U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The interstate pet market has been targeted for decades by NGO’s intent on eliminating purposely-bred pets and replacing them with randomly-sourced and irresponsibly-bred pets sold through rescue and shelter channels. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) more than “140 jurisdictions nationwide” have recently passed pet store sourcing limitations or bans, with 35 local bans passed in the first five months of 2016 alone.  The patchwork of ordinances affecting retail pet stores and their sources are decimating the interstate pet market and create an impermissible obstacle to the mechanisms USDA has adopted to enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  These ordinances, therefore, violate the Supremacy Clause and are preempted by the AWA.

 

There are two ways a local jurisdiction can adopt laws governing the pet market without running afoul of the Supremacy Clause.

  1. Local jurisdictions may require pet dealers, including Class B licensees and USDA exempt breeders to be licensed and comply with standards in addition to those prescribed in 7 U.S.C. § 2143(a)(8)(1); or
  2. Local jurisdiction may protect their citizens against dangerous animals, infectious diseases, or other hazards to public health.

The pet store sourcing bans do neither. The sourcing bans do not require additional humane standards of care by market participants—they simply ban sales from certain (licensed) sources in favor of unlicensed, randomly sourced pets, without regard to any requirements relating to animal care or welfare. The sourcing bans are also unrelated to public health or safety concerns that would be defensible under police powers.  Banning sales of puppies from licensed or exempt sources and limiting or favoring sales from rescue channels does not protect local consumers from health or safety risks—in fact, it increases the risk of importation of infectious diseases and parasites.

 

These sourcing bans are a significant hindrance to the mechanism Congress established in the AWA to ensure that animals in interstate commerce are treated humanely. The interstate pet market includes breeders, wholesalers, and retailers.  Some of these entities, like retail pet stores that sell face-to-face or breeders with four or fewer breeding females are exempt from licensure under the AWA, but they are nevertheless part of the interstate market.  The public lacks an understanding of the depth and breathe of the interstate pet market, and the comprehensive licensing scheme USDA has deployed to enforce the AWA.

 

A state law is preempted if it “‘stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” Int’l Paper Co. v. Ouellette, 479 U.S. 481, 492 (1987).  The Supreme Court’s obstacle preemption analysis in Geir is instructive here. The Court found that a state law that would have required manufacturers of all Honda Accord and similar cars to specifically install airbags which the Court held “would have stood ‘as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of’ the important means-related federal objectives” set forth in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and was therefore preempted. Geir v. Am. Honda Motor Co., Inc., 529 U.S. 861, 881 (2000).

 

Here, Congress and USDA, through the AWA, identifies specific classes of licenses and requires pet dealers to qualify for and maintain humane standards of care to be federally licensed, unless they have specifically exempted certain breeders from licensure because they already provide such care. By banning sales from these entities without regard to the care they provide their animals, the sourcing bans interfere with this specific method Congress has established.

 

Despite the fact that the sourcing bans do not require more rigorous standards of care than required in the AWA and by the USDA, NGO’s have succeeded in convincing legislators and the public that these sourcing bans are needed because the standards of care enforced by USDA do not provide “humane” standards of care, and even if they did, that USDA has “allegedly” proven it is unable to enforce those standards. While local jurisdictions may require standards of care that exceed those mandated by the AWA (which they have not done), they cannot redefine what qualifies as “humane standards of care.”  Congress has not amended the AWA to strip USDA of its authority or declare the standards deficient even though it has had ample opportunity to do so.

 

Further, the national patchwork of sourcing bans conflict with each other and the AWA and is precisely the situation the Supremacy Clause was established to avoid. See, e.g., Darling v. Mobil Oil Corp., 864 F.2d 981, 984 (2d Cir. 1989) (establishing a “single, uniform set of rules to regulate the grounds for termination and nonrenewal and eliminate the uneven patchwork of rules governing franchise relationships which differ from State to State.”) (internal quotation omitted); Paneccasio v. Unisource Worldwide, Inc., 532 F.3d 101, 113 (2d Cir. 2008) (rejecting “a patchwork scheme of regulation [that] would introduce considerable inefficiencies”) (internal quotation omitted).  If such laws are not enjoined they will cumulatively render the federal law superfluous to the local sales bans or, at best, be subject to a labyrinthine patchwork of local regulation.

