APHIS was created in 1972 by Secretary’s Memorandum No. 1769.
The origins of the agency predate creation of USDA, to 1854 when the Office of Entomologist, Agricultural Section, U.S. Patent Office was created. It was the first of three agencies that eventually were merged to form APHIS. In 1881, a Cattle Commission was created in the Department of the Treasury that three years later was transferred to USDA. Plant quarantine functions followed in 1912 when USDA's Federal Horticultural Board was created. Between the 1880s and 1930s these evolved into the USDA Bureaus of Entomology, of Animal Industry, and of Plant Quarantine, respectively.
In 1953 the three bureaus were combined into the Agricultural Research Service. In 1971, the animal and plant regulatory functions were separated from ARS to create a new entity known as Animal and Plant Health Services. In 1972, the meat and poultry inspection divisions of the Consumer and Marketing Service (later known as the Agricultural Marketing Service) were added to APHS, thus creating the contemporary APHIS.
In 2003, many APHIS agricultural border inspectors were transferred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a unit of the newly created U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
APHIS is the primary agency responsible for responding to animal and plant disease(s) and pest emergencies as well as to other emergencies as set forth by the National Response Plan (NRP) completed in 2005 (APHIS Strategic Plan 2003-2008).
The originally-stated purpose of APHIS is to “protect the animal and plant resources of the nation” and carry out “a poultry and meat inspection program.” A more modern articulation of APHIS’s mission is “protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act and carrying out wildlife damage management activities.”
APHIS aims to protect American animals, plants, and the agricultural industry by offering:Protection from invasive non-native plants, animals, insects, and diseases
Monitoring and management of existing agricultural pests and diseases
Resolution and management of trade issues related to animal or plant health
Prevention or cessation of the inhumane treatment (of animals)
The threats and challenges within APHIS' scope include:Non-compliant biotech events
Agricultural animal/plant health threats
Sanitary and phytosanitary trade barriers
Wildlife conflicts and diseases
Animal welfare issues
APHIS is granted specific authority under several federal statutes:
Animal Health Protection Act, 7 U.S.C. § 8301 et seq. Governs the prevention, detection, control, and eradication of diseases and pests of animals, where "animal" is defined as "any member of the animal kingdom (except a human)." 7 U.S.C. § 8302 (1) (West 2009).
Animal Welfare Act (Laboratory Animal Welfare Act of 1966), 7 U.S.C. § 2131 et seq. Originally intended to prevent the theft of pets for sale to research facilities, the AWA now broadly regulates minimum standards of care and treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. It exempts birds, rats, or mice bred for use in research, horses not used for research, cold blooded animals, and all farm animals used in the production of “food and fiber.” It provides for licensing and registration of all animal dealers and exhibitors.
Horse Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1821–1831 Prohibits horses subjected to a process called “soring” (injecting or applying chemicals to a horse’s forelegs to accentuate its gait) from participating in and being transported to exhibitions, sales, shows, or auctions.
Animal Damage Control Act of March 2, 1931, 7 U.S.C. §§ 426–426c Provides broad authority for investigation, demonstrations and control of “injurious animal species” (mammalian predators, rodents and birds.) Amended in 1991 to prevent the inadvertent introduction of brown tree snakes into other areas of the United States from Guam.
Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378 Makes it unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian tribal law whether in interstate or foreign commerce.
Plant Protection Act, 7 U.S.C. § 7701 et seq. Consolidates all or part of ten existing USDA plant health laws into one comprehensive law. Gives USDA the authority to regulate and to prohibit or restrict the importation, exportation, and the interstate movement of plants, plant products, certain biological control organisms, noxious weeds, and plant pests.
Federal Seed Act, Title III, 7 U.S.C. §§ 1551–1611 Requires accurate labeling and purity standards for seeds in commerce, and prohibits the importation and movement of adulterated or misbranded seeds.
Honeybee Act, 7 U.S.C. §§ 281–286 Prohibits or restricts the importation or entry of honeybees and honeybee semen into or through the United States in order to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases and parasites harmful to honeybees, as well as genetically undesirable germ plasm and undesirable bee species.
Animal quarantine laws: 21 U.S.C. § 101 allows the President, by proclamation, to suspend the importation of all or any class of animals for a limited time, whenever, in his opinion, it is necessary for the protection of animals in the United States against infectious or contagious diseases.
21 U.S.C. § 113a authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to establish research facilities for hoof and mouth disease and other animal diseases which “in the opinion of the Secretary” constitute a threat to U.S. livestock. Mandates strict controls for the use of any live virus at such research facilities. Permits the Secretary to hire up to five technical experts or scientists at a maximum paygrade of GS-18. (This appears to be one of the most prescriptive statutes that USDA administers.)
