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New USDA rules improve licensing and veterinary standards

After receiving more than 100,000 comments, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) finalized changes to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) on May 13. The updated rules have largely been viewed as a positive change for animal welfare and have been applauded by the Humane Society of the United States and PETA.

The AWA is the federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport and by dealers and is considered the minimum acceptable standard for animal care. Originally signed into law in 1966, the AWA has been continually updated and protections for animals have progressively improved.

The most recent changes touch a variety of areas, including licensing, compliance and veterinary care standards. According to the APHIS announcement, in the new rules, licensees have to demonstrate compliance with the AWA and show that the animals in their possession are adequately cared for in order to obtain a license. These changes also strengthen existing regulations to prevent individuals and businesses whose licenses were suspended or revoked or those with a history of animal welfare violations from obtaining a license or doing any regulated activities with regulated animals. It also requires more frequent license renewal.

Additionally, the new regulations require any dealer, exhibitor or research facility with dogs to maintain a veterinary care program and medical records that must be available to USDA upon request. The veterinary care must include regular visits by a veterinarian (not less than once a year), vaccinations, parasite prevention and treatment and preventative care.

However, despite the constructive changes, skeptics worry that the USDA will not adequately enforce the new rules. In a press release, the Humane Society of the United States stated, “The USDA has, under the Trump administration, drastically scaled back on enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. Citations, warnings and fines have plummeted dramatically over the last three years…”

Regardless, the changes to the rules signal a step in the right direction. While there is always more work to be done, we are glad to see the USDA taking steps to improve the welfare of animals across the country.

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