Improving Animal Welfare Enforcement

The Animal Welfare Enforcement Improvement Act (AWEIA; HR 3277), introduced May 17 by Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), would end US Department of Agriculture licensing practices that allow chronic violators of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to escape accountability.

In the past, the USDA routinely rubber-stamped license renewals. Under a new regulatory scheme instituted last year, animal dealers, breeders, and exhibitors—including puppy mills, traveling circuses, roadside zoos, petting farms/zoos, animal acts, animal rides, and marine mammal facilities—are required to obtain a new license only every three years after passing a pre-announced USDA inspection, and they will be given up to three chances to pass. This system allows habitually out-of-compliance licensees to clean up just long enough to pass the scheduled inspection and remain licensed—even if unannounced inspections in between these scheduled inspections reveal violations. Results from such unannounced inspections will be ignored in license renewal determinations.

Under the AWEIA, dealers and exhibitors would have to renew their licenses annually after passing an unannounced inspection. Businesses that are noncompliant with the AWA’s minimum care standards or ones that have repeatedly violated the AWA or local, state, or other federal laws related to animals, would be denied licenses. Further, the USDA could permanently revoke a license (following a hearing) when a dealer or exhibitor has committed multiple animal welfare violations. The bill would also require animal dealers and exhibitors to improve their veterinary care standards and would empower citizens to file lawsuits to enforce the AWA, similar to what is provided for under some federal environmental laws.

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