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USDA Fails to Cite Puppy Mills and Laboratories for Violating Animal Welfare Act, Lawsuit Alleges

Updated: Aug 28

Washington, DC—USDA unlawfully issued two legislative rules that allow industries like large-scale commercial dog breeders, laboratories conducting for-profit animal-based research, and road-side zoos exhibiting exotic animals, to conceal violations of Animal Welfare Act (AWA) from the public and unsuspecting consumers, according to a lawsuit filed earlier today.

Despite criticism against USDA for its under-enforcement of the AWA, USDA adopted the “Teachable Moments” rule and the “Self-Reporting” rule, which allow cruelty-prone industries to avoid receiving citations from USDA for certain violations of the AWA.


The lawsuit, filed by Advancing Law for Animals on behalf of Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation (MAAL) and Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, requests the Court to, among other things, enter an order vacating the “Teachable Moments” rule and the “Self-Reporting” rule. Plaintiffs allege these rules “favor business at the expense of animals” and “compound already-existing and well-documented enforcement deficiencies, as reported by the USDA Office of Inspector General.”


For example, in 2010, the USDA Office of Inspector General issued a report reprimanding USDA’s failure to adequately enforce the Animal Welfare Act against “problematic” large-scale dog breeders and brokers, referred to as “puppy mills.” The report reviewed in painful detail the USDA’s pattern and practice of failing to enforce penalties against dog breeders for violations of the AWA—even in the face of repeat violations, apparent illness and injury, and tick and cockroach infestations.

Plaintiffs allege that large scale dog breeders use the "Teachable Moments" rule and "Self-Reporting" rule “to circumvent the reach of state and local anti-puppy-mill legislation through obfuscating the nature and extent of their AWA violations.”


Plaintiffs also maintain that research facilities conducting animal experimentation benefit from the "Teachable Moments" rule and the "Self-Reporting" rule because “they may receive inconsequential ‘teachable moments’ in lieu of citations for AWA violations or simply self-report violations without effect.”


“While the ‘Teachable Moment’ rule and the ‘Self-Reporting’ rule are problematic for animals,” explains Vanessa Shakib, Co-Director of Advancing Law for Animals, “they were also improperly issued without the opportunity for public notice and comment, in violation of federal law.”


Read the full complaint here.