USDA to Start Streamlining Sending Violations to Court
There is some great news for the sound horse on the horizon! The USDA Secretary's office has been doing their research, and they have learned that the APHIS, the division of the USDA that is supposed to enforce the HPA, has too many open investigations in their backlog. This doesn't just include HPA violators--it includes all of the areas they are supposed to enforce. So now, work is going to be done to get these investigations into court! The USDA released a stakeholder letter last week concerning this, which I've copied and pasted below. Here's the link to the letter online. Here's also a link to the Q&A document the USDA put out covering their most commonly asked questions about this process.
The Walking Horse Report also has information about it as the stakeholders meeting was attended by folks from the TWH industry. Here's the article from the WHR.
APHIS To Reduce Backlog And Streamline Enforcement
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
By Jeffrey Howard
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) held an industry stakeholder call to announce improvements to their investigation and enforcement streamlining efforts. APHIS pointed out on the call conducted by Dr. Kay Carter-Corker that over 2,000 open investigations are on the books of APHIS as of the end of 2011. Dr. Chester Gipson was unable to participate on the call due to illness.
Dr. Carter-Corker pointed to two areas of focus, first was to reduce the number of cases in backlog and secondly to reduce the time it takes to investigate. APHIS created a task force to address the backlog and is identifying the most critical cases to pursue. Dr. Carter-Corker pointed out that factors such as the cases significance to overall animal health, APHIS ability to successfully complete the investigation, the seriousness of the violation, age of the violation and whether the violator is a previous offender would be taken into account. For those they choose not to pursue letters of warning will be sent and the investigations will be closed.
On average APHIS requires 600 days to conduct an investigation and come to a resolution. If the case is then turned over the Office of Inspector General they can take much longer than that. The goal of APHIS is to reduce the average time to 355 days. In order to do so Dr. Carter-Corker pointed to creating templates for communication, pursuing cases with the most and best evidence and taking a more national approach to the investigations.
In closing Dr. Carter-Corker informed the participants that APHIS mission was to target those that pose the greatest risk to animal welfare. During questions, APHIS pointed out that approximately 800 of the 2,000 open cases dealt with animal welfare and 1/3rd of those dealt with the Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds.
Now here's a way to explain this to better understand it. Basically, what's been happening is HPA violations are documented by the HIOs or VMOs, then sent to the APHIS, the part of the USDA that's in charge of the HPA. The APHIS is then supposed to review the investigations, decide which ones need prosecution (usually on the basis of the severity of the violation), then turn them over to the Office of the General Counselor of the Office of the Inspector General to have them prosecuted. This is how Chris Zahnd ended up on the stand--his case was severe enough to get him into court. However, as we suspected, the HPA directors have not been doing their job, and that's why the violators aren't spending time in jail. So guess what? NOW the USDA has stepped up and is demanding they do their job! Here are the basics:
There are approximately 2,500 current open investigations in the APHIS. This is a compiled amount and includes all areas the USDA APHIS regulations, not just the HPA. So don't read that as 2,500 HPA violations--that's not correct.
The APHIS has done research and learned that they have the resources to prosecute up to 1,000 violations per year. This means they have to go through the violations and decide which are the worst. The worst ones will be sent on for investigation.
Of note is that they are going to include in their criteria for deciding on the investigations that are bad basing it on REPEAT VIOLATORS! Guess what? TWHBEA, SHOW, PRIDE, KYHIO...they're all FULL of repeat violators! So this may mean that some of the big wigs in the industry who continue to call the shots and are allowed to sore and get away with it are going to see their time in court! In a time when our government is getting harder and harder to believe in, this is one move that I know I'm 100 percent behind!
United States Department of Agriculture
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Washington, DC 20250
Jan 1, 2012
Open Letter to Stakeholders:
As a regulatory agency, our mission to protect plant health, animal health, and the welfare of animals is a critical one. And, we are very serious about taking enforcement action against those who jeopardize this mission by violating our regulations. In recent years, APHIS' backlog of open investigations has increased to well over 2,000, and we had about 2,050 open investigations at the end of fiscal year 2011. These investigations include alleged violations involving animal welfare and horse protection issues, agricultural import and export rules, and quarantine rules, as well as unauthorized releases of genetically engineered organisms, violations of standards concerning accredited veterinarians, and unlicensed veterinary biological products.
Such a large backlog in open investigations has greatly impacted our enforcement process-primarily, the number of open investigations does not enable APHIS to swiftly address serious violations. In an attempt to streamline our investigation and enforcement process and ensure we pursue timely and appropriate sanctions for the most egregious violations, we are taking two interdependent actions: reducing the number of open investigations in the backlog and drastically decreasing the time it takes to resolve investigations. This effort is one of the six business process improvements the Secretary announced back in November that APHIS would be undertaking.
APHIS has determined that it has the capacity to process up to 1,000 investigations per year. However, the Agency first must focus on reducing the existing backlog and pursuing only those investigations approximately 600 to 800) containing the most serious violations. To determine which investigations should be pursued and are of the highest priority, APHIS will be carefully weighing factors such as:
• each investigation's significance with respect to protecting plant and animal health and animal welfare,
• APHIS' ability to effectively pursue the alleged violation(s),
• the impact or seriousness ofthe alleged violation(s),
• the age of the alleged violation( s), and
• whether the investigation involves a person who has a history of not complying with APHIS regulatory requirements.
