USDA Inspections Find High Level of AWA Compliance
A research pig

The vast majority of USDA inspections of registered research facilities during Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 did not uncover any Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations. William Stokes, Assistant Director for Animal Welfare Operations with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), provided an overview of AWA inspection findings at research institutions on November 1, 2016. He spoke at the national meeting of American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) in Charlotte, NC.

Some 1,045 research facilities were registered with USDA in FY 2015 with a total of 1,187 inspections sites. During FY 2015, USDA inspectors conducted 1,350 unannounced inspections. In slightly more than 75% of those inspections, no Non-Compliant Items (NCIs) were found. (“NCI” is the USDA’s term for alleged violations of the AWA.) Of the 330 or so inspections where inspectors found NCIs at research facilities, only 13 cases involved problems with a direct bearing on animal welfare, and those were concentrated in 6 institutions. (USDA conducts follow-up inspections when problems that may affect animal welfare are found.)

Almost 40% of USDA’s noncompliance citations involved the responsibilities of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). The primary problem areas involved failures to conduct or document semi-annual program reviews and facility inspections; to ensure that alternatives to painful procedures were considered; and to review and approve significant changes to research protocols. Another 30% of the noncompliance citations involved failures to provide adequate veterinary care, including coverage outside of regular business hours.

Stokes underscored an inspector’s report of noncompliance is considered an alleged AWA violation because institutions are entitled to contest them. Institutions have 21 days to appeal an inspector’s finding by presenting additional information about the alleged violation. If the institution is not satisfied with USDA’s response, it can go before an Administrative Law Judge to challenge the inspector’s report. Stokes said that in most instances where serious AWA violations are alleged, institutions reach a settlement with USDA. This may involve a stipulation agreement and payment of a fine. The maximum fine under law is $10,000 per day for each animal and for each violation that has occurred.