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USDA: Stop Protecting Animal Abusers and Enforce the Law!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—which is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the only federal law that explicitly protects animals used for entertainment—has consistently renewed the licenses of even the most egregious animal abusers. The AWA allows an animal exhibitor or dealer to be issued a license only if the applicant can show that it operates in accordance with AWA regulations, yet the USDA has a policy of automatically renewing animal exhibitors’ licenses—even when the agency knows that the facility is not in compliance with the AWA. We need you to urge Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to ensure that the USDA stops licensing chronic AWA violators and starts protecting animals, not their abusers!

The USDA takes the position that whether or not a facility is in flagrant violation of the AWA at the time it applies to have its license renewed is completely irrelevant to the agency’s renewal decision. The USDA renewed the license of the Summer Wind Farms Sanctuary in Michigan in 2014 after issuing the facility 97 citations for violating the AWA that year. By ensuring that facilities that are not in compliance with the applicable standards nevertheless remain “licensed” under the auspices of the AWA each year, the USDA’s rubber‑stamping policy results in more licensed facilities, thereby diluting the USDA’s ability to detect, address, and prevent violations of the AWA. Already, the USDA’s approximately 125 inspectors struggle to inspect more than 7,000 regulated entities.

Keeping licenses out of the hands of abusive exhibitors is particularly important since the USDA’s “enforcement” is nearly meaningless, as most alleged AWA violators get off with little more than a slap on the wrist. According to the USDA’s own statistics, more than half of all cases result only in an official warning and many others are settled by agreement, with an average penalty of less than $5,000. In 2012, Summer Wind Farms Sanctuary paid only $500 and received a brief three-month suspension for violating the AWA more than 70 times. That same year, Carson & Barnes Circus paid just $3,714 to settle 10 violations of the AWA, including allowing an elephant to escape, and the Mobile Zoo in Alabama got off with a warning for a series of violations, including failing to protect deer and birds from wild dogs who entered the facility and killed them and denying sufficient drinking water to leopards in 90-degree heat.

For years, the audit reports by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General have found that when the USDA fines AWA violators, the penalties are often so low that violators prefer to simply budget for them rather than changing their behavior—which means that animals continue to suffer as a result. Yet the USDA continues to issue paltry penalties that have no deterrent effect on chronic animal abusers.

Please e-mail Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at [email protected] now and tell him that that he must act to ensure that the USDA ends its policy of licensing AWA violators, which allows abusive exhibitors to keep animals in inhumane conditions.

Be sure to forward this important information to your compassionate family members and friends!

Please feel free to use our sample letter, but remember that using your own words is always more effective.