By Mike Bober
State senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ray Lesniak's latest attack on the responsible pet industry in New Jersey could shutter businesses and block families from getting the pet of their choice.
On Feb. 3, the U.S Department of Agriculture took the unannounced step of purging from its website all reports concerning animal welfare, including inspection reports, research facility annual reports, and even a list of licensees under the Animal Welfare Act. The department cited ongoing lawsuits and a year-long review in a lengthy explanation about its surprise decision.
Like many organizations, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) is learning all it can about this new policy. We are meeting with USDA officials, communicating with industry experts, and more. While these discussions are ongoing, we have urged all pet retailers to require breeders to be transparent about inspections, and to likewise share inspection reports with prospective pet owners who are seeking their ideal companion animal.
Lesniak's approach takes none of these responsible steps. Instead, he is punishing consumers and small businesses in New Jersey by proposing to prohibit breeders from selling pets into New Jersey -- whether to pet stores or direct to consumers -- unless their inspection reports are available to the public on the USDA's website. Such a ban would do little but arbitrarily harm those he represents as a state Senator and those he hopes to represent as governor. Furthermore, his effort is the political equivalent of blackmail, attempting to force a federal agency to do what he wants by denying loving companion animals to his constituents who have no say in the matter.
Approximately half of New Jersey households have a pet, and more than 20 businesses statewide provide many of those pets. Lesniak's proposed changes to an already flawed bill will create unnecessary problems for businesses and consumers he's been attacking for months -- especially since New Jersey already has the nation's most stringent pet protection laws.
Perhaps most concerning is that Lesniak's new proposal is patently dishonest. The Pet Purchase Protection Act, which is supported by the responsible pet industry, is currently the strongest combination of consumer and animal protections in the country. It already requires pet retail stores to receive and display inspection reports.
Nothing about the USDA's action changes that requirement or any of the others in the Act. Furthermore, the senator must know that no state legislature may compel a federal agency to do anything.
The senator may see his grandstanding as beneficial to his run for governor. But punishing New Jersey small businesses that provide income and jobs to their owners and employees, as well as families who want to buy their pets from responsible store owners, is not the answer.
Lesniak's bill is already an unnecessary distraction from what we agree is a laudable mission: Protecting the welfare of animals. To add this additional language would do nothing more than punish New Jersey businesses for the actions of an agency over which they have no control.
Mike Bober is president and CEO of Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. PIJAC members include retailers, companion animal suppliers, manufacturers, wholesale distributors, manufacturers' representatives, pet hobbyists, and other trade organizations.
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