Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why not just apply for a USDA license?

Note: This post is about a FEDERAL rule that will affect all of the USA. See our post giving more information about the rule itself and who it will apply to: New USDA rule would force small breeders to become licensed. 

With the current APHIS rule up for comment which would make almost every breeder, rescue and farmer subject to Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requirements and USDA licensing, many are asking, "Why not just get a USDA license?"

The AWA requirements may make sense for laboratories and large commercial facilities. The problem is that the license requirements are so extensive, costly and restrictive that virtually no small hobby breeder, rescue, service dog raiser or family farmer will be able to comply with them.

While I believe people should have the option to become USDA licensed if they wish, I do not feel it is appropriate to force small breeders, hobbyists, show competitors and family farmers to become USDA licensed and inspected. 

Many people don't realize that AWA standards require that all animals be raised in a sterile commercial-style facility. The rules are designed for laboratories, commercial facilities and large scale operations--not for a family farm, small rescue, foster home or hobbyist breeder.

You CANNOT raise animals in your home in a family environment and meet USDA licensing requirements. For instance, all surfaces in contact with animals must be impermeable and sterilizable. That means no carpeting, no unsealed wood, no soft bedding, no sofa or bed in the area your animals are raised.

No more well-socialized puppies or kittens being raised in a home with a family and routine exposure to various people, pets, appliances and other normal household goings-on. No more young animals learning manners from or learning to interact with other animals in the household, because generally baby animals in USDA licensed facilities must be kept apart from all animals other than their mother and littermates.

If you go to the USDA website you can read inspection reports. Here is the link.

A violation can result in consequences including warnings, having your license suspended or revoked, and/or a monetary fine of up to $10,000 per animal per day. This isn't necessarily determined by the severity of the offense. For instance, the Dollarhite family faced extreme penalties (a more than $90,000 fine, which was a "discounted" penalty from the nearly 4 million dollars calculated to be the maximum possible penalty) because they did not have the required license to sell more than $500 gross in rabbits and cavies to a pet store. This was not about animal welfare violations, but simply about the lack of a USDA license.

Another family was told that they would be fined $10,000 because they were leaving for a family funeral when the APHIS inspector arrived, and it was cited as an Animal Welfare Act violation when they wouldn't skip the funeral to accommodate the surprise inspection.

Not only does USDA licensing open you up to violations of your privacy and your 4th Amendment rights with inspectors in your home, but also in the public sector.

Inspection reports are posted online. This means that your name, address, number and type of animals, and other details about your operation are posted online in publicly accessible locations. Especially for people who raise animals at their residence, this can put breeders at risk from thieves, animal rights activists, and others who might wish to steal from or harm them.

In order to have a USDA license, you must:

1. Have a responsible adult who can explain your operations available every weekday during business hours (defined as 7AM to 7PM) to accommodate surprise USDA inspections. If they come for an inspection while you are gone due to an errand or emergency, you will be written up for a violation. This means you must hire someone to be present EVERY TIME you must leave home during business hours. This is completely impractical for small farms, hobby breeders, and rescues that use foster homes.

2. Obtain animals only from USDA licensed facilities or those that can prove they are exempt. The records you must maintain are extensive, including the name, address, driver's license number, and make/model/license plate of vehicle of people you obtain animals from; as well as detailed records about the animals themselves. These records must be kept on the premises and available for inspection at all times. See the form here:
(The form makes it sound like you only have to get the vehicle/DL info. on commercial drivers, but if you read the inspection reports they expect you to maintain this information for anyone who is not USDA licensed).

3. Have pristine laboratory-style equipment and facilities in essentially brand new, perfect condition. No animals in your home, as previously mentioned--homes have permeable surfaces like carpeting and wood.

All surfaces must be impermeable, flawless and able to be completely and regularly sterilized. Nothing that could conceivably injure an animal under any stretch of the imagination. Nothing that could conceivably attract or harbor pests. Lighting, climate control, water and electrical access, and wash facilities and methods all must meet specific requirements.

Depending on the inspector you happen to get, the slightest amount of dirt or soiling may be unacceptable. Something that one inspector deems acceptable, the next inspector may write up as a violation. The guidelines are vague and extensive enough that an inspector can always find a violation of some sort if they want to, no matter how well kept your animals and how clean your facility.