 

For example, pet stores in many localities, like Albuquerque, N.M., are not permitted to sell dogs or cats. Albuquerque, N.M. City Ordinance§ 9-2-3-12.  In Sunrise, Florida pet stores can only purchase from shelters, rescues, or “hobby breeders” who are limited to producing one litter per year per breeding dog (male or female). Maryeli’s Lovely Pets, Inc. v. City of Sunrise, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98451, at *2-*3 (S.D.Fl. June 24, 2015).  In Cook County, Illinois “a ‘pet shop operator’ may only sell animals obtained from a breeder that (among other requirements) holds a USDA class ‘A’ license and ‘owns or possesses no more than 5 female dogs, cats or rabbits capable of reproduction in any 12-month period.” Mo. Pet Breeders Ass’n v. Cnty of Cook, No. 14-06930, 2015 WL 2448332, at *1 (N.D.Ill. May 21, 2015), appeal docketed, No. 15-2895 (7th Cir. Sept. 3, 2015).  In New York City, pet stores can only purchase from Class A breeders—pet stores are expressly prohibited from purchasing from Class B dealers.

 

To support these allegations, the NGO’s: (1) raise the specter that pet stores’ sources are puppy mills based only on noncompliant citations on USDA’s inspection reports which they misrepresent as violations of the AWA; and (2) claim USDA fails to properly enforce the AWA as determined by USDA’s Office of the Inspector General’s 2010 report, “Inspections of Problematic Breeders.” NGO’s also mischaracterize brokers and distributors as “evil middlemen,” despite the fact that federal law permits intermediaries to participate in the interstate commerce of pets, by establishing a separate classification for these market participants (Class B license).  All these conclusions are based on NGO “investigations” even though no one other than USDA is authorized to inspect USDA licensees or reclassify Class B licensees or USDA exempt breeders as pet dealers who provide inhumane care.

 

States and local governments may create and enforce their own laws and regulations to protect animals, which may exceed the AWA standards, but they cannot adopt laws with the intent and effect to exclude legitimate, licensed or exempt pet dealers from selling healthy, domestic (not wild or inherently dangerous) pets to pet stores, as the AWA has contemplated and permitted. Laws can be adopted to prohibit the sales of all pets or particular types of pets (like ferrets) if they are considered dangerous or even too expensive for local governments to regulate, but this is not what the sourcing bans have done.

 

The effect of these sourcing bans since their initial adoption in 2006 has resulted in a quantitative effect on the entire pet industry, resulting in 3,488 fewer Class A licensees and 1478 fewer Class B licensees nationwide—a 75% and 85% drop respectively. Imagine the impact to biomedical research if similar ordinances were passed that banned continued research based on noncompliant items on USDA inspection reports and NGO’s contention that animal use in research is inhumane?  For example, New Jersey’s pet sourcing bans prohibit sales to pet stores from a licensee who has been cited on a USDA inspection report for: (1) a direct violation of the AWA during the prior 2 years; (2) 3 or more indirect violations of the AWA during the prior 2 years; or (3) a no-access violation of the AWA on the 2 most recent inspection reports.  Despite the fact that the licensees have not been “finally determined” to have violated the AWA, pet stores may not purchase from these licensees.  If similar restrictions were applied to biomedical research facilities, most research involving animal testing would cease.

The Animal Welfare Act was amended by the 2014 Farm Bill to provide “the Secretary of Agriculture with the authority to determine that animal dealers and exhibitors are not required to obtain a license under the Act  . . . if the size of the business conducting AWA-related activities is determined to be de minimis by the Secretary.”

USDA has proposed regulations that define de minimis and “has determined that de minimis businesses  . . .  are capable of providing adequate care and treatment of the animals involved in regulated business activities.”

USDA proposes that :

“[d]ealers and exhibitors operating at or below the thresholds determined for their particular AWA-related business activity would be exempted from Federal licensing requirements established under the Act and regulations. Our proposed actions would amend the regulations to be consistent with the Act while continuing to ensure the humane care and treatment of animals covered under the AWA.”

