[UPDATED – PETA response] Animal rights activists lost their federal appeals court claim Wednesday that U.S. regulators renew animal exhibitors licenses in a “rubber stamp” process that violates the Animal Welfare Act.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia held that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been expressly authorized under the AWA to promulgate and implement its own renewal standards.
The appeals court deferred to the USDA determinations of how to conduct its licensing renewal for exhibitors such as zoos, small roadside animal ranches and traveling shows.
The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals sued in 2015 to challenge the USDA issuance of license renewals despite exhibitors’ repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
In one instance, the group pointed to a 2013 case involving Jambbas Ranch Tours in Cumberland County, North Carolina, which is a small roadside zoo that PETA contends racked up dozens of violations of the AWA but was nonetheless granted a license renewal.
It also cited horrendous conditions at a puppy mill that despite hundreds of pages of violations of the AWA and dogs so ill they had to be euthanized, yet the facility license was renewed, according to the court.
“The court has refuted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) claim that it is required to renew the licenses of flagrant violators automatically, but regrettably, its decision allows the agency to use discretion in deciding whether to keep rubber-stamping licenses for hellhole exhibitors such as Summer Wind Farms Sanctuary, which has racked up more than 200 citations for animal-welfare violations in just three years,” PETA said in a prepared statement.
PETA argued the USDA has a “policy, pattern and practice of rubber-stamping” license renewal applications” of applicants that the USDA had cited for animal welfare violations, sometimes only days before renewing the license.
PETA asked the court to declare the USDA’s renewal policy both facially and as it is applied to individual exhibitors in violation of the law.
The appeals court joined the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, in holding that the courts should defer to the agency’s determination of the criteria for license renewal.
Case: PETA v. US Dept. of Agriculture, No. 16-2029