    Sample citations on record in this category, from actual inspection reports:

  • A barn with no sink installed. Lack of climate control, and/or the temperature, humidity, etc. being outside the required narrow range. Cracks, rough edges or gaps on surfaces, even surfaces not directly in contact with animals. Wood surfaces, especially if unsealed or showing any signs of wear or chewing. Unsealed concrete, even if not in contact with animals. Rust on any surface, including the outsides of animal enclosures.

  • Metal urine guards in cages. Wire floors with gaps large enough for toes or baby animal feet to go through at all (basically all wire floors could fall into this category, even for species such as rabbits where wire floors are standard and supported by scientific research as appropriate). One to six inches of feces on the ground underneath hanging rabbit cages, despite noted lack of odor. Bags of manure outside a barn.

  • Sterilizing equipment with a bleach solution (bleach alone is not an approved method).

  • Weeds or tall grass in the yard outside the building. Dust on an object that was not inside any animal enclosure. Cobwebs on a ceiling. Exposed nail heads and/or insulation in the building. Anything not immediately needed for the care of the animals anywhere in the general area (even if not inside animal enclosures). Animal hair on the floor.

  • Open containers of hay, lime or feed. Staining, soiling or holes on/in walls behind (not in) cages. Unlabeled containers. A door (not to enclosures confining animals, but to the building) left ajar. Open garbage cans. Empty feed bags. Full feed bags, opened or unopened, stored in the area.
Those are just a few examples. I recommend that you read through the reports with cited violations to get a fuller picture.

The takeaway for me is that the vast majority of "AWA violations" cited are not the type of thing most people would think of when they consider animal abuse and neglect--at least not in isolation as a minor occurrence. And yet each item listed here could potentially carry a penalty of up to $10,000 per day for each animal affected.

4. Have a veterinarian on staff or on call and regularly attending the animals in your facility. Not just as needed or for occasional checks, but the veterinarian is required to be supervising and having authority over everything. The vet does not have to be the one doing daily inspections, but is supposed to be in charge of the animals' health in your facility.

My vet charges a $30 farm call fee, on top of his normal fee which is a $75 minimum for up to the first half hour and then I think it was $130 per hour after that. That is not including any supplies, procedures, etc. So I'm at a minimum of over $100 every time the vet is called in.

One of the violations cited in an APHIS facility inspection was that there was a rabbit with what sounded like wry neck when the inspector arrived. The employee was waiting for someone with more authority to arrive to tell them what to do. When the USDA inspector informed them that waiting a short time to do something was not an option and they needed to call the vet, they euthanized the rabbit--something most breeders would agree was an appropriate action for wry neck, as the prognosis for this disease is very poor and it puts other animals at risk. They were then cited for putting the rabbit down without first consulting the vet.

A number of facilities were cited for using standard over-the-counter or home treatments for routine parasite treatment, minor wound care and common non-serious ailments, because the vet hadn't been called in on it--particularly if the specific use was off-label, even if commonly used that way by veterinarians and animal caretakers.

 Minor issues that were being treated with over-the-counter remedies (or that had just occurred and had not yet had time for treatment) were cited as violations, as were issues such as tartar on dog's teeth and a red spot on an animal's paw.

Having expired ointments or medications on the premises--even if you're not actually using them to treat an animal--is a veterinary care violation. Using medications off-label without a prescription is another, even if they are standard treatments for that issue (i.e. using a topical antibiotic cream on a wound for a type of animal not specifically listed on the label, even if a similar type of animal is listed and it is known to be an appropriate treatment for the animal you are dealing with).

So, not only do you have to have normal routine vet checks, you basically have to call the vet in for every little thing, even if all you plan to do is immediately euthanize the sick animal.

Many vets are going to recommend extensive treatments for many things that most breeders would cull a small animal, livestock or meat animal for.

These treatments can be prohibitively expensive and can also interfere with the intended use of the animal. For instance, Baytril, a commonly prescribed antibiotic, is very expensive. I believe it costs about $50 for enough to treat one small (i.e. 4 lb.) critter for one week. Like most medications, it is not approved for use in some types of meat animals, and there is a withdrawl time for others. Other medications are blacklisted so that if that medication is ever used during the life of the animal, it can never be used as meat. It makes no sense to spend thousands of dollars to do surgery on an animal that was intended for slaughter in a few days anyway--most would opt to put the animal down rather than treating it in such a situation.

