U.S. Department of Agriculture Update: Animal Welfare Act Compliance
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2001
Dick Watkins

Animal Care, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Riverdale, MD, USA


Beginning with the passage of the Laboratory Animal Act in 1966, responsibility for assuring the public that exhibitors provide humane care, handling, and treatment for the animals they exhibit has been given to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Public concern in animal welfare has grown considerably, and the USDA has been given the challenge to address these concerns, while simultaneously maintaining an environment in which animals can be maintained in captivity; exhibited in their natural habitats; the public can have, where appropriate, direct contact with animals; and facilities can conduct studies to improve and maintain their collection of animals.

The Inspection Process

Congress mandated that each registered research facility be inspected at least once every year. Congress did not mandate an inspection interval for licensed facilities, including exhibitors. Using a risk-based inspection system (RBIS), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) determines the minimal inspection interval for each licensed exhibitor. RBIS is based on the facility’s compliance history, type of animals housed, and methods by which animals are exhibited.

Although each inspector can develop their own inspection process, there are several basic guidelines all inspectors must follow. The inspections will be unannounced and conducted at an interval that assures compliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Inspections will be conducted with a representative from the facility who is at least 18 years of age. Areas of noncompliance will be noted, and an inspection report completed. At the end of each inspection, the facility will receive a copy of the USDA inspection report along with an opportunity to discuss (exit interview) with the inspector each area of noncompliance noted.

Disagreeing with an Inspection Report

Each facility will sign or validate that they have received the inspection report. A signature on the report does not mean concurrence with the report. Each facility, at the time of the exit interview, should discuss each item on the report to assure they understand each deficiency and what needs to be done to correct them. If the facility disagrees with a documented item, they should bring this to the attention of the inspector before he/she leaves the premises and state the facility’s reasons for disagreeing. In most cases, issues are resolved at this time and the report, if appropriate, amended. If not resolved at the exit interview, the facility may follow the procedures outlined in animal care’s tech note “Understanding Compliance Inspections” to have the inspection reviewed by the inspector’s supervisor.

Common Violations Found at Exhibitor Facilities

In fiscal year 2000, there were 4,804 violations documented at licensed exhibitor facilities involving 60,863 animals. Six hundred eighty-eight of these violations involved the attending veterinarian and/or inadequate veterinary care.

Responsibility and Authority of the Attending Veterinarian

Each licensed exhibitor is required to have under formal arrangement a full or part-time attending veterinarian who shall provide adequate veterinary care to the facility’s animals. In the case of a part-time attending veterinarian, the formal arrangement shall include a written program of veterinary care and regularly scheduled visits to the facility’s premises. Each licensed exhibitor shall assure that their attending veterinarian has the appropriate authority to assure the provision of adequate veterinary care and to oversee the adequacy of other aspects of animal care and use. Adequate veterinary care includes (1) availability of appropriate facilities, personnel, equipment, and services; (2) use of appropriate methods to prevent, control, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries, and the availability of emergency, weekend, and holiday care; (3) daily observations of all animals to assess their health and well-being; (4) adequate guidance to personnel involved in the care and use of animals regarding handling, immobilization, anesthesia, analgesia, tranquilization and euthanasia; and (5) adequate preprocedural and postprocedural care in accordance with established medical and nursing procedures.

Compliance Through Education Rather Than Enforcement

Animal Care focuses on education efforts through the inspection process, industry meetings, Animal Care website, and other mechanisms. Animal Care inspectors use each inspection of a facility as a means to educate an exhibitor on maintaining compliance with the AWA. Animal Care personnel have attended and participated in national meetings of the Association of Aquatic Animals, American Zoo and Aquarium Association, Society of Marine Mammalogy, and Association of Aquatic Life Support Systems Operators. In FY 1999, Animal Care personnel attended more than 297 industry meeting and training sessions and presented papers or informal talks at more than 97 of them. In February 1999, Animal Care launched its new and improved website www.aphis.usda.govThe new site contains the same information as the old site but organizes it in a more logical and user-friendly way for both the general public and program stakeholders. In 1997, Animal Care began publishing a periodic report on animal welfare issues and now has over 2000 subscribers.

Innovative Penalties that Benefit the Animals

Animal Care uses a two-pronged enforcement strategy. For licensed exhibitors who show an interest in improving the conditions for their animals, Animal Care actively pursues innovative penalties that allow the facility to invest part or all of their monetary sanctions in facility improvements, employee training, research on animal health and welfare issues, or other initiatives to improve animal well-being. In doing so, USDA enables the facility to immediately improve the conditions for their animals while sending a clear message that future violations of the AWA will not be tolerated. Prior to 1997, most fines were either suspended or paid directly to the U.S. Treasury, but neither of these methods directly improved the plight of the violator’s animals. On the other hand, for licensed exhibitors who do not improve conditions for their animals, Animal Care moves swiftly and pursues stringent enforcement actions. Such action typically includes significant monetary penalties and/or license suspensions or revocations. It may also include confiscation of their animals and relocation to another facility if the animals are found suffering.


Speaker Information
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Dick Watkins
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Care
Riverdale, MD, USA

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