This month, due to a congressional directive, USDA APHIS discontinued its use of “teachable moments” with licensees when enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. Teachable moments occurred when inspections found small, isolated non-compliances that didn’t affect the overall care and welfare of a licensee’s animals. These non-compliances were able to be corrected quickly with a little guidance, and they were documented for the record and future inspections. It is important to note that licensees with histories of multiple or serious non-compliance issues were not eligible for teachable moments.
Individuals with historical knowledge of USDA APHIS enforcement practices find this change incredibly unfortunate and counterproductive. Teachable moments were a valuable tool for producing honest relationships, education, and better animal welfare outcomes. Moving to an “enforcement only” model breaks a vital connection between licensees and inspectors; it creates an environment where even the best operations no longer view the USDA and its inspectors as collaborative sources of knowledge and improvement, but as adversaries to distrust and fear. This change helps no one and no animal.