Since the abrupt removal of breeder inspection information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and the pet industry have been scrambling to determine what its impact will be on the pet trade and what information the USDA will ultimately be providing to the public. In order to express industry concerns and to clarify USDA’s anticipated path forward, PIJAC met with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) leadership in Washington, DC.
We pointed out that while many of the businesses that make up the pet industry are not considered constituents or stakeholders of the USDA, our entire industry is dependent upon a healthy and reliable source of responsibly raised companion animals. APHIS assured us that this decision was not reached lightly and that the Department considered a number of approaches that would balance their concerns about protecting the privacy of individuals with the need for transparency and public assurance. While it was made clear that the USDA is continuing to explore options for sharing as much information as they believe that they have the legal right to, they do not expect to be making inspection reports publicly available, even in a redacted format, in the near future without a Freedom of Information Act request.
APHIS stated several times that, despite how this change is being portrayed by some, their decision to eliminate access to inspection reports has no impact on their inspection or enforcement activities. These actions will continue uninterrupted.
The Way Forward
PIJAC is extremely concerned by this policy change because we believe that transparency is good for the responsible pet industry and because it is what consumers expect. We are further concerned that ready access to USDA inspection reports is a key component to sourcing restrictions that we support in lieu of pet sale bans to demonstrate that pet stores are using responsible breeders. We expect that this policy change will complicate discussions with lawmakers on several sourcing restriction bills and will be used as an argument to promote outright sales bans.
We at PIJAC will continue to keep the lines of communication open with APHIS in order to keep abreast of potential developments and to convey industry concerns. APHIS has also agreed to set up an email account that will allow members of the industry and the public weigh in on this policy change. We will distribute this information to our members as soon as we receive it, and we strongly encourage everyone in the pet trade to make use of it.
We also strongly encourage all pet stores and Class B dealers to require the most recent USDA inspection report from any breeder that you do business with, out of an abundance of caution. States may interpret or respond differently to this USDA policy change and its effect on state or local requirements, so if you are in a jurisdiction that requires posting of inspection reports, or that restricts the breeders that you can use subject to their inspection history, ensure that you have the information on hand to comply. We also encourage you to consult with your own legal counsel regarding breeder agreements and consent to share private information such as breeder numbers and inspection results.
Finally, if you are involved in the responsible pet trade, we need you to join PIJAC. Lawsuits are already being prepared and harmful legislation is already being drafted in response to this policy change. As the vanguard for the industry, there will be times when we need to disseminate information quickly and call for a rapid response. Although we will always share information as broadly as possible for the good of the industry, if you are not on our membership rolls it is harder for us to contact you in a timely fashion. Dealing with the repercussions of this change in policy will be a lengthy and costly process. Your presence, your participation, and your financial support are essential to maintaining access to responsibly bred companion animals.
- This policy change by USDA only affects access to inspection reports. APHIS inspection and enforcement operations will continue as normal.
- Although less convenient, it is still possible for retailers and consumers to ensure that their companion animals are coming from responsible and ethical breeders. These breeders are among the best sources for responsibly raised companion animals, protecting consumers and pets alike.
- Live animal sellers, distributors, and transporters should request copies of current inspection reports from breeders with every animal shipment and determine whether or not they require agreements that explicitly provide consent for information to be shared.
- Government and consumer transparency expectations will only be heightened because of this policy change. The onus to provide that transparency will increasingly fall on retailers. Everyone in the responsible pet trade must strive to be as transparent as possible while respecting individuals’ privacy.
- The USDA policy change will make operating in an environment where many in the trade are considered “guilty until proven innocent” even more difficult. Only transparency will combat unjustified accusations.
- The USDA is attempting to balance concerns about protecting the privacy of individuals with the need for transparency and public assurance.