21 U.S.C. § 114i authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to establish and carry out a program for the eradication of pseudorabies in United States swine populations.
Virus-Serum-Toxin Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 151–158
APHIS is divided into six operational programs units:Animal Care (AC): Determines and promotes standards of humane care and treatment of animals through inspections and educational efforts.
Biotechnology Regulatory Services (BRS): Protects agricultural and natural resources by ensuring safe development of genetically engineered organisms using a science-based regulatory framework.
International Services and Trade Support Team (IS): Provides international animal and plant health expertise to safeguard American agricultural health and promote U.S. agricultural trade.
Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ): Safeguards agriculture and natural resources from risks associated with the entry, establishment, or spread of pests and noxious weeds.
Veterinary Services (VS): Protects and improves the health, quality, and marketability of our nation's animals, animal products, and veterinary biologics by preventing, controlling, and/or eliminating animal diseases, and monitoring, and promoting animal health and productivity.
Wildlife Services (WS): Provides leadership to resolve wildlife conflicts and create a balance allowing people and wildlife to peacefully coexist.
APHIS is also divided into three management support units (Legislative and Public Affairs, Marketing and Regulatory Programs Business Services, and Policy and Program Development), and two offices that support government-wide initiatives: the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and Office of Civil Rights Enforcement and Compliance.
The current APHIS Administrator, Mr. Kevin Shea, was appointed in June 2013. His immediate predecessor, Dr. Greg Parham, was appointed in April 2011.
The Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services also functions as Chief Veterinary Officer of the United States, and represents the U.S. Government at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) is the National Plant Protection Authority; the Deputy Administrator for PPQ represents the United States in the North American Plant Protection Organization and other international fora related to plant health and quarantine.
In addition to its domestic operations, APHIS International Services staff several overseas offices, including veterinary and plant health attachés in U.S. diplomatic missions as well as technicians carrying out disease and pest eradication and control programs.
APHIS has a budget of approximately $800 million annually and employs about 7,000 people, about 5,000 of which are deployed as inspectors at ports, borders and on farms.
In 2014, The USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) criticized the Service for a number of issues including its failure to efficiently allocate resources and its failure to administer appropriate fines for animal welfare violations among other issues. The report found the Service conducted inspections at facilities that did not have any animals regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). According to the report, “[Animal Care] did not make the best use of its limited resources, which could have been assigned to inspect other more problematic facilities, including breeders, dealers, and exhibitors.” The Service was also criticized for prematurely closing cases that involved “grave (e.g., animal deaths) or repeat welfare violations.” When the service did levy fines against institutions for AWA violations, the Inspector General’s report found “penalties that were reduced by an average of 86 percent from… authorized maximum penalty per violation. Consequently, 26 of the 30 violators in our sample received” and that the Service “grant[ed] good faith reductions without merit or us[ed] a smaller number of violations than the actual number.” According to the USDA’s report, APHIS agreed with the findings and will begin implanting reforms.
In 2005, the USDA OIG published a report which identified numerous failures on the part of APHIS’ Animal Care (AC) unit to adequately enforce the AWA, including:failure of AC’s Eastern Region to aggressively pursue “enforcement actions against violators of the AWA”;
failure to fine violators sufficiently, creating a climate in which “violators consider the monetary stipulation as a normal cost of conducting business rather than a deterrent for violating the law”;
failure on the part of the USDA’s Veterinary Medical Officers (VMOs) to ensure that facilities provided them with basic data on the research facilities such as “the number of animals used in research” and the number of “unexpected animal deaths”;
failure on the part of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) to effectively monitor animal care activities, in particular, veterinary care and review of painful procedures; and
failure on the part of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) to ensure the use of non-animal methodologies where such research avenues exist.
The OIG audit further reported that at almost one-third of facilities, IACUCs failed to ensure that principal investigators (PIs) considered alternatives to painful procedures; the report cites this failure on the part of IACUCs as being the most frequent AWA violation at animal research facilities.
On 4 February 2017, the USDA Animal Care Search Tool, a searchable database containing documents with details about the animals held by individual US animal research facility together with inspection and action reports, was removed from public access, with a stated reason of protecting personal information. The removal affects inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence (such as official warnings), and certain enforcement records. Information from these documents can now only be requested via a Freedom of Information Act inquiry. This removal has been criticized as substantially limiting information on animal care in US institutions, and of inhibiting access to what is still available.