USDA performed a “Regulatory Impact & Analysis Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis” regarding its proposed regulations, finding that:

“this proposed rule would relieve regulatory responsibilities for some currently licensed entities and reduce the cost of business for those entities [and] [t]hose currently licensed exhibitors and dealers . . . would no longer be subject to licensing, animal identification, and recordkeeping requirements.”

USDA’s summarized the economic impact of its rule:

“The cost of a license for the smallest entities is between $40 and $85 annually. Identification tags for dogs and cats cost from $1.12 to $2.50 each. Other covered animals can be identified by a label attached to the primary enclosure containing a description of the animals in the enclosure at negligible cost.  We estimate that the average currently licensed entity potentially affected by this proposal spends about 10 hours annually to comply with the licensing paperwork and recordkeeping requirements.  All of the currently licensed entities that would be considered de minimis under this proposal would benefit from reduced costs for licensing, identification and recordkeeping. “

“We estimate that there may be as many as 212 currently licensed exhibitors who would no longer need to be licensed under the proposed rule. There are 133 currently licensed exhibitors with 4 or fewer animals that would therefore be considered de minimis under this proposal.  There are also 79 currently licensed exhibitors with 5 to 8 animals.  At least some of the licensees in this latter group exhibit any or all of their animals for no more than 30 days per calendar year, and would therefore be considered de minimis as seasonal exhibitors under this proposal.  We estimate that the cost savings for all these entities could total about $41,400 annually.”

Comments to USDA’s regulation will be accepted until November 2, 2016.

Animal agriculture, like other animal-related industries, is a constantly evolving enterprise, informed by results from scientific studies focused on the best methods to raise livestock so as to minimize animal discomfort and disease.

With increasing concerns about the impacts on antibiotic resistance resulting from the use of antibiotics in livestock, methods to keep livestock healthy without relying on antibiotics has become the focus of scientific research.

Hence, the ability to modify animal genes to protect them from disease infection has been an area of increased interested.

Genus, a world-leading animal genetics company, recently announced “the discovery of the first pig resistant to Porcine Respiratory and Reproductive Syndrome virus (‘PRRSv’)[1] in collaboration with the University of Missouri. An exclusive global license has been signed enabling Genus to develop and commercialise the technology.”

As reported on USDA’s website[2]

PRRSV is the etiologic agent of PRRS, an economically devastating, pandemic disease of swine that is typically characterized by reproductive failure in breeding herds and respiratory problems and growth retardation in growing pigs.  Two PRRS outbreaks were first reported in the late 1980s in North America and central Europe.  The disease is now found in most pig-producing countries and affects the swine industry and food safety worldwide, causing enormous economic losses each year.  In the US, the annual loss due to PRRS is estimated to exceed $500 million.  Over the last decade, this genetic/antigenic diversity of PRRSV has expanded continuously and rapidly, highlighting the dynamic nature of PRRSV evolution and epidemiology.

Using gene editing technology, Genus and its subsidiary the Pig Improvement Company (PIC) reportedly made “small changes . . . to inactivate a single gene from the pigs that produces a protein, known as CD163, [which] the PRRS virus requires for infection to occur.”

The results allow the production of PRRSv resistant pigs.

As described on Genus’ website:

“Using precise gene editing, the University of Missouri was able to breed pigs that do not produce a specific protein necessary for the virus to spread in the animals.  The early stage studies conducted by the University demonstrate these PRRSv resistant pigs, when exposed to the virus, do not get sick and continue to gain weight normally.  Genus will continue to develop this technology, and we expect it will be at least five years until PRRS resistant animals are available to farmers.”

Since there is no cure for PRRSV and the disease results in “the suffering or death of millions of pigs and piglets each year,” this type of innovative advance in science is considered a breakthrough.

[1] While antibiotics are not effective in treating viruses like PRRSV, such infections are often accompanied by secondary bacterial infections which are susceptible to targeted antibiotic treatment.

[2] This information is from Utah State University’s submission to USDA’s Current Research Information System (CRIS).

USDA, authorized and tasked with enforcing the humane treatment of horses pursuant to the Horse Protection Act, has published amendments to its regulations pursuant to the Act.

