OPEN DISCUSSION WITH:
U. S. SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE TOM VILSACK
DEPUTY SECRETARY KRYSTA HARDEN
ED AVAOLOS – UNDER SECRETARY
DEPUTY APHIS ADMINSTRATOR CHESTER GIPSON, DVM
WHY ISN’T THE USDA ELIMINATING SORING BY VIGOROUSLY ENFORCING THE HORSE PROTECTION ACT AND DECERTIFYING NON-COMPLIANT HIOS?
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
- LACK OF FUNDING – WHY DOESN’T THE SECRETARY LOBBY CONGRESS TO ADEQUATELY FUND HORSE PROTECTION ENFORCEMENT?
- OVERALL CULTURE AT USDA – AGRICULTURE SUPPORTIVE VS LAW ENFORCEMENT?
- IS USDA SHIRKING ITS LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSIBILITIES?
- DOES USDA CONSIDER ITS ROLE IS TO SUPPORT BIG LICK HORSE RACKET AS “AGRICULTURE” EVEN THOUGH THE BIG LICK IS BASED ON SORING HORSES?
The USDA’s enforcing the Horse Protection Act was slammed in a September 30, 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General Audit.
SEPTEMBER 30, 2010
OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL AUDIT
Horse Protection Program
“Concerning the treatment of show horses, we found that APHIS’ program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused. At present, (HIO) horse industry organizations hire their own inspectors (known as designated qualified persons (DQP)) to inspect horses at the shows they sponsor. However, we found that DQPs do not always inspect horses to effectively enforce the law and regulations, and in some cases where they do find violations, they deliberately issue tickets to friends or family members of responsible individuals so that the responsible person could avoid receiving a penalty for violating the Horse Protection Act.” (CORRUPTION)
“After Congress passed the Horse Protection Act, USDA through APHIS, developed the DQP system as a way of meeting its responsibilities to establish a program for the appointment of inspectors and the manner of inspections, given the agency’s very limited resources. Since passage of the Horse Protection Act in 1970, APHIS’ budget for the Horse Protection Program was set at no more than $500,000 yearly, and the program’s funding limitation has remained unchanged for almost four decades. These funds are used to cover travel, salaries, and other expenditures for APHIS employees involved in the Horse Protection Program.”
CONGRESSMAN HAL ROGERS (R-KY) – ENEMY OF THE SOUND HORSE???
Congressman Rogers is a big supporter of the Sore Tennessee Walking Horse crowd. Rogers specializes in taking care of the legislative interests of big coal. PSHA Board of Directors member is James L. Griffith of Alvaton, Kentucky, owner of Griffith Coal Company and DAGS Coal Company. The PSHA/WHTA lobbyist Jeff Speaks, former key aide to Representative Hal Rogers, also lobbies for coal interests. Speaks was the recent keynote speaker at the Walking Horse Trainers Boyz annual banquet, and sat besides Walking Horse Trainer Boyz President Mickey McCormick at the Nov. 13 Congressional Hearing. Recently, the projected Senate appropriations for USDA Horse Protection Enforcement was $1,000,000.00 and Rogers lowballed it at $500,000.00, and the final budget figure was $697,000.00.
“Given its limited resources””which APHIS regards as inadequate to send its own veterinarians to the approximately 500 horse shows that are held each year””the agency implemented the program by collaborating with the horse industry organizations sponsoring the shows. Horse industry organizations are responsible for hiring, training, and licensing all DQPs that inspect horses to enforce the Horse Protection Act. These organizations are required to hire enough DQPs to examine every horse that is shown for signs of soring and issue violations to exhibitors who abuse their horses.
Having DQPs present to inspect the horses at each show relieves show managers of their liability to ensure that no horses that are found in violation of the Horse Protection Act participate in any show, sale, or other event. APHIS also sends its own teams of veterinarians to some of these horse shows, where they make unannounced visits and evaluate the DQPs’ performance. In fiscal year 2007, the Horse Protection Program’s budget of $497,000 was only sufficient to send APHIS veterinarians to approximately 30 of the 463 sanctioned shows, or 6 percent.
