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USDA Put On Notice For Improper Inspections



Letters Seek Investigation and Reversal of Improper Scar Rule Violations

By Jeffrey Howard

Gray Plant Mooty, a firm retained by a Performance Show Horse Association board member and numerous owners and trainers, recently sent letters to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as well as the Office of the Inspector General and General Counsel of the United States Department of Agriculture.  The letters seek an investigation of the actions of USDA Veterinary Medical Officers (VMO) in the field as well as all scar rule violations found by USDA inspectors over the last five years be immediately withdrawn and expunged from the record.

These letters are not the first time the USDA has received communication from Gray Plant Mooty over the actions of VMOs in the field that are not consistent with the application of the HPA nor the answers given by their superiors, Dr. Chester Gipson, Deputy Administrator, Kevin Shea, Administrator and Dr. Andrea Morgan, Associate Deputy Administrator.  Gray Plant Mooty sent letters in April and June of 2014 highlighting these concerns but received no response from either the Secretary, nor the Office of Inspector General or General Counsel.

In the letters, Gray Plant Mooty highlights the statements made by Jeff Baker at the January 2015 SHOW HIO Designated Qualified Training which prove the improper inspection techniques and training by USDA VMOs.  With regards to attempting to flatten the skin to determine if the area is a scar or uniformly thickened epithelium tissue, Dr. Baker stated, “We don’t routinely do it because we found it doesn’t help.  The physical, visual, physical examination, run our thumb perpendicular, we look at them and that’s how we determine if it’s a scar rule.”  Baker’s statement is a direct contradiction to the HPA and statement of clarification from Gipson, Shea and Morgan.

Baker went on to admit when asked further if VMOs attempt to flatten, “We don’t have – in our standard operation procedures we don’t go to that detail as far as take your two thumbs, spread it out and see if it’s smooth.  We don’t go to that detail.”  When asked who instructs him and the VMOs, Baker answered, “Dr. Cezar, Dr. Turner.”

In 2012, Shea confirmed in a letter to the SHOW HIO, “inspectors are instructed to spread the skin on the pastern to determine if what appears to be  a scar is uniformly thickened epithelium“ and “uniformly thickened skin that can be flattened or smoothed out on palpation is not considered to be a scar.”  Baker’s statements at the recent training are in direct contradiction to Shea’s statements to SHOW HIO.

Baker did concede the training might not be sufficient.  "If we've interpreting (sic) and been trained wrong, we need to know that.  If I've been training you guys wrong, which is pretty much the same thing, right?"  With regards to only photos being used during the training without documentation of what was found, Baker commented, "And obviously our training has been deficient because we haven't included that."

Baker was also hesitant to conduct a physical examination of scar rule in the training and stated, "Obviously there's some difference of opinion.  We need to get some things straightened out before we can -- I don't want to train you and then it go the other way."  He concluded, "I think the Congressman's office needs to get with our people to figure out what -- yeah, what's the -- some sort of solution.  Obviously there's a difference of opinions here -- or interpretations or whatever it is.

In addition to seeking an investigation the letter to the Office of Inspector General and General Counsel seek the reversal of the scar rules found by any USDA inspector over the last five years.  “We demand that all scar rule violations by any USDA inspector over the last 5 years be immediately withdrawn and expunged from the record.  In addition any suspension, disqualification and record of any scar violation needs to be immediately reversed and any fines refunded.”

To view the complete letter to Secretary Vilsack click here.

To view the complete letter to the Office of Inspector General and General Counsel of USDA click here.
 

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