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Is Anyone Enforcing the Animal Welfare Act?

by Suzana Megles

For years many of us have been writing the USDA re the lack of enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. Little or nothing seemed to ever come of our letters of concern to improve the conditions of animals in laboratories or in the CAFOs. New heads of this department have come and gone, but the good ole boys' policy lingers on. And what is this policy? Basically, it seems to be - "IGNORE THE ANIMAL WELFARE ACT" as much as you can.

This following statement comes from the Fact Sheet presented at the World
Laboratory Animal Liberation Week held in April of this year:

"The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the USDA has audited the United States Dept. of Agriculture/Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service/Animal Care (USDA/APHIS/AC) 3 times and they found major problems with the enforcement of the AWA."

But even after the unfavorable report of the OIG re USDA policies in 1995, three later whistleblowers proved that little had changed within the agency after the OIG audit.

Why is this happening? How are the officials of the USDA getting away with basically ignoring the Animal Welfare Act? Is there money involved? Yes, I will be the first one to admit that I am naive. I will also be the first one to admit that I cannot understand that corruption exists in government, though certainly I must have read accounts of it. And yes, it has sunk in to a degree. As a result, each year on the patriotic holidays, I find I can no longer sing "America, the Beautiful" with the same gusto I once did. Tears no longer well up in my eyes when I hear it sung. This is not the America I thought I knew.

The OIG did admit in 1995 that the USDA/APHIS lacked sufficient authority to effectively enforce the AWA within laboratories, but noted that it also seems that it didn't effectively utilize the limited authority that it did have. And since then, it seems that the head officials may even have become openly hostile to effective enforcement of the AWA.

In 2000 - Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown, a former USDA inspector and whistleblower, issued the following statement at a news conference in Portland, Oregon:

"The research institutions I visited, including the Oregon Primate Center, were not happy to see me coming once they realized that I was going to hold them to the law. This reaction I expected. What was surprising to me was my own supervisors were disappointed and unsupportive of my efforts to simply enforce the bare minimum standards in the Code of Federal Regulations. The USDA has a god ol' boy relationship with the research industry and the laws are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. More than once, I was instructed by a supervisor to make a personal list of violations of the law, cut that list in half, and then cut that list in half again before writing up my inspection reports. My willingness to uphold the law during my site visits at the Primate Center led to me being "retrained" several times by higher-ups in the USDA."

A woman of integrity. How she must have agonized over being unable to better the situation of bad laboratory conditions for the animals. Why aren't there people like Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown leading the USDA? Why doesn't Congress or the President do something about this? Again, it must have a money connection.

Finally in 2011 there is some good news coming from the USDA, and I believe it is because of the public proliferation of the horrendous tapes of farm animal suffering put out by animal rights organizations. As a result, the USDA has finally defined the meaning of "Egregious Cruelty." I read this in the Blog on August 15:

"The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service today released new regulations on livestock handling, which for the first time defines" egregious cruelties":

1. Making cuts on or skinning conscious animals;
2. Excessive beating or prodding of ambulatory or non-ambulatory disabled animals or dragging of conscious animals;
3. Driving animals off semi-trailers over a drop off without providing adequate unloading facilities (animals are falling to the ground);
4. Running equipment over conscious animals;
5. Stunning of animals and then allowing them to regain consciousness;
6. Multiple attempts, especially in the absence of immediate corrective measures, to stun an animal versus a single blow or shot that renders an animal immediately unconscious;
7. Dismembering conscious animals, for example, cutting off ears or removing feet;
8. Leaving disabled livestock exposed to adverse climate conditions while awaiting disposition, or
9. Otherwise causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals, including situations on trucks.

How very, very sad that it took so long for the USDA to FINALLY make a list of egregious cruelties which should have been defined ages ago. In all these years, these egregious cruelties were inflicted on God knows how many millions and millions of CAFO animals. And during this time, it would seem that the USDA was turning a blind eye to these horrible violations of animal cruelty.

Some years ago Gail Eisnitz wrote a book called "Slaughterhouse." In it she describes some of the horrors she witnessed in slaughterhouses. It took a great deal of courage to do this -to witness first hand the needless and cruel suffering of innocent farm animals. It should have been required reading for the president, the Congress, and most especially the USDA, though they obviously were aware and didn't do much to stop it.

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