But if a facility is USDA licensed, you now have a situation where the breeder is no longer free to make decisions about whether to treat or cull based on cost effectiveness or the greater good of the herd, or can vet the animals themselves for standard things every good farmer knows how to treat. The USDA licensed facility must call in the vet for everything.

If the treatment the vet recommends is too expensive and complicated, or you don't feel the prognosis is good enough, or it's a meat animal and you plan to butcher it soon anyway so you opt to slaughter it early rather than dealing with treatments and medication residues, what then? Are you now out of compliance for failing to follow the veterinarian's recommendations?

It's also a complicating factor that for some types of animals, it's very difficult to find a veterinarian that is knowledgeable about the species--and even more so a vet that is familiar with herd or flock management. Veterinarians have been known to do things like prescribe oral amoxicillin for a rabbit with enteritis, despite the owner's protests that it was an inappropriate medication choice for rabbits. Another common occurrence is for vets accustomed to treating pet animals to prescribe medications not appropriate for food animals.

So what are your options then? You're either going to have to pay ANOTHER vet for a second opinion, be out of compliance by not following the vet's advice, or be out of compliance or at least doing something terribly unethical and possibly killing the animal by giving it a medication known to be contraindicated for that species or situation.

Not only could the veterinary requirements alone easily end up costing hundreds or thousands of dollars per month, it could also significantly hamper a breeder's ability to make appropriate decisions for themselves, their business and their animals.


More information and sources:

Here is the link where you can make comments directly to APHIS (as many as you like; you're not limited to just one) on the proposed new rule which would drastically widen the pool of people required to be licensed:!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2011-0003-0001

The Cavalry Group has put up a website with a tool to make it easy to email your congressional representatives about this issue (this is important because the new rule must be approved by Congress). You can use their suggested wording, or (for more impact) revise and edit it to reflect your own situation and wording. (While you're at it, it would also be a good idea to write another note asking them NOT to support the PUPS (Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety) Act, another very similar law backed by the HSUS and other animal supremacy groups that some congressfolks are trying to pass.)

The AKC also has a petition going:

Here is the site where you can look up inspection reports. You can search by any term, including type of animal.

And here are the published regulations pertaining to the Animal Welfare Act:

Here are a lot of the forms and other info:

Washington Animal Watch Posts about the proposed USDA/APHIS rule:

New USDA rule would force small breeders to become licensed.

Why not just apply for a USDA license?

Images Opposing PUPS and the APHIS proposal (for posting on your own site, Facebook page, etc.)


Copyright Washington Animal Watch, 2012

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  1. It was intended, many years ago-that 'the people' control the government, not the other way around. We do NOT need more interference in our husbandry practices. These requirements not only make NATURAL feeding, NATURAL animal behavior (interactions between species, play, etc)impossible, but in effect, promote inhumane treatment of the animal. I use a Service Dog- if the dog cannot be in a home environment while it is being raised and trained, there would be no more Service Dog. Requireing a vet to make all decisions conerning medications, their uses, and whether or not to cull a suffering animal willhurt the animal more than the actions of an experienced, dedicated animal breeder, of any species.

    1. Very good point, probably one of the most compelling arguments I have read in regards to this proposed ”rule”. I am a small breeder and have placed several dogs as therapy companions with families affected by autism. I will not raise my puppies like lab animals outside of my home. If this goes through I will become a criminal I supposed because I will not do that to my dogs...

  2. Frosted, that is an excellent comment. I hope you posted it on the USDA site as a public comment also.

  3. You should also contact your Congresspeople about this issue, BTW. I added a link in the article for an easy way to do this.

  4. Thank you for assembling all this great information in one post. My hat is off to you.

  5. Wonderful information. And very eloquently put what I have been trying to tell people for a couple of years now. I wish I knew how to share this very informational blog to my website. bloggerly challenged.

  6. Thank you for mentioning our story. The USDA is in bed with the HSUS and they just would like to outlaw all animal sales in the U.S. We are farmers and should not have to have a USDA license to sell our animals. I do not need a USDA license to sell cattle. A farmer is NOT a dealer so the AWA did not apply. The USDA wanted us to give them jurisdiction and we said NO. We were operating a legal farming business in Missouri and the USDA did not have jurisdiction so they had to drop the case.

    1. Glad to hear that,John! I had read the original story but was unaware of the outcome. Good for you!!!

  7. Thanks, everyone. The URL for this post, if you wish to share it, is:

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