The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) conducts regulatory and control programs to protect and improve the health of plants and animals. APHIS is responsible for regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act, and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. The agency’s efforts support the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its duties to protect the nation’s food, agriculture, and natural resources. Additional areas of assistance include helping to contain and eradicate agricultural pests or diseases, and developing science-based standards with trading partners to ensure the country’s agricultural exports. The current Administrator of APHIS is Dr. Gregory Parham.
Although the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was formally established in 1972, its varied functions date to the early mid-1800s, when early animal and plant health bureaus of the United States government operated independently of one another. The creation of APHIS consolidated these functions.
The earliest predecessor to APHIS was the Office of the Entomologist in the Patent Office’s Agricultural Section from 1854-1863, which later became the Division of Entomology under the USDA from 1863-1904, and then the Bureau of Entomology until 1934. Early veterinary functions were performed by the Treasury Cattle Commission under the Treasury Department from 1881-1884, and the USDA’s Veterinary Division (1883-1884) which was quickly renamed the Bureau of Animal Industry and ran from 1884-1942. The Bureau ran promoted livestock disease research, enforced animal import regulations, and controlled the interstate movement of animals. Plant quarantine functions were later established in 1912, with the creation of the USDA’s Federal Horticultural Board. The Board was later separated into various plant health bureaus in 1928.
In 1953 the functions of these various offices were consolidated under the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) where plant and livestock responsibilities were placed either in the research or regulatory division. The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 added the additional role of regulating warm-blooded animals used in research, bred for commercial sale, exhibited to the public or commercially transported, as did the Horse Protection Act of 1970.
In 1971 animal and plant regulatory functions separated from the ARS to become the Animal and Plant Health Service. A year later, the agency officially became APHIS, after taking on meat and poultry inspection divisions of the Consumer and Marketing Service, however these duties were later moved to a different agency in 1977. In 1974, animal quarantine inspection activities at ports were added to the agency, but most of these functions were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.
APHIS entered the biotechnology field in 1985 when it became the agency responsible for regulating biotechnology-derived products that affect animal and plant health, that same year APHIS also took on the Animal Damage Control program from the Interior Department. In 1987 the international programs staff at APHIS were given Foreign Service status, increasing its role in facilitating international trade and promoting global safeguards. Additional functions were added to APHIS in 2000, with the Plant Protection Act, the 2002 Animal Health Protection Act, and the 2002 creation of the Biotechnology Regulatory Services program.
In 2002, many APHIS staff members involved in port inspections were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is responsible for protecting animals, plants and the agricultural industry through a variety of programs:
From the Web Site of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) spent more than $3.8 billion in grants from 2002-2011, 59 percent of which went to government entities, according to USAspending.gov. The agency also spent more than $1.3 billion on 37,781 contract transactions from 2002-2011. The five top types of products or services purchased by APHIS during this period were environmental systems protection and pesticides support ($113,158,435), ADP supplies ($98,058,396), pest control agents and disinfectants ($68,112,646), aerial fertilization and spraying ($56,373,744), and IT/Telecommunications ($49,112,963).
The top five contract recipients and their percent of total contracting in this period were:
1. The Davey Tree Expert Company $111,478,840 (8.33%)
2. Hesta Immobilien AG $58,238,847 (4.35%)
3. Sanofi $57,831,987 (4.32%)
4. Dynamic Aviation Group Inc. $53,846,758 (4.02%)
5. Dell Inc. $36,732,328 (2.74%)
The Davey Tree Expert Company, the agency’s largest contractor, is a leading tree and lawncare company offering services from vegetation management to forestry and natural resource consulting, large tree moving, tree care, golf course and athletic field maintenance, and plant nursery services. Swiss company Hesta Immobilien AG, the second-largest contractor, manufactures electronics and provides real estate services. Sanofi, the third-largest contractor, is a multinational company that researches, manufactures, and markets pharmaceutical products. Dynamic Aviation, the fourth-largest contractor, makes aircraft, provides flight crews and offers maintenance services. Dell Inc., the fifth-largest contractor, develops, sells and supports computers and related products.
APHIS also distributed more than $124 million in direct payments from 2002-2011, according to a query of USAspending.gov.
Roundup Ready Sugarbeets
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) spent seven years fighting with organic farmers about the agency’s plan to deregulate Roundup Ready sugarbeets. APHIS first tried to deregulate Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) sugarbeets in 2005. But the Center for Food Safety and other GM opponents challenged the decision in court.
A judge ordered APHIS to revisit the issue and prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). In the meantime, APHIS held public hearings to gather input on the subject. Proponents said the Roundup Ready sugarbeets helped farmers with higher yields, fewer weed problems, and reduced chemical applications. Organic growers feared the GM crops would contaminate non-modified plants through gene drift.
In early 2011, opponents accused the service of allowing continued growing of Roundup Ready sugarbeets despite the fact it had not completed its EIS. Another court action was threatened as a result. Finally, APHIS announced in July 2012 that it had completed its EIS and found the plants were safe to use, allowing the agency to stop regulating it.