Although the DQP system was intended to establish a way for inspections to occur even when APHIS employees could not be present, we found that it was not functioning as intended. DQPs realize that by ticketing horse exhibitors, or by excluding horses from a show, they are not likely to please their employers“”who are interested in putting on a profitable show. DQPs are also likely to be exhibitors themselves, and so while they may be inspecting horses at one show, they could be exhibiting horses at another. If they inspected other exhibitors’ horses rigorously, they might find their own horses subjected to much more strenuous inspections at other shows.
Given the DQPs’ clear conflict of interest, we found that they did not always inspect horses according to the requirements of the Horse Protection Act. One DQP we spoke to was in the habit of giving exhibitors “freebies,” or warnings, instead of issuing tickets for violations. Some DQPs””when they did issue a ticket””would issue it, not to the exhibitor responsible for abusing the horse, but to almost anyone else, including stable hands working for the exhibitor. Overall, we found that DQPs working independently issued few tickets; they were much more likely to issue violations when they were being observed by an APHIS employee. From 2005 to 2008, APHIS veterinarians were present at only 6 percent of all shows, yet DQPs issued 49 percent of all violations at these shows.4 In other words, DQPs noticed about half of the violations they found at the small number of shows where they were being observed by an APHIS employee.
Additionally, the environment for enforcing the Horse Protection Act is hostile. Many in the horse show industry do not regard the abuse of horses as a serious problem, and resent USDA performing inspections. The practice of soring has been ingrained as an acceptable practice in the industry for decades. APHIS records showed that there was an environment at horse shows, sales, and other horse-related events in which APHIS employees were subjected to intimidation and attempts to prevent them from inspecting horses. Show organizers, exhibitors, and spectators denied the inspectors the physical environment they needed to inspect horses, verbally abused them, and even made anti-USDA comments over the public address system. APHIS reports describe one incident where a representative of show management made a speech during a horse show discussing how the government bullied the walking horse industry and urged people to stand up to this unjust treatment. The crowd cheered these sentiments. Due to this hostile environment, APHIS employees routinely bring armed security or the police with them when they visit shows.
Such an environment creates clear challenges for enforcing the Horse Protection Act. Atpresent, horse industry organizations and show managers are paying substantial sums to regulate their industry by training and hiring DQPs, but at present, the DQP-inspection process is not serving APHIS’ intended purpose. Given the problems we observed with DQPs and the conflicts of interest, we are recommending that APHIS abolish the DQP program, and instead provide independent, accredited veterinarians to perform inspections at sanctioned shows. APHIS should hire and train these inspectors, but the agency should pass the costs for their inspections along to the show managers responsible for the show. While it is true that an inspection system relying on veterinarians will be more expensive than a system based on DQPs, our estimate of the costs involved indicates that the additional costs would be minimal, amounting to only a few dollars for each horse entered into the shows. The APHIS officials we spoke with stated that a veterinarian-based system would provide the horse industry and the Federal Government with a much higher quality inspection process, and would generally improve APHIS’ ability to enforce the Horse Protection Act.
We also noted that APHIS inspection teams at horse-related events cannot ensure that individuals suspended from participating in horse shows due to violations are not participating. APHIS personnel visiting a show do not check the USDA suspension list, unless they recognize a suspended person at the show, and show managers also do not provide APHIS personnel with a complete list of all the individuals planning to exhibit horses during a given show, sale, or event. Unless there is a control in place to check this information, suspended exhibitors may continue participating in shows.
Overall, OIG is also recommending that APHIS seek the necessary funding from Congress for the Horse Protection Program, as the current level of funding does not enable the agency to oversee it adequately. Given the weaknesses in the inspection process, APHIS employees need to attend more shows to ensure that horses are inspected adequately.”
With 259 Congressmen and 43 U. S. Senators now co-sponsoring the Prevent All Soring Tactics, isn’t it time for the USDA leaders to stop hiding behind a bureaucratic curtain and come forward and provide clarity in its mission and role in eliminating the abuse of the Tennessee Walking Horse mandated by the HPA and set out by its own USDA Office of Inspector General Audit?