WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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 USDA by national watchdog groups, according to Advancing Law for Animals Monday.
The Department of Justice approved the settlement Jan. 19, the last day of the Trump Administration.
“Stop Animal Exploitation Now” and “Missouri Alliance in Animal Legislation” are represented by Advancing Law for Animals. Plaintiffs sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in July 2019, alleging the federal agency illegally-issued two regulations that allowed industry to violate the Animal Welfare Act without penalty—even if animals were injured or died.
According to Plaintiffs’ 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.
And, under what Plaintiffs called the “Teachable Moments Rule,” some violations no longer qualified for a citation at all.
“Our lawsuit alleged these rules were illegal and gave animal abusers a free pass. We are pleased this settlement holds the federal government and industry accountable,” explains Vanessa Shakib, co-founder and co-director of Advancing Law for Animals.
While USDA denies any wrongdoing, the settlement achieves several goals that many animal advocates have long sought, 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 impact[s] the health or well-being of an animal (for example: lack of adequate water, food, ventilation, or anything causing pain or distress) …”
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," said Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., co-founder, SAEN. "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." Bob Baker, Executive Director of MAAL, added, "This is a momentous victory for the animals who have suffered for far too long 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."