APHIS Hears Comments on GM Sugarbeet Controversy (by Colleen Scherer, AG Professional)
Farmers And Conservationists Challenge Latest Federal Approval Of Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets (Center for Food Safety)
Deregulating Genetically Engineered Alfalfa and Sugar Beets: Legal and Administrative Responses (by Tadlock Cowan and Kristina Alexander, Congressional Research Service)
USDA Announces Decision to Deregulate Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets (Obama Foodorama)
A coalition of environmental groups sued APHIS in 2011 to stop the field-testing of a genetically modified eucalyptus plant by ArborGen. The environmentalists contended APHIS did not adequately prepare an environmental review before approving ArborGen’s field trials.
A federal judge disagreed with the plaintiffs and ruled in favor of the company and APHIS, which was supported in court by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which lobbies on behalf of biotech companies. The following year APHIS completed its environmental assessment of the Eucalyptus hybrid, and concluded the plant posed no significant threat to other species. ArborGen is currently growing the eucalyptus on 28 research sites in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas.
BIO Statement on U.S. District Court Ruling in “Eucalyptus” Case (Biotechnology Industry Organization)
USDA Seeks Public Comment for Environmental Assessment on Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)
APHIS Announces Today the Availability of a Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a Proposed Field Release of a Genetically Engineered Variety of Eucalyptus. (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)
Bison Population Plan Causes Concern
Determined to stop the spread of disease, APHIS launched a vaccination plan in 2011 that targeted bison in Yellowstone National Park. APHIS took control of 63 bison and planned to give the animals GonaCon, a chemical immunocontraceptive vaccine that was supposed to help stop the spread of brucellosis, an infectious bacterial disease that causes pregnant ungulates to abort their calves. The bison contracted the disease from domestic cattle.
GonaCon lowers the concentration of sex hormones, causing reduced fertility and mating urges. The drug was first used in Maryland and New Jersey to control deer populations.
Buffalo Field Campaign, a wild bison advocacy group, opposed the plan by APHIS. They said the use of GonaCon was risky for the endangered bison, which should not be “treated like ‘pests’ and chemically neutered.”
Wild American Bison “Stolen” From Yellowstone National Park (by Ken Cole, Wildlife News)
Family Planning on the Range: The Battle Over Bison Contraceptives (by Sarah Yager, Atlantic)
APHIS Battles Animal Trainer
Animal trainer Doug Terranova spent 2011 battling APHIS in court following numerous charges of violating federal regulations. The owner of Dallas-based Animal Encounters, a full-service animal talent agency in the Southwest, was accused of harming spider monkeys, a camel, a tiger and a mountain lion, all in separate instances. Terranova also was faulted for allowing two elephants under his care to escape in Kansas after a tornado spooked the animals. The trainer faced nearly 30 citations, which he battled in court claiming APHIS had it out for him.
Animal Trainer Fights to Save Career in USDA Court (Bob McCarty)
Dallas Animal Trainer in USDA ‘Legal Circus’ (by Bob McCarty, Breitbart.com)
APHIS Fails to Protect Horses
APHIS was faulted in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspector general (IG) for not doing a better job of protecting horses. The service operates the Horse Protection Program, which is supposed to stop the abusive practice of soring (pouring chemicals on horses’ hooves, cutting them, or hitting them to produce an exaggerated, artificial gait). The agency was not adequately safeguarding against this practice, according to the IG. And, it was noted, APHIS had its hands tied when it came to disqualifying owners from competing if they mistreated horses in that way.
The agency also runs the Slaughter Horse Transport Program, which is supposed to ensure the human treatment of horses being shipped to foreign processing plants. The IG concluded that APHIS needs to impose tougher penalties on those who mishandle horses during transport, and it needs to do a better job of tracking animals bound for slaughter.
Administration of the Horse Protection Program and the Slaughter Horse Transport Program (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Inspector General)
USDA OIG Issues Blistering Report on Inspection Service (by Richard Reynnells, Equine E-news)
Horse Protection Act; Petition for Amendments to Regulations (Federal Register)
Microchips for Pets
APHIS stirred controversy when it decided to back a microchip standard for companion animals like dogs and cats, ending the product wars between companies offering diverse and incompatible identification systems. In 2006, Congress added an amendment to the House agricultural appropriations bill to address the matter. On one side are manufacturers that want their device to become the standard. On the other are individual pet owners, some of whom consider the implantation of microchips to be dangerous to the health of their animals. Still others believe the agency has no right to regulate private pet ownership by demanding that all pets have the microchip implanted.
Backgrounder: Microchipping of animals (American Veterinary Medical Association)
Border Issues for Cattle
Controversy arose in 2005 when Wenonah Hauter, director of the Energy and Environment Program for Public Citizen, appeared before a Senate appropriations subcommittee to criticize recent announcements by APHIS that allowed reopening the U.S. border to live Canadian cattle. In 2003, three cows had been diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, all of them of Canadian origin. Hauter cited a recent USDA report that seemed to show that APHIS was not equipped to handle the permitting process for importing Canadian beef. Of added concern was APHIS’ decision to allow irradiated fruit and vegetables from abroad, leaving domestic farmers vulnerable to unfair competition and exposing consumers to possible health problems.
