Federal shutdown threatens animal health, safety

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In the first day of the federal government shutdown there was no shortage of stories about how the loss of services will affect the human population.

But what about animals?

The Humane Society of the United States was among the animal welfare groups investigating that question today.

What did they find? Inspections of puppy mills and other animal research or breeding facilities will be halted, animals in federal hands - that's everything from mice to mustangs - will receive minimal care and a range of pet health and food safety and research programs will be suspended. In addition,no one will be monitoring waterways for stranded marine life or patrolling wildlife refuges for illegal hunting and trapping.

Nor does any member of the public have access to the Department of Agriculture's massive inspection database. The agency web site went dark early today.

The HSUS's chief program and policy officer, Michael Markarian, in his blog today, breaks down some of the key impact areas this way:

Under the Animal Welfare Act, USDA is charged with ensuring that minimum standards of care and treatment are provided by regulated entities (approximately 12,000 sites currently), including research facilities, commercial dog breeders and dealers, and exhibitors of exotic animals. Without federal government funding, USDA will not be able to inspect these facilities to ensure humane care or provide enforcement against violators, meaning puppy mills, research labs, roadside zoos, and the like could cut corners and operate recklessly while no one is watching.

The agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued a statement today indicating that “facility inspections and complaint investigations related to the Animal Welfare Act” would not continue during a funding lapse. Additionally, USDA’s website is dark due to the shutdown, which means the public no longer has access to the animal care database to review AWA inspection reports and violations. The agency’s consideration of important rulemaking provisions to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act, such as prohibiting the public contact with tigers and other dangerous wildlife, will grind to a halt.

The Bureau of Land Management stated that it will maintain the “minimum number of employees needed to humanely care for” and feed the 50,000 wild horses in short and long-term holding facilities. Unfortunately, it will cease wild horse and burro adoptions, compounding its current problem of warehousing wild horses and burros at taxpayer expense, and will likely not be able to proceed with the more humane and fiscally responsible short-term round-ups needed for the application of fertility control and release of horses to live on the range.

The National Institutes of Health said it will continue “animal care services to protect the health of NIH animals,” including 1,350,000 mice, 390,000 fish, 63,000 rats and 3,900 primates used in research. NIH also indicated it will “discontinue some veterinary services” and “will not take any actions on grant applications or awards,” which will delay work on developing more efficient and cost-effective methods of using non-animal alternatives in research.