According to a 2010 Audit Report by USDA’s Office of Inspector General:

“APHIS’ program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused. At present, horse industry organizations hire their own inspectors (known as designated qualified persons (DQP)) to inspect horses at the shows they sponsor. However, we found that DQPs do not always inspect horses to effectively enforce the law and regulations, and in some cases where they do find violations, they deliberately issue tickets to friends or family members of responsible individuals so that the responsible person could avoid receiving a penalty for violating the Horse Protection.”

APHIS agreed with the findings of this report and proposed regulations that would dramatically amend its regulations—not only removing the authority of horse industry organizations to train designated qualified persons, and reassigning that responsibility to APHIS—but also amends the regulations “to prohibit use of pads, substances, and action devices on horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.” See 81 FR 49112, July 26, 2916.

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA), who will be most affected by the proposed regulations have expressed concerns about the proposed rule, warning that:

“[t]he proposed rule by the United States Department of Agriculture that would eliminate the use of any pad, action device or hoof band as well as eliminate all self-regulation will have devastating impacts. The demands on horse show management will be costly and create an unnecessary hassle and the demands on exhibitors to enter horses, regardless of the division will be prohibitive as well. Horse shows in many cases will cease to exist.

The proposed rule is clearly an overreach, typical of today’s Washington, and an overt effort to bypass Congress. In order to appease radical animal rights organizations, USDA is refusing to objectively look at the facts and instead implementing rules that are not based in science or reality. Veterinary experts at Auburn University and the University of Tennessee have proven that action devices and pads do not harm horses.”

Instead “TWHBEA is calling on USDA to assemble a group of Equine Specialists to determine objective tests and end more than forty years of conflict,” adding that:

“TWHBEA is currently funding veterinary research in order to obtain objective, scientific tests for our show horses. Changing inspectors and eliminating our show horse will do nothing to help the welfare of our horse and will crush hundreds of civic clubs across the country who depend on our shows for fundraising.”

The American Association of Equine Practitioners, whose mission is “to improve the health and welfare of the horse, to further the professional development of its members, and to provide resources and leadership for the benefit of the equine industry,” is in favor of the proposed regulations.

 

“The AAEP is extremely pleased with the USDA’s work in proposing regulation changes to end the inhumane act of soring, which is one of the most significant welfare issues affecting any equine breed or discipline in the United States.

As doctors of veterinary medicine, we have previously recommended the use of only veterinarians to inspect horses at shows for evidence of soring, as well as a ban on action devices and performance packages. Both of these items are included in the USDA’s proposed rule changes.

Soring is an intentional, cruel act which must end. The AAEP will continue to support the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act and work to eliminate this practice.”

In USDA’s “Regulatory Impact Analysis & Analysis in support of Certification that the Rule will not have a Significant Economic Impact on a Substantial Number of Small Entities” the agency concluded that the proposed  “rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.”

However, the agency also invited comments that refute that conclusion, which provides the TWHBEA or others negatively affected by this proposed regulation the opportunity to inform USDA about potential unintended consequences of its rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s summertime!

Many of us are planning some time away from home. If you plan on taking your pets with you, the USDA just updated their website with important information about traveling internationally with your pet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has launched a new Web site devoted to international pet travel. Pets are often considered part of the family, but traveling with your pet isn’t as simple as just booking a flight or driving across the border. There may be very specific steps you and your veterinarian need to follow, as well as pet vaccinations, treatments, and/or testing that your veterinarian must document.

 

We know this process can be stressful. That’s why we designed a new Web site to help guide you and your veterinarian through each step. Some countries have pre-travel requirements that take advanced planning and time to complete, so it’s important to start the process early.

The website includes instructions about taking pet to other countries and bringing pets into the U.S.

APHIS explains its mission “is to protect the health and value of American agriculture and natural resources.”

To prevent the entry and spread of foreign animal diseases into our country, pets entering the United States from other countries may need to meet specific APHIS requirements.

In addition to federal requirements, airlines may have additional requirements for pet owners.

Don’t forget to bring along any medication, and the food your pet is used to eating if it is not available at your destination, to avoid gastrointestinal disorders.

Make sure your pet is properly identified and keep in mind that microchip technology and readers may not be reliable at your destination, so make sure your contact information is included on your pet’s collar.

USDA’s website also includes links to other federal agencies that have additional requirements for pet owners.

For example, the CDC has regulations that “require that dogs imported into the United States are healthy and are vaccinated against rabies before arrival into the United States. These requirements apply equally to all dogs, including puppies and service animals.”

