In a recent letter and an accompanying video directed at veterinarians, the Deputy Administrator for Animal Care of the USDA Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS), Bernadette Juarez, described a new initiative that will involve attending veterinarians more directly in APHIS inspections of persons and entities licensed under the Animal Welfare Act.

The AWA applies generally to animals exhibited to the public, sold for use as pets, used in research or transported commercially. The Animal Care division of APHIS is the USDA component responsible for ensuring that entities licensed by USDA to conduct these activities are in compliance with the animal welfare standards adopted under that statute. According to Ms. Juarez, the new initiative means that a licensee’s attending veterinarian

“may receive occasional calls from our inspectors either during or after an on-site inspection to follow up on a facility’s program of veterinary care. For example, an inspector may need to ask about a particular treatment protocol for an animal who is ill or has been injured. The information you provide on behalf of your client will help us ensure the animals are receiving adequate care in accordance with your guidance.”

Ms. Juarez further noted that:

“We know many of you are on the road on a daily basis visiting clients, and we promise to be respectful of your time. You may also prefer to leave more detailed written records of veterinary care with your facilities so our inspectors can answer most questions by reviewing your paperwork. We encourage you to have a conversation with your clients to determine what approach works best.”

Whether this is a good idea remains to be seen. While a licensee’s program of veterinary care is subject to APHIS scrutiny, veterinarians, who often are not employees or agents of the regulated entity but operate as independent contractors or in similar relationships, are not directly subject to agency regulation. It is unclear the degree to which a veterinarian is obligated to cooperate with documentary demands and the like by Animal Care inspectors. The letter suggests that the more detailed the veterinary records maintained by the licensee are, the less likely it will be that a veterinarian will be contacted by the inspector. However, it has not been entirely clear over the years what level of detail is actually required for veterinary records to pass muster in an inspection. So, whether this initiative proves to be an improvement in the inspection process or an additional burden, only time will tell.