Government and Politics
October 5, 2022
U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeking answers after USDA failed to act following the rescue of more than 4,000 beagles from a breeding facility. In September, thousands of beagles were removed from a USDA-licensed facility called Envigo RMS, Inc. after the facility accrued more than 70 Animal Welfare Act violations. Despite broad public outcry, USDA has taken no action against Envigo and has in fact renewed Envigo’s license.
The Members wrote, in part, “By the agency’s own records, between July 2021 and May 2022, Envigo had amassed over 70 AWA violations, a significant number of them being “critical” or “direct,” and showed no initiative to correct these violations. We find APHIS’s decision to renew Envigo’s license, despite the company’s track record of serious animal welfare violations, an abdication of the agency’s duty to protect animals.”
Quigley has repeatedly called for stronger enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. He is the lead sponsor of the Big Cat Public Safety Act to increase standards of care for big cats and which passed the House earlier this year. Quigley has also advocated for animal rescue efforts in his own community, including assisting with the rescue of French bulldog puppies in Chicago.
“The entire nation was horrified by the conditions the Envigo beagles were rescued from and were relieved to see these animals find loving, happy homes. That is why it is so concerning to see USDA fail to take steps to protect animals in the future. I was proud to lead my colleagues in a letter calling for answers. The public deserves to know what USDA will do to prevent any dogs from being subjected to these conditions in the future,” said Quigley.
“It is imperative we do more to care for the welfare of animals – both as individuals and as a country,” said Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01). “Today, I’m proud to join my colleagues in highlighting and demanding USDA action to rectify the cruel, inhumane conditions maintained by the Envigo dog breeding facility. I look forward to the agency’s response to our concerns and to continuing to advocate for legislation that will improve the regulations set for federally licensed commercial dog breeders.”
“The USDA’s willful blindness to the extraordinary abuse of thousands of animals at Envigo is sadly just the latest example of a decades-long failure by the USDA to enforce the federal Animal Welfare Act, choosing instead to allow egregious violations of the law to go unreported and unpunished,” said Richard Patch, vice president of federal affairs for the ASPCA. “Despite overwhelming evidence of cruelty at Envigo – as well as countless other USDA-licensed facilities – the USDA inexplicably renewed their license for another year, allowing them to continue operating other locations with impunity and leaving other dogs at risk in those facilities. We’re grateful to Representatives Quigley, Fitzpatrick, Malliotakis, and Luria for leading this important letter demanding answers from the USDA and urging the agency to do its job of protecting the animals in its care by ensuring that licensees are held accountable when they violate the law.”
The complete text of the letter is included below, and a copy of the signed letter is available HERE.
Dear Administrator Shea:
We write out of concern regarding the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) decision to renew Envigo RMS, LLC’s license despite overwhelming evidence of deliberate and persistent Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations at its Cumberland, Virginia facility. By the agency’s own records, between July 2021 and May 2022, Envigo had amassed over 70 AWA violations, a significant number of them being “critical” or “direct,” and showed no initiative to correct these violations. We find APHIS’s decision to renew Envigo’s license, despite the company’s track record of serious animal welfare violations, an abdication of the agency’s duty to protect animals.
Beginning in July 2021, APHIS became aware that Envigo was not meeting minimum housing standards and not providing sanitary conditions or clean food and water in sufficient quantity. Likewise, Envigo allowed non-veterinary employees to administer medical care and permitted staff to euthanize dogs without anesthesia. Medical records indicate that over 300 puppies died from “unknown causes” and over 150 dead puppies under five weeks old were so badly decomposed that a cause of death could not be determined. Even after being instructed to correct the inhumane, noncompliant conditions at its Cumberland facility, Envigo failed to do so, which led to hundreds of dog casualties. Over the course of several months, APHIS continued to document serious violations of care at this facility, many of which were repeat violations. Nonetheless, APHIS did not use its authority under the AWA to suspend or revoke Envigo’s license, remove any of the animals in Envigo’s care, or seek a single financial penalty against Envigo.
As you are aware, the abhorrent conditions documented by the agency resulted in the Department of Justice seeking an injunction against Envigo. Even after a federal court entered an order enjoining Envigo from conducting activity at the Cumberland facility and approved transfer of more than 4,000 dogs to an animal welfare organization, APHIS renewed Envigo’s license for another year. It is appalling that APHIS has not opened any enforcement actions against Envigo to penalize and deter its behavior.
According to The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Envigo “operat[ed] . . . in a manner that flagrantly disregard[ed] numerous health protocols, placing the heath of animals in serious danger and risk of death.” United States v. Envigo RMS, LLC, 6:22-cv-00028 (W.D. Va. May. 21, 2022). Nevertheless, APHIS is allowing Envigo to continue breeding and selling dogs without consequence. This decision is wholly disconcerting and in direct contradiction to the agency’s responsibility of enforcing the AWA. It sets a dangerous precedent that blatant defiance of the law may go unpenalized and leaves licensees without incentive to comply.
The USDA has been entrusted with ensuring the humane handling, care, and treatment of animals in commercial facilities. We agree with the court in that “the Government has a strong interest in ensuring compliance with federal law and regulations to safeguard humane treatment of animals, as well as ensure the efficacy of USDA’s inspection and licensing regime.” Id. The agency’s unwillingness to hold Envigo accountable, despite the company’s history of irresponsibility and improper stewardship, completely undermines the integrity of the agency’s enforcement objectives and is not what Congress intended when it granted the agency authority to enforce the AWA.
In light of your decision to renew Envigo’s license, we respectfully request that you provide detailed responses to the following questions within 60 days of receiving this letter:
Can you confirm that Envigo RMS, LLC currently holds an active license to breed animals and when the license was renewed?
Can you confirm how many sites Envigo operates and the location of each site, along with the last date each site was inspected by APHIS officials and inventory of animals at each site?
Can you explain how APHIS determined that Envigo met the requirements for license renewal despite the numerous violations noted by your agency?
Given Envigo’s history of ignoring warnings and opportunities for correction at its Cumberland facility, how can the agency be confident that that company will comply with the AWA at its other sites?
We appreciate APHIS’s attention to this matter and look forward to a prompt response.