New USDA Report Caters to “Customers,” Not Animals

April 24, 2019

Dogs in cages

Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated its website with a new Animal Care Impact Report [PDF] detailing the agency’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The report reveals a steep and troubling decline in disciplinary actions taken against cruel, commercial puppy breeders and other businesses regulated by the USDA.

Last summer, the ASPCA addressed the significant decrease in enforcement actions against AWA violators from October 2017 through June 2018; the new figures released for the entirety of Fiscal Year 2018 (October 2017 through September 2018) confirm that downward trend. After waiting nearly seven months to see this full report, we’re disconcerted to see such low numbers.

The AWA sets minimum standards of care for animals in commercial facilities, including puppy mills. When breeders violate these standards, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is responsible for initiating enforcement actions against the licensee. The new report shows that APHIS opened only 19 AWA cases during FY 2018, which is less than 10% of the total number of cases opened in 2016 and 2017. During that time, USDA also revoked only four AWA licenses for animal care violations. Other enforcement actions—including official warnings and settlements—have also plummeted.

TotalsFY 2016FY 2017FY 2018
Cases Initiated23920519
Settlement Agreements32137

It's abundantly clear from these figures that the USDA is failing to protect animals. Given that many licensed operations have a long track record of failure to comply with the AWA’s minimal standards of animal care, it’s just not plausible that facilities known for repeat violations have suddenly cleaned up their practices. Most likely, a lack of enforcement is to blame.

Sick dog in cage

Puppy paws in cage

The Animal Care Impact Report contains very few figures measuring how the agency has helped protect animals through its initiatives. Unbelievably, the report doesn’t even name ensuring animal welfare as one of the USDA’s core values. Instead, the USDA repeatedly pats itself on the back for the progress it has made serving its “customers”—the very community of exploitative puppy breeders and dealers that the agency is charged with regulating.

This update is yet another blow to animals and the American taxpayers who fund USDA inspections and enforcement actions. We are determined to fight in Congress and the courts to increase USDA’s transparency and enforcement of animal welfare laws, but we need your help. Please join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade to be alerted when we need you to speak up for America’s taxpayers and puppy mill dogs.