DesJarlais, a member of the House Agriculture Committee and its subcommittee on livestock, dairy and poultry, has asked to meet with Vilsack and his staff to discuss the issues.
DesJarlais claims that USDA has intimidated those in the industry from talking to their congressmen about the issue and refers to an allegation that if the industry went over the head of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Celebration would be shut down. The letter also refers to changes in enforcement results and procedures.
DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg), a physician, represents the 4th Congressional District. Bedford and Rutherford counties are in the process of being moved from the 6th District to the 4th District effective with this election cycle, as a result of redistricting which followed the 2010 Census. DesJarlais is finishing his first two-year term in the House and is running for re-election against Democratic State Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester.
The Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization recently called DesJarlais "a friend to and advocate of the walking horse on Capitol Hill."
The letter from DesJarlais to Vilsack is dated Aug. 16 and was released to the media by DesJarlais' office on Tuesday.
The text of the letter follows:
"Dear Secretary Vilsack:
"With less than two weeks before the World Championship Horse Show in Shelbyville, Tennessee, more commonly known as 'The Celebration,' I hope to arrange a quick and informal meeting to discuss several matters of concern that have been brought to my attention.
"As I am sure you are well aware, protection of the beautiful Tennessee Walking Horse is paramount to me and my constituents alike. Not only does this industry have a long standing and rich tradition in the state of Tennessee, which is unequivocally associated with the Championship in Shelbyville, but in addition provides a large economic boon to rural areas throughout the volunteer state.
"Consequently, actions by the USDA in regards to these shows can also affect local economies within Tennessee's Fourth Congressional District and statewide. For example, Sound Horses Honest Judging Objective Inspections Winning Fairly (SHOW), a Horse Industry Organization (HIO), has instituted aggressive reforms to protect the Tennessee Walking Horse. Many of these go well beyond what is required under current federal regulations administered by the USDA to ensure that the sport and industry remain safe and clean. Ensuring that this continues is not only good for the sport and industry, but the tradition and history of the Tennessee Walking Horse, which in turn has tremendous economic implications and impacts.
"The goal of both the USDA and industry is to mutually ensure the safety and health of the industry and sport for years to come. Measures such as videotaping all inspections; creating a hotline for reporting abuses; and identifying and sanctioning numerous people for violating SHOW's inspections are just some of the precautions that the industry has enacted to rid the sport of trainer abuses that no one supports. Moreover, what is more impressive is that due to the success of these SHOW reforms, the USDA has even adopted some of the procedures as their own.
"As a result of these efforts over the last three years, USDA violations at SHOW events have dramatically decreased. Of the 4,030 horses inspected at major SHOW events of 2011 and 2012, USDA ticketed less than one percent. Furthermore, SHOW has reached a 98.5 percent compliance rate with the goal being 100 percent.
"There are several issues that both my constituents and I would like to address and discuss prior to 'The Celebration' in Shelbyville. I am aware that on June 22, 2012, SHOW notified the USDA that they were preparing legal action regarding the USDA's mandatory penalty rule. My constituents and I do not wish to discuss this specific issue and/or lawsuit with you or your staff. Please allow me to add emphasis to that point -- this is not what I would like for the meeting to center around. Rather, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between the USDA and the industry to ensure a successful 'Celebration' in Shelbyville is my chief concern.
"However, a few recent USDA actions have concerned me and my constituents. Some, but not all, are listed below:
* Twelve times more violations have been issued than were issued prior to the filing of the lawsuit;
* The leading performance HIO was notified it would be audited and a day later that audit was rescinded;
* A directive was issued to the industry that leaders should not talk to their representatives in Congress about their concerns;
* The industry was allegedly told that if it went above the Deputy Administrator's head, APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) would shut down their world championship event;
* The videotaping of USDA inspections was prohibited even though the videotaping is done to ensure that the horses are not sored;
* The Industry was informed that the scar rule would now be interpreted differently despite the fact that the law has not changed. When industry representatives asked the USDA officials what had changed and why, they were allegedly told, 'It's a new day.'
"Individually, these actions or directives may not seem overtly onerous. Collectively, however, they are unacceptable and create great uncertainty for the industry and this upcoming 'Celebration.'
"The industry and USDA both want to continue partnering together to keep the industry clean. I believe that in order to do so, there must be mutual collaboration and coordination on multiple fronts. Without both entities acting together, problems will continue to arise, diminishing the beauty that is the Tennessee Walking Horse.
"I look forward to meeting with you and your staff in the coming days. Thank you in advance for doing all that you can to answer both my constituents' and my own concerns. If you could, please contact Dayne Cutrell at 202.225.6831, as soon as possible to finalize the details for this open discussion.
"Scott DesJarlais, M.D.
"Member of Congress"
The letter lists copies sent to undersecretary Ed Avalos, Deputy Administrator Dr. Chester Gipson, Acting Administrator Kevin Shea, State Sen. Jim Tracy and State Rep. Pat Marsh.