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May 2, 2017

As we have previously reported, the decision to remove the public inspection reports on facilities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) came as a “particular surprise” to many within the Animal Care Division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These same sources at the Western Regional Office for Animal Care, USDA Headquarters in Riverdale, MD and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, speaking on the conditions of anonymity out of concern for their current positions, expressed broad concerns over the impact the proposed budget cuts may have on the effectiveness of the Animal Care inspection program. As one Animal Care official stated, “How can’t there be an impact? If it isn’t a mandatory outlay, everyone has been warned to expect the worst.”

President Trump’s 2018 proposed budget requests $17.9 billion in discretionary spending for the USDA, a $4.7 billion or 21% decrease from the 2017 budget. The proposed budget will not affect “mandatory” spending established by law, only “discretionary” programs where spending can be adjusted.

USDA’s total outlays for 2017 were $155 billion. Roughly 83% of outlays, about $130 billion, are associated with mandatory programs that provide services as required by the law. These outlays include crop insurance, nutrition assistance programs, farm commodity and trade programs, and a number of conservation programs.

Figure 1 – While this breakdown is of the USDA’s 2016 Appropriations, the outlays per program are consistent with the 2017 Appropriations. The main mandatory spending items were the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP, and other food and nutrition act programs, child nutrition (school lunch and related programs). Commodity and crop insurance, commonly known as farm subsidies, accounted for nearly $15 billion in mandatory spending by the USDA. Mandatory spending is controlled by budget rules during the authorization process. Spending for these entitlement programs is set in laws such as the farm bill and child nutrition reauthorizations. Simply stated, these expenditures can not be reduced without authorization from the US Congress.

In 2016, the nearly $22 billion or 17% of outlays remaining are associated with discretionary programs including animal and plant health inspection activities conducted under the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The APHIS is responsible for the inspection activities related to the protection of certain animals, including commercial dog breeders covered under the Animal Welfare Act and is a discretionary spending outlay. In 2016, the APHIS budget was $29 million program and employed 119 inspectors across the United States. Since not mandated by legislation, any proposed budget cuts will come from discretionary spending programs.

The APHIS inspection program is mandated by the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The APHIS currently determines inspection intervals based on a Risk-Based Inspection System, but it is important to note that the only inspection requirement mandated by the AWA is the yearly inspection of registered animal research facilities. While many other animals exhibited to the public, transported commercially, or bred for commercial sale, including dog breeding facilities are mentioned in the AWA, the law’s only legislatively mandated inspection requirement is facilites involved in medical research.

There is no specific provisions within the language of the AWA that requires inspection schedules of any other types of facilities, including commercial dog breeders. While Animal Health accounted for less than 1% ($29 million) of the $22 billion in USDA’s discretionary spending in 2017, in the event that the APHIS budget is decreased by the proposed budget cuts, the only inspections that are mandated by law are facilities involved in medical research. When asked if the American people should be considered that APHIS inspections could be impacted by the proposed budget cuts, an Animal Care Division official responded, “Budget cuts to Animal Health will no doubt equal cuts in the inspection intervals.”

In DOG BY DOG we highlighted the fact that the APHIS inspection program is already overworked, underfunded, and failing to meet the clear intentions at the heart of the AWA: To protect animals in commercial and medical facilities. Since the film was finished, we have witnessed the removal of public inspection reports on facilities regulated under the AWA and a proposed budget that will likely impact inspections of these facilities.

The startling reality is that without access to public inspection reports, measuring the potential impact of the budget cuts on the APHIS inspection program will be nearly impossible to measure. For a federal program that has has faced ongoing criticism over the years, now is not the time to limit or withhold public access. The dogs in commercial kennels deserve the daylight of honest, public accountability of these critical inspection programs.

The budgetary negotiations for 2018 are now just beginning in Congress. President Trump’s proposed budget must travel the long road through Congress before any cuts can be instituted. NOW is the time to contact your representatives in Congress, especially if they are members of the House Committee of Agriculture or the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

In an effort to continue to educate the public on puppy mills, BEYOND DOG BY DOG is original reporting by DOG BY DOG Director Christopher E. Grimes. All sources requested anonymity out of concern for their current positions. Based on the relationships we built with these individuals during the production of DOG BY DOG, we are confident in their assessments.

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