  Similarly, ancestry DNA testing in humans could not be used to nullify the citizen status of a third-generation U.S. citizen, no matter what their genetic makeup reveals.

The proper use of genetic testing is reflected in AVMA’s new policy on “Inherited Disorders in Responsible Breeding of Companion Animals” which “supports research in genetic and inherited disorders to better educate the profession and breeders on identifying and minimizing inherited disorders in companion animal breeding programs.”  K. Burns, AVMA passes policy on responsible pet breeding, JAVMAnews, Feb. 15, 2017.

Undoubtedly, genetic testing will be used as a increasingly important tool for pathogen tracking, disease control purposes, to help guide responsible dog breeders and to help identify the genetic make-up of mixed breed dogs, with unknown pedigree.

 

After a whirlwind of comments and criticisms, USDA has updated its statement regarding the abrupt deactivation of its Animal Care Search Tool, available here https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAAPHIS/bulletins/185b051.

Similar to statements published on interested parties’ websites, USDA confirmed that this decision was based on internal discussions and review that predated the new administration.

In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records.

USDA noted that the deactivation resulted not only based on guidance from the Department of Justice (see Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act and Overview of the Privacy Act), that provides a comprehensive review of litigation related to FOIA and the Privacy Act, but that their action was also related to litigation “APHIS is currently involved in . . . concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website.”

USDA/APHIS did not identify which litigation it referenced in its updated statement.

Like USDA, many federal agencies struggle to balance transparency with personal and business protections required by federal law.

 Recently, PETA (largely) lost it’s lawsuit against HHS, alleging that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had impermissibly withheld information pursuant to PETA’s FOIA request “seeking records submitted by importers of nonhuman primates . . . to CDC pursuant to certain agency regulations.”   People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, No. 15-cv-309, slip op. (D.D.C. January 5, 2017).

In the final Order, the Court granted Defendant’s Corrected Motion for Relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) holding:

“The four categories of information the Court previously held qualified for protection pursuant to FOIA Exemption 4 with respect to the records of seven objecting importers—quantity of animals imported, the descriptions of crates used in shipments, the names of the companies that export the animals, and the names of the airline carriers that transport the animals—also qualify for such protection with respect to the records of Central State Primate (‘CSP’), Dallas Zoo Management (‘DZM’), and SBNL USA (‘SNBL’). It is further ORDERED that Plaintiff’s [52] Cross-Motion for Relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) is GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART. Plaintiff’s motion is GRANTED in that information regarding the quantity of animals imported and the descriptions of crates used in shipments on the records of Worldwide Primates, Inc. (‘WWP’) and Primate Products Inc. (‘PPI’) does not qualify for protection pursuant to FOIA Exemption 4. Plaintiff’s motion is DENIED in all other respects.  Id., slip op. (D.D.C. Feb. 6, 2017).”

PETA has appealed this decision.

In a stunning turn of events, USDA has deactivated it’s Animal Care Search Tool, as indicated on its website:

Animal Care Search Tool-DEACTIVATED
Animal Care Search Tool-DEACTIVATED.

USDA inspection reports of licensees pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act, among other data, were previously available on this search engine.

The following alert is provided when clicking on the link (now deactivated):

If the law requiring such disclosure is not specific about where the pet store must obtain the inspection reports, then the pet stores may have to obtain those documents from their sources.  Certainly, they will be unable to obtain the reports quickly through a FOIA request (unless that process has drastically changed).  Even if obtainable through FOIA, it seems likely that the breeder’s personal information, required by many laws, will be redacted by USDA.

It will be incredibly interesting and insightful to hear more about the legal basis USDA relied upon to protect this personal information under the Privacy Act and other laws, as mentioned in the alert.

It seems likely that USDA will be explaining this in court when this policy is undoubtedly challenged.  See some of their thinking at their Q&A on their website.

Without access to USDA inspection reports, animal activists, intent on closing pet stores and eliminating dog breeding, will be unable to misrepresent the meaning of non-compliant citations on those reports, as they have consistently done to convince legislators to ban sales of pets based on mere citations.  Such citations do not mean that licensees have violated the AWA.  As described in USDA’s alert, inspection reports and other legal proceedings that have not received final adjudication are no longer available.  Hopefully, this will help ensure that licensees are provided with due process of the law that the Constitution and justice requires before their businesses are effectively shuttered.