For those investigations we decide not to pursue and believe a warning may prevent future violations, we will issue official warning letters to close them out. These letters will clearly indicate that any further violations may result in more serious consequences such as civil penalties or criminal prosecution. We will also be working internally across all our programs and with the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection to employ evaluation criteria-similar to those mentioned previously- so that we focus our resources on the most serious violations where we can achieve the most benefit and impact.
Reducing the backlog of open cases is just the first step-streamlining the enforcement process is equally important for maximizing efficiency and effectiveness. Current data indicate that it can take approximately 600 days, on average, to resolve an investigation and to pursue informal enforcement action, such as an official warning or stipulated monetary penalty. (Cases that are referred to the Department's Office of the General Counselor Office of the Inspector General can take considerably longer.) Through our streamlining efforts, we expect to reduce the time it takes to resolve these investigations by approximately 40 percent, so that the average investigation is resolved within 365 days.
By taking actions like these, we are focusing on those mission priorities that matter most to our Agency and our stakeholders. We are committed to effective enforcement of our regulations, and we owe it to you, our stakeholders, to do so in the most efficient way. By targeting the most serious violations of our regulations, we are in turn addressing the biggest risk to agricultural health and the welfare of animals.
I look forward to updating you on the results of this important streamlining initiative in the coming months.
Gregory L. Parham
Unity Committee Goals
Here's the report from the Walking Horse Report about the current work being done by the "Unity Committee."
Unity Committee Sets Goals
Monday, January 09, 2012
The Unity Committee, comprised of representatives of WHOA, TWHBEA, WHTA and The Celebration, met for the first time on Friday, January 6, 2012. This group discussed at length the possibilities of the improvement and strengthening of the image of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry from within and in the public arena. In this first meeting, the group established a structure of the group, goals, and planned their next meeting.
The Unity Committee will be made up of three representatives from each of the groups. These representatives are: WHOA – Kim Bennett, Duke Thorson, Tam Brogden; TWHBEA – Marty Irby, Christy Lantis, Tom Kakassy; Celebration – David Howard, Jim Allison and Henry Hulan; WHTA – Jamie Hankins, Link Webb, Chris Bobo. There is no one group that has a stronger position than the other; all will have equal input and voice in the group. The Unity Committee will remain open to including input from other organizations. The group also established some initial goals. Initially the group will focus on the following:
1. Unification meetings to include other industry groups in both large and small settings.
2. Encourage and support promotion and marketing of the Tennessee Walking Horse through a ‘one voice’ campaign.
3. Education to create a higher level of competency, integrity and professionalism among our trainers, owners, judges and inspectors.
4. Create consistency and predictability in the rules, judging, & inspections.
The Unity Committee will meet again on Friday, February 3, 2012. All members of the Unity Committee welcome input and may be contacted individually.
So, let's be realistic here.
1. Unification meetings to include other industry groups in both large and small settings. Which ones? I'm sure you won't include FOSH, NWHA, the IWHA, or anyone who is against soring and actually wants to see it end.
2. Encourage and support promotion and marketing of the Tennessee Walking Horse through a ‘one voice’ campaign. Who's voice? The voice of the sore horse industry, the sound horse industry, or the horses? Because all I hear are the horses screaming in pain and wanting this to stop.
3. Education to create a higher level of competency, integrity and professionalism among our trainers, owners, judges and inspectors. Education on what? How not to be a backwoods hick and stop thinking about yourselves over the welfare of the animal? Geez, this makes no sense whatsoever. Sounds more like education on how not to allow your secrets to get out.
4. Create consistency and predictability in the rules, judging, & inspections. Well, really, the consistency and predictability is already there. Let sore horses show, especially let sore horses in that are owned by BNTs (Big Name Trainers), only "catch" small time trainers and give them minimal penalities, and get together to decide each year which horse will win the WGC. Yep, that's already in place.
Let's also take a look at our committee members and see what their HPA violation records are. (Includes violation and suspension dates.)
Kim Bennett - Spent time in court in 2002 for his violation and lost: click here. He tired to appeal in 2007 and it was "affirmed" that he violated the HPA: click here.
Marty Irby - Bilateral Sore 11/7/01 to 7/11/02
Tom Kakassy - Unilateral Sore 5/17 to 6/15/09; Illegal Chains 10/6 to 10/19/09; Scar Rule 10/30 to 11/12/05; Unilateral Sore 5/2 to 5/15/06
Jamie Hankins - Scar Rule 10/28 to 11/10/02; Not Specified 12/18/90 to 7/17/91 (from the USDA)
Link Webb - Unilateral Sore 11/14 to 11/27/11; Ticket 3/25/11; Not Specified 9/1/02 to 4/30/03 (from the USDA); Unilateral 4/24 to 5/7/05; Scar Rule 9/6 to 9/19/05
Chris Bobo (from a family of sore horse trainers)
Hey! Look at that! HALF of these people are violators or from a family of violators. But did we really expect anything else? I'll give them one thing, though--at least they are all united to keep things the same!
"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."
~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."
~ St. Francis of Assisi
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