USDA Settles With Animal Watchdog Groups, Ensuring Stricter Enforcement Against Puppy Mills & Research Labs In The United States

Exposing hidden regulations, plugging loopholes that hurt animals, and increasing transparency of facilities in violation of federal laws were all part of a landmark settlement with federal regulators by national watchdog groups that monitor research laboratories and puppy mills, according to Advancing Law for Animals.

Plaintiffs Stop Animal Exploitation Now and Missouri Alliance in Animal Legislation sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July of 2019, alleging that the federal agency illegally-issued two regulations that allowed animal abuse industries to violate the Animal Welfare Act with impunity—even if animals were injured or died.

According to the lawsuit, these illegal regulations weakened the Animal Welfare Act, decreased citations, and hid important information from the public and other stakeholders.

The Animal Welfare Act governs businesses like puppy mills, laboratories, and zoos. When the law functions properly, facilities should receive citations for noncompliance. But, under what Plaintiffs called the ‘Self-Reporting Rule,’ cruelty-prone industries were shielded from citation by simply reporting their own welfare violations.

The Plaintiffs also raised issues with what they referred to as ‘Teachable Moments Rule,’ some violations no longer qualified for a citation at all.

“Our lawsuit alleged that these rules were illegal and gave animal abusers a free pass,” Vanessa Shakib, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Advancing Law for Animals, said in a statement sent to WAN. “We are pleased this settlement holds the federal government and industry accountable.”

While the USDA denies any wrongdoing, the settlement achieves several goals that many animal advocates have long sought after, including eliminating the ‘Self-Reporting Rule’ altogether.

It also corrects the ‘Teachable Moments Rule’ by ensuring violators are cited, rather than given a ‘teachable moment,’ when their noncompliance “adversely impacts the health or well-being of an animal.” Examples of this includes lack of adequate water, food, ventilation, or anything causing pain or distress to an animal.

The settlement also upholds the public’s ‘right to know’ by requiring the USDA’s website to list all Animal Welfare Act violations together, in one place. Updated USDA inspector training and attorneys’ fees and costs are also included.

“This settlement agreement is already having a serious impact in terms of enforcement actions against laboratories,” noted Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Co-Founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. “Forty percent of the serious citations against laboratories for all of 2020 occurred in the month of September, following the arrival at a tentative settlement.”

“This is a momentous victory for the animals who have suffered at the hands of their abusers with the full knowledge and complicity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the very agency charged with their protection,” stated Bob Baker, Executive Director of Missouri Alliance in Animal Legislation.

While these are steps in the right direction, puppy mills and animal research laboratories should cease to exist, period.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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