The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Feld Entertainment, Inc., doing business as Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Feld), have reached a settlement agreement in which Feld has paid a civil penalty of $270,000 for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) dating from June 2007 to August 2011.
"This settlement sends a direct message to the public and to those who exhibit animals that USDA will take all necessary steps to protect animals regulated under the Animal Welfare Act," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The civil penalty and other stipulations in the settlement agreement will promote a better understanding of the rights and responsibilities of all exhibitors in maintaining and caring for animals under their care."
USDA is authorized to assess a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each AWA violation occurring after June 2008. In addition to paying the $270,000 civil penalty, the largest assessed against an exhibitor under the AWA, Feld waived the opportunity for a hearing and agreed to develop and implement annual AWA compliance training for all employees who work with and handle animals, including trainers, handlers, attendants and veterinarians starting March 31, 2012, and to establish an AWA compliance position on its staff by February 28, 2012. All Feld employees who will work with and handle animals must complete the training within 30 days of when they are hired.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is a multi-faceted Agency with a broad mission area that includes protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the AWA, and carrying out wildlife damage management activities. These efforts support the overall mission of USDA.
One of APHIS' core missions is to ensure the welfare of the animals it regulates under the AWA. The AWA sets forth humane standards for care and treatment of animals that are exhibited to the public. APHIS veterinarians, animal care inspectors and investigators are deeply committed to making sure that all USDA licensed exhibitors provide their animals with proper veterinary care, water, a balanced diet of wholesome food, clean and structurally sound housing that affords enough space for the animals to move comfortably, and protection from extremes in temperature and weather.
To ensure that its licensees are meeting federal standards, APHIS inspectors conduct routine, unannounced inspections of all licensed facilities. The non-compliances resolved through this settlement agreement were discovered through APHIS inspections and investigations, as well as public complaints that were submitted to the agency.
A copy of the full settlement agreement can be found at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/FEI_signed_agreement.pdf.