USDA holds off on disaster plan requirement for animal ‘exhibitors’

Marty the Magician might not need a disaster plan for his rabbit, after all.

On Monday, the Agriculture Department announced that it would formally “stay” a new rule that requires animal “exhibitors” to write disaster plans. The rule applied even to exhibitors as small-time as Marty Hahne, a magician in Missouri with one rabbit.

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Last week, after The Washington Post published a story on Hahne, the USDA announced that it would “immediately” review the rule. But that review had not been completed by Monday, when the disaster plans were supposed to be finished.

About 5:15 p.m., the USDA said it would not enforce the rule.

The stay applies to all animal operations regulated by the department. That includes zoos, circuses and large animal-research facilities.

It was not clear Monday how long the delay will last.

“The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is issuing a stay of the regulation in order to give the agency additional time to determine the best course of action,” said Courtney Rowe, a spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. She said that notice of the stay would be available in the Federal Register on Tuesday morning.

That news delighted Hahne, who pulls Casey the rabbit out of hats and boxes at shows for children around Springfield, Mo. But the stay came too late to save Hahne any work. His disaster plan was already done, covering potential catastrophes from chemical spills to tornadoes.

“I just literally printed it and bound it with a comb binder last night,” Hahne said. “I have two copies — one in my car and one in my file.”

The USDA’s decision disappointed animal rights activists. They had pushed for the new rule after many animals were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. The rule was originally proposed by federal officials the next year, in 2006.

“This is a rule that has been seven years in the making already, and that is not particularly demanding or rigorous,” said Delcianna Winders of the PETA Foundation, an affiliate of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “This is just more bureaucratic delay.”

 
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