Tuesday, January 24, 2017

USDA's new Horse Protection Act rules withdrawn from federal enactment.

A Tennessee Walking horse wearing stacked pads and bands. This horse was shod for demonstration purposes at a vet-farrier education event. The pads and shoe bands would have been banned under the unpublished rule announced last week. (Fran Jurga photo)

The Hoof Blog is issuing an unexpected post script to a widely circulated story published here on January 13, announcing that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was publishing its Executive Action rule changes to the Horse Protection Act with the Federal Register.

The article described the action as an 11th-hour "Hail Mary Pass" to stop Tennessee Walking horse soring abuse before the Obama administration's USDA appointees left office, to be replaced by Trump appointees.

And it almost worked.

However, the Federal Register has noted on its website that the amended rule was withdrawn by the USDA. The page on the Register for the USDA/Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) actions now reads:

"APHIS requested the withdrawal of this document after it was on public inspection. It will remain on public inspection until the close of business on January 24. A copy of the withdrawal request is available at the Office of the Federal Register."

That said, by 2 p.m. on January 24, the document had been removed, leaving this message.

At this time, no official announcement has been made by the USDA. The APHIS web site noted that another rule had been withdrawn on Friday "with guidance from the White House", related to lemon imports, but said that it would be sent to the Federal Register with a stay request of 60 days.

The information published by The Hoof Blog last week was correct for that time, based on documents provided by USDA stating that hoof pads, bands and action devices (pastern chains) would be illegal beginning in late February. The new rule also changed the administration and training of Tennessee Walking horse show inspectors.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) issued a brief statement on Tuesday, attributing the withdrawal to "bungling" at the federal level. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, said: “Bureaucratic bungling scuttled a rule that policy makers and executive agencies agreed was the right thing. Now only the Trump administration can revive this long overdue rule.”

According to a news article published by HSUS on its website, the USDA had posted on its website the text of a final rule well in advance of Inauguration Day for the new president. HSUS explains the bungle of the rule this way "But for some unexplained reason, the Federal Register delayed the publication of the rule. That language was not given the required one-day-early advance posting on the Federal Register until the day before Inauguration Day, and the Federal Register was closed on Inauguration Day."

Ultimately, HSUS regrets, "a decision by the Trump administration to freeze all pending rules captured the soring rule and put it in limbo."

At this time, there is no way of knowing how or if politics entered into any of the decisions affecting the rule just as President Trump took office and announced his nomination of Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia, as the new Secretary of Agriculture to replace President Obama's secretary, Tom Vilsack.

According to The Tennessean, a newspaper in Nashville, the rule should have been published last Tuesday, January 17. That report said that on the day of President Trump's inauguration (January 20), "the White House issued a memorandum for all unpublished rules to be withdrawn and sent back to the relevant agency for review."

The report does not specify which White House--old or new--ordered the rules to be withdrawn or why it had not been published on schedule, but a White House memo published on Politico.com from Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appears to confirm the report in The Tennesseean.

Threats had been issued by the Walking horse industry to challenge the new rule in court, had it been published. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, an influential senior member of the Senate, issued a press release on January 14 denouncing the rule change. "I would hope the new Secretary of Agriculture will not concur with this overreaching rule announced during the last few days of the Obama administration," he stated.

To learn more:

Hail Mary: USDA proceeds with last-ditch effort to end soring by imposing bans on Walking horse pads, action devices

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