 

Plan accordingly and be safe.

The International Movement of Animals

Accredited veterinarians must complete specific examinations, testing, and paperwork before animals are transported internationally. According to USDA:

VS Form 17-140, U.S. Origin Health Certificate, is the IHC typically required to move animals internationally, although some importing countries require their own import health certificate in addition to, or instead of, VS Form 17-140. NVAP Module 2: Role of Agencies and Health Certificates provides detailed instructions on completing VS Form 17-140. IHCs are issued by an accredited veterinarian and endorsed by an authorized VS endorsing veterinarian.

Individual countries may require additional testing, paperwork and certifications. Similar to interstate movement, the accredited veterinarian should check on the specific import regulations of each country to ensure that all required steps have been taken. Information is usually available at the APHIS International Animal Export Regulations (IREGs) webpage at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/regulations/vs/iregs/animals/.

However, if not there, USDA recommends that a veterinarian “[c]ontact either the Embassy or Consulate of the destination country or its Department or Ministry of Agriculture for specific details related to import requirements” or contact the local USDA office for more information on animal exports.

In addition to specific paperwork, some countries require specific diagnostic testing and/or isolation of animals before importation.

USDA provides guidance regarding these additional requirements:

Isolation Facilities
Some countries may require animals be maintained in a USDA-approved isolation facility prior to export. This means that an APHIS veterinarian must inspect and approve the isolation facility prior to the start of the isolation period. If required, contact your District Office to schedule the inspection and approval to meet export time frames.

Animal testing
Some destination countries require additional tests before animals can be imported. They may require specific tests for specific diseases, so always check with the destination country prior to requesting and submitting laboratory tests. If an isolation facility is required, tests typically cannot be performed until the animals have entered that facility. Follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the District Office that will be endorsing the certificate for guidance on procedures for the submission of laboratory results. Unless original signed copies of test results are required, results can be sent electronically.

  2. Consult with a USDA-approved laboratory prior to sample collection to check that the laboratory can conduct the specific test and coordinate with their testing schedule.

  3. Request the specific test type and negative dilution titer for each disease.

  4. Include the date samples were collected on the submission form.

  5. Indicate this is a test request for international export and specify the destination country.

  6. Notify the laboratory personnel about the required format for the test results sent to the District Office and request a copy of the results be sent to you for your client’s records.

  7. Perform any additional treatments required by the destination country (e.g., treatments for parasites).

  8. Administer all treatments in accordance with the label directions.

  9. Contact your Assistant Director (AD) if the destination country has requested a treatment that is outside the label directions.

  10. Include all details related to the active ingredient, dose, and route of administration as requested on the certificate.

  11. Do not paraphrase the required certification statements.

I just completed my reaccreditation for the National Veterinary Accreditation Program and realized that the general public has no idea how veterinarians serve as quasi-governmental officials that help keep the state and nation’s livestock, poultry, companion and other animals safe and healthy.

I thought this was a great opportunity to share that information.

As described by USDA

Accredited veterinarians are essential in surveillance, control, and eradication programs for many diseases. For movement of animals within the State, between States, or internationally, a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) or International Health Certificate (IHC) is usually required. These documents serve as a record, attesting to the lack of apparent illness in animals inspected by an accredited veterinarian These documents also serve as proof of documented test results and certification statements.

By performing these services, veterinarians assume certain liabilities:

By completing and signing a CVI or IHC for an animal, you are using your professional judgment based on available information. Under no circumstance should a certificate be completed and signed when the health of an animal is questionable or the information provided is not accurate and complete. Your diligence can prevent animals from introducing disease into flocks within a given State, other States or countries.

IHCs and CVIs issued by an accredited veterinarian are legal documents. Providing false or incorrect information may subject you to civil and criminal action as well as suspension or revocation of your accredited status. In the event that an error, omission, or irregularity in a submitted certificate is noted by VS personnel, APHIS Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES) is notified and is responsible for investigating alleged violations.

USDA warns veterinarians that certain actions can increase their potential liability, such as:

  • leaving blanks on paperwork post-signature for the staff to fill in later;

  • allowing owners to submit animal tissue or blood samples to the laboratory for testing; and

  • failing to confirm the official identification of the animals(s) being certified.

