After Nine Years of Delay and Congressional Pressure, the USDA Acts to Protect Animals in Disasters
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its plan to finally move forward on a rule that will require all animal facilities licensed under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to have plans in place to protect animals in case of a disaster or emergency. This rule was originally finalized in December 2012, but was indefinitely delayed over concerns that the rule would be burdensome for small facilities. That concern was addressed in 2018 when the USDA passed a “de minimus” rule exempting smaller breeders from the requirements of the AWA. Nevertheless, the USDA continued to delay the rule. As fires, hurricanes, floods and extreme heat and cold weather events intensify, animals are at greater and greater risk without this protection in place.
The ASPCA and other animal welfare groups worked with champions in Congress to apply pressure on the USDA and demand better protections for animals in zoos, commercial breeding facilities and research facilities. In 2019, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced the Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act, legislation in line with the 2012 rule. The PREPARED Act additionally requires facilities to file their plans with the USDA. This popular bill garnered 222 bipartisan cosponsors, and in February 2020, the ASPCA testified on Capitol Hill in support of the bill. Representatives Titus and Davis also urged the House Agriculture Appropriations committee to include language in the appropriations bill requiring the USDA to lift the stay and enforce the rule. Fortunately, that language became law through the Fiscal Year 2021 Omnibus Appropriations bill and is the driving force that finally spurred agency action.
Although the USDA’s rule is not as protective as the PREPARED Act, we are relieved that commercial animal facilities will finally be required to have a plan for animals during a disaster and train employees to carry out that plan. Thank you to the tens of thousands of ASPCA supporters who raised their voices for animals in support of the USDA’s proposal to move forward on this long-overdue requirement for AWA-licensed facilities.
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