Plum Island Animal Disease Center
In 2004, author Michael Christopher Carroll published a book called Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory, which detailed frightening lapses in security in this federal laboratory, located on a secret island off Long Island, NY. The book presents startling revelations, including virus outbreaks, biological meltdowns, infected workers who were denied assistance in diagnosis by Plum Island personnel, the periodic flushing of contaminated raw sewage into area waters, and connections between Plum Island, Lyme disease, and the deadly 1999 West Nile virus outbreak. The book criticizes the USDA and APHIS in their role in these lapses.
Excerpt from Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory (by Michael Christopher Carroll, William Morrow)
Video Interview with Carroll (VVH-TV, Hamptons, NY)
APHIS Allows Farmers to Cultivate GMO Test Crops
In March 2003, APHIS announced that the federal government would allow American farmers to continue field tests of genetically modified crops engineered to produce medicinal and industrial products. The move was meant to silence environmentalists, public health advocates and food industry groups who feared that biopharm and genetically modified crops could contaminate crops growing nearby and cause health problems. In December 2002, several farm organizations filed a legal petition calling on the USDA to prohibit open-air cultivation of biopharm crops, and in 2003 they announced their plans to sue the USDA to halt the planting of biopharm crops, citing the agency's “gross violations of law” for allowing the field testing of biopharm crops without performing the required environmental safety studies.
Biopharming Controversy Grows Despite New Rules (by J.R. Pegg, Environment News Service)
Genetically Engineered Food
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) decided in 2011 that it lacked the authority to regulate a genetically engineered (GE) type of bluegrass, clearing the way for it and other species to be marketed. The decision pleased the biotech industry and outraged critics of GE crops. APHIS did say it would examine GE species on a case-by-case basis. But the ruling again sparked the debate over biotech food and whether the government should allow altered species to be sold.
Non-Browning Apples Cause Controversy (Fruit Growers News)
USDA Responds to Regulation Requests Regarding Kentucky Bluegrass (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)
In Major Shift, USDA Clears Way for Modified Bluegrass (by Paul Voosen, Greenwire)
Supporters laud the cost-savings advantages of GE plants. For starters, GE plants can resist insects, insecticides, and herbicides, thus increasing crop yields. GE species can also designed to resist inclement weather (frost) and bacterial infections, or the need for fertilizer. Furthermore, they can be designed to provide healthier ingredients (like omega oils).
Biotech Grass Not Regulated by USDA-APHIS (IFB News)
Supreme Court Reviews Genetically Modified Crops (By Jason Czarnezki and Holli Brown, Vermont Law Watchlist)
Genetically Modified Food (Answers.com)
Opponents insist GE foods carry too many risks and should be studied more before being used on farms. They warn of gene spread by GE seeds, which can contaminate organic crops. GE plants can also lead to new toxins and allergens in foods as well as the creation of herbicide-resistant weeds. The use of herbicide resistant crops can result in the overuse of chemicals in farm fields, leading to contaminated water supplies.
Genetically Engineered Food-A Serious Health Risk (Nettally.com)
Are Genetically Modified Foods Harmful? (by Diane Ivey, Illinois Times)
Cindy Smith 2007-2011
A native of Maryland, Cindy Smith served as the administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services from September 2007 until April 2011.
Smith began her career with APHIS in 1979, shortly after graduating high school. While working her way through APHIS, Smith completed a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Maryland in 1983 and a master’s degree in management from the University of Maryland in 2000. At APHIS she supported a number of different programs, including plant protection and quarantine, wildlife services, and biotechnology regulatory services.
From 2001 to 2002, Smith was the associate deputy administrator for wildlife services. Subsequently, Smith served as the deputy administrator for biotechnology regulatory services and played a major role in shaping the agency’s biotechnology regulatory structure, establishing requirements for field tests of genetically engineered crops and initiating efforts to review the agency’s biotechnology regulations.
In April 2007, Smith was appointed the associate administrator of APHIS.
Dr. Ron DeHaven, 2004-2007
Dr. Ron DeHaven received a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Purdue University and a master’s in business administration from Millsaps College. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps and served in the U.S. Army Reserves and National Guard. He then served as the APHIS Animal Care Unit’s western regional director in Sacramento, California, for seven years.
From 1996 to 2001, he was the deputy administrator for the Animal Care Unit of APHIS, administering the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. DeHaven then served as deputy administrator for the APHIS Veterinary Services program and acting associate administrator for APHIS from October 2001 through April 2002.
In 2004 DeHaven was named APHIS Administrator, gaining prominence in 2003 and 2004 when chronic wasting disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy made headlines. After retiring from office, he took a leading position at the American Veterinary Medical Association, a nonprofit trade association representing 80,000 veterinarians and now serves as the association’s Chief Executive Officer.
Administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Who Is Gregory Parham?