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USDA Under Fire for Relaxing Animal Welfare Inspection Standards

Stefania Longo on June 9, 2022

This article was written with Meaghan Loy, Senior Category Director, In Vivo Services at and refers to the lawsuit filed by Harvard Law School against the United States Department of Agriculture due to their lack of proper due diligence in their inspections of animal research sites.

It can be frightening when you realize that government entities, which we trust to conduct their duties justly and diligently, may be cutting corners and hiding potential blunders from us. It is often easier to turn a blind eye and continue on with life when these mistakes don’t affect us personally. However, there comes a point when we must recognize our duty to protect those who are being failed by governmental systems.

On April 5th, the Harvard Law School Animal Law and Policy Clinic filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture on behalf of the animal welfare organizations Rise for Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The reason for this lawsuit is the USDA’s failure to conduct full annual inspections, which is required under the Animal Welfare Act. Instead, the USDA is outsourcing an essential function to a third-party nonprofit organization, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC). The USDA is now relying on AAALAC accreditations to support their audit schedule. What this means is that the USDA is only conducting partial inspections on facilities if they are already AAALAC accredited. The reasoning for this shift in responsibilities? According to the independent news site, The Scientist, the USDA made this decision as an effort to ease the excessive workload of their inspectors.1

Now you might be thinking, what is AAALAC, and what is the big deal if they do inspections instead? AAALAC is “a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs.” 2 However, it is problematic if the USDA is relying on AAALAC instead of conducting their own assessments for the following reasons:

  • AAALAC visits are announced in advance, which prevents them from capturing an organic snapshot of how the site operates.
  • AAALAC is not required to publicly share its findings; instead, they only communicate whether the site passed or failed.

In addition, according to The Scientist, there was a study in 2015 which found that “AAALAC International-accredited facilities had a significantly higher number of AWA violations than nonaccredited sites and that accreditation did not increase compliance with animal welfare regulations.”1 Since they are not required to publicly disclose their inspection findings, though AAALAC puts facilities on probation, not many people know of it and the USDA still considers them accredited.1

As mentioned previously, if a facility is AAALAC accredited, the USDA will only conduct partial inspections. This is a major oversight on the USDA’s part, as these partial inspections only look at one of the following per year: facility, animals or paperwork.1 Also, since AAALAC only performs inspections every three years, this means that a facility could go years without inspectors coming in and seeing animals at all. The question that springs to mind is are we already seeing the impact of this change in strategy with recent announcements regarding facilities in the US?

“We all in industry need to take a hard look at what we’re doing and what standards we are accepting. Yes it is a business, but your business involves other lives that you have to take responsibility for.” - Meaghan Loy, Senior Category Director, In Vivo Services at

I sat down with Meaghan Loy, Senior Category Director, In Vivo Services at to gather some more information about animal welfare and to gain insight from her own experiences working in research with animals. She shared her frustration upon hearing about the USDA’s change in strategy and stated that though the majority of individuals in the industry are doing the right thing, it is crucial that we don’t let up on compliance because there are always outliers. “Whether those outliers are there because of malicious intent, lack of knowledge, or lack of funds, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. These animals all deserve to be treated as well as possible,” Loy shared. Since this lawsuit is shedding light on the flaws of the USDA, Loy reminds us that “We all in industry need to take a hard look at what we’re doing and what standards we are accepting. Yes it is a business, but your business involves other lives that you have to take responsibility for.” This highlights the need for independent assessments that are transparent, like VERIF.i®,’s supplier pre-assessment program.

Using VERIF.i® saves providers of in vivo services time, money and resources while simultaneously differentiating their organization from competitors and enabling customers to select their services with more confidence and less risk. Independent 3rd party auditors will use a standardized checklist, developed by industry for industry, to confirm that a supplier’s facilities, processes and systems meet a customer’s research and regulatory requirements. What sets VERIF.i® aside from AAALAC and USDA partial inspections is its breadth and transparency. VERIF.i® inspects the facility, paperwork and animals, unlike current partial inspections being performed by the USDA. Also, with VERIF.i®, the results of the inspection are much more transparent and are made accessible for review. “We all have to do a better job to make sure these standards are being met, and VERIF.i® is a really fast and inexpensive way to go in and do this in facilities,” Loy mentions.

During our discussion, Loy stated that it is about much more than getting people to begin using the platform; it is about doing the right thing. This is supported by the fact that VERIF.i® assessments are made available via the platform, but suppliers can share them with their entire customer base. Unfortunately, the USDA seems to be reducing the checks and safeguards established for the protection of animals in exchange for a more manageable workload, but this must be challenged. It is our duty to ensure that standards are being met, and if they are not, we must take action to change the systems that are in place. That is why we at offer VERIF.i®, a standardized, independent, thorough and transparent supplier pre-assessment program, so that suppliers and research organizations can work confidently and with less risk.

Learn more about VERIF.i®

  1. Robitzski, D. [2022]. Lawsuit Alleges USDA Secretly Relaxed Animal Welfare Inspections [online]. The Scientist. Available from: [Accessed 24 May 2022].
  2. What is AAALAC? [online]. AAALAC International. Available from: [Accessed 24 May 2022].