Skip to comments.USDA Threatens Small Business Owner with $450,000 in Fines [Last year bunnies, this year hamsters!]
Posted on 08/02/2012 3:33:54 PM PDT by Da Bilge Troll
Without much fanfare, Dean Moyer has raised gerbils and hamsters for 12 years. Hes sold them to distributors who, in turn, have sold them to pet store owners across the country. Chances are good that the pet hamster your neighbors kid always carries in his hand came from Moyers Sand Valley Farms, Inc. But that could change soon if the folks at the USDA have their way.
Basically, the USDA just wants me to close up, Moyer said. They just want me to get out of the hamster business.
During the week of July 15, Moyer received a really thick registered letter from officials at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the USDAs investigative and enforcement services agency. Inside the envelope was a Settlement Agreement dated two days earlier. Under the boldfaced subhead, Why You Are Receiving This Letter, Moyer found an explanation that began this way:
"We believe you violated the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. § 2131 et seq.) (AWA), as described in the attached Settlement Agreement. our agency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), is responsible for enforcing the AWA, and other agriculture laws that help prevent the spread of animal and plant pests and diseases, and ensure the welfare of animals.
"After providing you with an opportunity for a hearing, we may impose civil penalties of up to $10,000, or other sanctions, for each violation described in this Settlement Agreement. We are offering you the opportunity to resolve this matter by paying an amount that is much lower than the maximum civil penalty.
The letter went on to list 45 alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act dating back to Sept. 16, 2009.
Among other things, inspectors reported finding dead animals on the premises and a strong ammonia odor due to inadequate ventilation of the 10,000-square-foot facility.
Moyer explained, however, that anyone familiar with hamsters knows 50 dead animals among 6,000 live ones on the premises in a given week is neither unusual nor unheard of. Similarly, he said hamster-savvy folks know the strong odor associated with hamster urine is virtually impossible to get rid of.
During a Monday afternoon phone conversation, Moyer shared his assessment of the dire situation he faces today as president of a 21-year-old family business headquartered at 83 Mouse Track Lane in Richfield, a community one hour north of Harrisburg in central Pennsylvania.
The conversation began with a humorous bent.
Gerbils are very, very, very expensive right now if you want to buy any, said Moyer. Itll cost you $450,000 right now if you want a gerbil Ive got a fine to pay!
The rest of the conversation was more serious and focused on the content of the USDA letter.
After answering the why question, USDA officials offered a description of how Moyer can waive his right to a hearing and pay a penalty conveniently, no less, by check, money order or credit card of $22,143 by Aug. 29. It even offered a payment plan if hes unable to fork over the entire amount in one lump sum.
Sarah L. Conant Believing he has done nothing to warrant such fines, Moyer said he called a phone number on the signature-free letter a couple of days after receiving it and eventually connected with Sarah Conant, a USDA bureaucrat with a very long title Chief, Animal Health and Welfare Enforcement Branch, Investigative and Enforcement Services. If you recognize the name, its because Ive written about Conant on more than one occasion.
Conant was the focus of my June 27, 2011, post, Animal Rights Activism Fuels USDA Rabbit Chase. In addition, she earned noteworthy mentions in my Chasing Rabbits series which, among other things, chronicled John Dollarhites battle with overzealous federal regulators in tiny Nixa, Mo. [Hint: Family Facing $4 Million in Fines for Selling Bunnies is a good place to start.] Finally, her agency figured prominently in my reports about Doug Terranova, a Dallas-based animal trainer who I described as caught up in a legal circus last summer.
Then unaware of Conants history as highlighted in the cases above, Moyer said he asked her what he could do to get the fine reduced and told her, Theres no way I can afford a $22,000 fine.
When Conant replied by telling him that $22,000 IS a reduced amount, Moyer said he couldnt believe what he was hearing and asked her, What do you mean thats a reduced amount?
She said, We can fine you $10,000 per violation, he said, noting that the letter listed 45 violations or $450,000 worth of violations.
Moyer said he literally begged her for mercy and, in turn, she said she would see what she could do. Apparently, however, she couldnt or wouldnt do much. Inspectors are scheduled to return to the business for another inspection Tuesday morning.
Rather than send the local inspector who is both familiar with Moyers operation and lives less than 20 miles away, the USDA will likely send inspectors from afar.
Moyer said his last inspection was conducted by two individuals, including one veterinarian, from Youngstown, Ohio. In order to spend six hours inspecting his facility, they drove four and one-half hours each way and incurred meals, lodging and travel costs at taxpayers expense. Apparently, the USDA has figured out that its easier for their inspectors to lower the boom on complete strangers.
The long and the short of this situation is this, according to Moyer: The way the regulations are written, its absolutely impossible for me not to get written up for a violation.
If the fine isnt dropped, Moyers entire livelihood stands at risk. He has no other viable source of income to support his wife of 23 years and their four children, two boys and two girls who range in age from 8 to 17. The income generated by the sale of rats and mice, his original business that began in 1991, simple isnt enough.
Potentially, this whole thing could put me out of business, he said, explaining that he has nine employees dependent upon their jobs at Sand Valley Farms.
Moyers business wont be the first shut down by the USDA. He said the agency has put at least two other large hamster businesses (i.e., operations that raise 1,000 animals per week or more) out of business in recent years, leaving only three or four large firms in the entire United States. In addition to those, only one- or two-dozen small raisers exist nationwide.
In addition to hosting inspectors tomorrow, Moyer said hes also meeting to discuss his options with representatives of The Cavalry Group, a St. Louis-based group dedicated to fighting the radical animal rights agenda.
Looks like this belongs on Youtube and Rush Limbaugh’s show.... too much good political ammunition to ignor.
The alphabet agency war on citizens continues. Convert or be killed.
It is estimated that regulations cost the US $1.7 Trillion dollars last year. This is a great example of why economically we are doomed. Government is killing off any hope of recovery and until that reverses I don’t see how any of this will turn around.
Mr. Moyers should invite about 50 friends to visit that day.
And make sure they bring enough tar and feathers.
On a more serious note, I find it interesting that they are 3-4 large players and only one small player left. Given how corrupt things are today, it should be considered that the 3-4 players have some undue influence over at the USDA and using it to take out smaller competitors. USDA has to many incidents where they go after the small fries and leave the big guys alone. Anyone remember the tainted peanut butter a few years ago? Pleanty of violations but never shut down, then people died.
Recall the salmonella scare in the hamburger chub business during the Clinton administration?
Started with some cases in Pueblo, CO. Eventually, without much in the way of proof they closed down a Hudson operation in York, NE.
As I recall, Hudson -- a family operation -- was also the second largest supplier of chicken.
The Clinton USDA closed them down...eventually forcing them to sell the entire company for pennies on the dollar.
Tyson bought them out...
Be it animal rights or crony capitalism, the USDA can evidently be had.
We do not need a Dept of Agriculture. Close ‘em down.
We do not need an EPA. Close ‘em down.
We do not need Homeland (In)Security. Close ‘em down.
We do not need a Dept of Education. Close ‘em down.
We do not need a Dept of Energy. Close ‘em down.
We do not need a Dept of Health & Human Services. Close ‘em down.
Wd do not need an FDA. Close ‘em down.
We do not need...and so on. Close ‘em all down.
By doing so we get rid of these bastards that shill for the big guys at the expense of the little guys (us). And btw, THEY ALL HAVE NO CONSTITUTIONAL STANDING!