Copyright WHR 2012
By Jeffrey Howard

Editor’s Note:  The following is Part 2 in our series of coverage of Dr. Chester Gipson’s visit with the Walking Horse Owners’ Association on February 11, 2012.

The Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) hosted USDA-APHIS Deputy Administrator-Animal Care Dr. Chester Gipson at their general membership meeting on February 11, 2012 in preparation for the 2012 horse show season.  Gipson touched on many topics in his visit and definitely focused on the movement toward more transparency in the USDA.  The need for transparency is magnified according to Gipson because of the impact Agriculture has on the country and how agriculture “affects every one of our lives.” 

Gipson said the focus on transparency was the motivation behind his previous visits in the industry as well as the upcoming listening sessions.  “I have an open door policy and don’t discriminate against anyone or any group,” said Gipson.  “We will focus our efforts on outreach, education and information sharing in an effort to try and let people know what is going on.”

Gipson did focus on two areas recommended as part of the Office Of Inspector General (OIG) audit performed on APHIS; abolishment of the DQP program and proper identification of horses.  “Doing away with the DQP program would be a disaster for the USDA and for the industry however the effect of that recommendation is that individuals serving as DQPs do not need to have a conflict of interest,” continued Gipson.  “The primary area of enforcement should be within the industry but the USDA will take on the responsibility of training and licensing the DQPs as part of this recommendation from the OIG.”

With regards to horses not being identified properly Gipson was very straightforward that it should be an area of concern in the industry.  “With the Justice Department looking into the falsification of entries in several recent cases, this is an opportunity for the industry to address this and look for solutions,” said Gipson.  Gipson referred to the chipping of horses as a possible way for the industry to alleviate this issue.

“This is an opportunity for the Registry to help in this issue (identification of horses).  When we (USDA) go to the registry we find a lot of disparity in the information there.  When you (industry) fail to do it, USDA has to follow up and do it,” reiterated Gipson. 

Gipson also addressed the Points of Emphasis and said there would not be “new” points of emphasis for 2012 but did say they are what they are and didn’t leave much room for confusion on the part of the USDA.  “It’s the law, you don’t have to sign on (to the points of emphasis), you just have to follow the law.  If anyone wants to challenge them we cited the regulations behind each point.”

Petitions for rulemaking have become a common theme and talking point recently in the industry yet Gipson discounted their importance in driving regulation.  “Petitions come every day and we have to publish them so the public and industry affected have an idea of what is out there but they drive very little of what we do,” said Gipson.  He continued, “I can’t think of a petition that has driven any regulation.  Petitions are not driving your community, the OIG Audit is driving it.”  Gipson also clarified that USDA initiates no regulation, they simply enforce it.

Gipson laughed off the threat of litigation against him and talked of the many groups and industries that he regulates and those threats he receives.  “I’m used to being threatened (to be sued) so all I can say is bring it on and I’m not intimidated by it,” laughed Gipson.

When asked about a preference for one HIO versus the system of multiple ones in place, Gipson reiterated, “My job is to work with all of them and that is what we will do.  The regulations allow for multiple HIOs.”  He did point out, “You need a system where all horses are being checked by the same standard.”  On multiple occasions Gipson made the point of self-regulation and that it needs to continue as well as the theme of unity within in the industry, “United, you stand a better chance than divided.”

When asked about the subjectivity of inspections Gipson clarified, “Do our inspectors err in judgment, yes they err in judgment because they are human, however I do not overturn a call that an inspector that works for me makes.  There are three things I tell all of my inspectors, be fair, be firm and be friendly,” concluded Gipson.

A lasting theme throughout the roughly two hours of meeting was science and the need for it, the driving force of it and the search for it.  “It (regulatory process) doesn’t work on emotion.  Science drives the regulatory process,” said Gipson.