I had the opportunity to present an “Animal Law Update” on October 21, 2016 at the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research’s 23rd Annual IACUC Conference – the region’s premier training conference for professionals in laboratory animal research field.  Among this year’s 110 participants were key institution decision makers, Animal Care and Use Committee members, lab animal veterinarians, animal welfare compliance specialists and other lab animal research team members from the pharmaceutical industry, contract research organizations, academic research institutions, and government officials from USDA and NIH.

 

During my presentation I discussed the legal issues affecting animal-related industries, including the biomedical research community and analyzed activist activities that can help the research community predict, prepare for, and defend against such challenges.   I was also re-elected to the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research during the annual meeting, held at the beginning of this conference.

 

Dr. William Stokes, Assistant Director, Animal Welfare Operations, USDA, APHIS, Animal Care provided an informative USDA Regulatory Update and Insights.  Dr. Stokes shared USDA Animal Care’s “5-year Strategic Plan” including the mission and vision of the agency, also available on its website:

New to the agency is the introduction of the term “critical noncompliant items” (“NCI’s) which includes all “direct noncompliant items” and certain “indirect noncompliant items.”  Dr. Stokes explained that this term was not really new, and had been used in practical effect, by the agency for a long time.

Dr. Stokes also provided important data from USDA’s inspections authorized by the Animal Welfare Act including:

  • There were over 10,000 unannounced inspections in FY16 of research facilities, breeders, dealers, exhibitors, transporters and intermediate handlers;
  • There were about 1350 inspections of the 1050 registered research facilities;
  • 76% of these inspections had no NCI’s;
  • Of the 561 NCI’s in research facilities, 38% of those were related to activities and conduct of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, and specifically related to the semi-annual reports that are required by the AWA.

Dr. Stokes  informed the attendees about the updated public search engine that serves as the database for USDA licensees and related inspection reports, known as the Animal Care Information System (ACIS3).  USDA  sent a bulletin on  09/22/2016 to stakeholders titled “New Terms Will Appear on USDA Inspection Reports.” As Dr. Stokes explained, there are two new terms that will appear on reports and in search results:

  • Focused inspections
  • Critical noncompliant items.

Dr. Stokes ended his presentation reminding all attendees that the goal of USDA and its licensees is to “optimize welfare.”

 

 

Since its passage in the Senate, there has not been much action with the Assembly version of S63.

However, as recently reported by Andrew George on njbiz.com

“Lesniak says he’s planning to amend the bill” to address concerns of pet store owners and their sources, including “eliminating the grandfathering portion of the measure and lifting the restriction on new pet stores to only source from kennels, shelters or animal rescues.”

However, there is no new version of the bill with these amendments to review.

Even with these amendments, the bill and the existing law, impermissibly bans sales to pet stores from licensed breeders who have not been finally determined to have violated the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

The Pet Protection Act bans sales to pet stores from licensed pet dealer who:

  • has been cited on a USDA inspection report for a direct violation of the federal AWA or corresponding regulations during the two-year period prior to purchase;
  • has been cited on a USDA inspection report during the two-year period prior to the purchase by the pet store for three or more indirect violations of the Awa or corresponding regulations.
  • is cited on the two most recent USDA inspection reports prior to the purchase of the animal by the pet shop for no-access violations.

As recently discussed in Pet Stores Under Attack, only an USDA Administrative Law Judge can make a determination that a licensee has violated the AWA. A noncompliant item on an inspection report does not constitute a violation of the act.

Individual pet stores and customers can (and should) review USDA reports and determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to purchase from particular breeders.

S63, the year-old amendments to the PPPA and similar ordinances will not (and have not) affected any actual puppy mills, because, as defined by USDA’s OIG, these facilities are large commercial unlicensed breeders. Banning sales from hobby breeders, exempt from USDA licensure because these breeders provide humane care to their dogs, will not affect puppy mills.