Animals that are transported interstate without the proper paperwork could be quarantined, confiscated or worse.

Veterinarians performing services as under the federal accreditation program should take those responsibilities seriously to avoid legal challenges and ensure that animals are properly examined and documented.

 

First published on April 3, 2016, 10:27 p.m. MST, at http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2016/04/04/puppy-mill-sb1248/82532418/

Republished with permission.

My Turn: No one wants inhumane breeders to flourish. But puppy mill ordinances have unintended consequences that make matters worse.

Animal welfare is a philosophy that promotes stewardship of species and individual animals. Many of us practice this philosophy day in and day out while engaging others for the cause. Pet owners, breeders, veterinarians, pet store owners, and even Arizona’s elected officials all share one thing in common: we all want to provide humane treatment for animals.

However, when public officials consider legislation or ordinances aimed at addressing animal-welfare problems, they need complete and balanced information about the issues involved to create effective laws. Far too often, what looks good on paper creates harmful unintended consequences and far-reaching repercussions.

Pet-store bans won’t stop bad breeders

So it is with pet-store bans, the current legislative cure-all being offered to eliminate “puppy mills.” Eliminating inhumane breeders is a worthy goal everyone can embrace.

VALDEZ: Arizona bill sacrifices puppies for profit

PET SHOP OWNER: Puppy mill law won’t do what it says

The problem is, a retail pet-store ban will have no effect on the bad breeders it is trying to eradicate. Instead of eliminating them, it will drive them to Craigslist, the Internet, parking lot and flea market sales, and to retail rescues, outlets where animal care is unregulated and consumers will receive no health warranty.

History has amply demonstrated that banning anything the public wants only creates new unregulated channels of commerce.

In the same way that Prohibition created speakeasies and backwoods stills, banning pet stores will make matters worse. That is why the city council of Carlsbad, Calif., repealed its pet-retail ban a month after the law’s implementation, realizing that unscrupulous actors are the problem, not pet stores.

A better idea: Improve standards of care

Instead of passing outright bans, lawmakers need to target the unacceptable practices directly by enacting laws that require higher standards of care and increased transparency. Those who violate such laws need to be held accountable for their negligence.

Fortunately, the Arizona state Legislature is responsibly and constructively addressing these ordinances banning pet sales, which are often based on incomplete or biased information and without a thorough consideration of potential consequences.

Senate Bill 1248, which is being considered by the Legislature, would improve animal welfare by bolstering the pet industry’s standards, strengthening disclosure, and prohibiting sweeping pet-sale bans in cities.

This legislation will ensure that pet stores acquire their animals only from accountable breeders who comply with all U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. In addition, prospective buyers will be provided with the name and license number of the breeder, allowing them to see the conditions where these animals lived prior to acquisition.

Simply put, SB 1248 is a step in the right direction and its provisions will further efforts to improve animal well-being. Additionally, it will provide Arizonans more assurance when looking for a new family dog.

The National Animal Interest Alliance urges Arizona voters to contact their legislators in support of SB 1248. The alliance applauds Reps. Brenda Barton, Warren Petersen and Bob Thorpe, as well as Sens. John Kavanagh and Don Shooter for their work on this important issue.

By working together to create balanced and effective solutions, we can protect the animals we love and the citizens of Arizona.

Patti Strand is the president of the National Animal Interest Alliance, an animal-welfare organization that advocates for raising standards of animal care and treatment.​ Email her at naia@naiaonline.org.
Patti Strand is the president of the National Animal Interest Alliance, an animal-welfare organization that advocates for raising standards of animal care and treatment.​ Email her at naia@naiaonline.org.

The humane standards of care of animals are constantly changing, as informed by scientific advances. Animal agriculture, in particular, has been evolving for decades. Livestock housing techniques, like other husbandry practices, have continuously evolved to protect animals from exposure to diseases, pests, environmental extremes, and from each other. Animal scientists and veterinarians continuously research methods, techniques and equipment to maximize animal comfort, while providing necessary protection.

Some recent advances exemplify the importance of continued research in disease protection and husbandry techniques that benefit animals and humans alike.

As reported in the National Hog Farmer, Merck Animal Health has been granted “licensure of its Prescription Product, RNA Particle vaccine platform from the USDA.”

Merck Animal Health described its innovative vaccine platform, and its significance to animal industries:

The RP technology platform is used to make vaccines for swine, bovine, equine, avian, companion animal and farmed aquaculture diseases. Pathogens are collected from a farm and specific genes are sequenced and synthetically inserted into the platform creating RNA particles, making safe, potent vaccines able to provide herd-specific protection. This system was instrumental in producing the first conditionally licensed vaccine to help control porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, a deadly virus that has killed more than eight million piglets since suddenly emerging in the United States in 2013. It also was utilized to produce a conditionally licensed vaccine against H5 avian influenza, which was subsequently awarded a USDA Stockpile in October.

Perhaps this platform could be used to develop effective vaccines to protect horses infected with the neurological form of Equine Herpes Virus which has increasingly spread throughout equine racing, show, and pleasure barns and facilities, resulting in prolonged quarantines, and unfortunately, illness and death.

Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation recently announced its intention to fund more than $1 million in projects, as reported by Matt Hegarty in the Daily Racing Form:

The 11 new projects include a study of the latency of equine herpesvirus in horse populations. A strain of equine herpesvirus, EHV-1, has wreaked havoc on racing circuits when the highly contagious disease has been detected at racetracks or training facilities, leading to quarantines and shipping restrictions.

Advances have not been limited to disease prevention.

Researchers have announced a probable solution to the culling of male chicks in the egg industry. Because males do not produce eggs, they are culled.

Now, as reported by ABC/Australia, scientists studying poultry diseases at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong “accidentally . . . made a breakthrough with biotechnology” discovering a way to identify male chick embryos before they hatched, making the culling of billions of male baby chicks unnecessary.

The scientists discovered they could inject an embryo with “a green fluorescent protein gene placed on the male chromosome” which could “ensure the males are never born, let alone culled.”

It is important to note that without biomedical research involving animals, these advances, which benefit animals, would not have been possible.

USDA has recently published proposed amendments to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations:

concerning the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of marine mammals in captivity. These proposed changes would affect sections in the regulations relating to variances and implementation dates, indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, space requirements, and water quality. We are also proposing to revise the regulations that relate to swim-with-the-dolphin programs.

USDA explains that the regulations, which were originally adopted in 1998 “based on the outcome of meetings of the Marine Mammal Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee” in the absence of significant relevant scientific studies or data, should be amended to incorporate findings from the body of relevant science-based research that has since become available.

Importantly, the proposed amendments include a summary of the history of the AWA, and the Congressional mandate that set forth USDA through the Secretary of Agriculture as the agency authorized to:

promulgate standards and other requirements governing the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of certain animals by dealers, research facilities, exhibitors, carriers, and other regulated entities.

The proposed amendments would

revise swim-with-the-dolphin program regulations, for which enforcement was suspended effective April 2, 1999.

. . .

The proposed standards address interactive program facility space requirements, layout, operations, staffing, recordkeeping, and related matters.

The amendments would also change regulations relating to “water quality and waterborne pathogens affecting marine mammals.”

There are also changes relating to standards for “air and water temperatures, ventilation, and lighting at regulated indoor facilities that house marine mammals.

The amendments relating to “swim with the dolphins” include:

[t]he term ‘‘interactive program’’ replaces ‘‘swim-with-the-dolphin program’’ since we are proposing to no longer use the term ‘‘swim-with-the-dolphin program,’’ as discussed below.

Section 1.1 defines an interactive session to mean a ‘‘swim-with-the-dolphin program session where members of the public enter a primary enclosure to interact with cetaceans.’’

USDA proposes to amend the following issues/animals:

Indoor facilities;

Lighting;

Outdoor facilities;

Space requirements;

General;

Space Requirements—Cetaceans;

Space Requirements—Sirenians;

Space Requirements—Pinnipeds;

Space Requirements—Polar Bears;

Space Requirements—Sea Otters;

Coliform Testing; and

Interactive Programs.

Congress, has empowered USDA to draft regulations regarding and to enforce the AWA.  Organizations and people who are interested in these proposed amendments have an opportunity to provide constructive comments to inform USDA regarding the standards that should be adopted to provide for the humane care of marine mammals.