Magician safe; USDA relents on disaster regs for animal handlers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has decided to put a stay on regulations requiring all animal dealers, exhibitors and handlers to develop contingency plans in case of fire, flood or other potential disasters.

The regulation, part of the legacy of Hurricane Katrina, drew national attention earlier this month when a story in The Washington Post revealed that it was being interpreted to apply to a magician whose act includes pulling a rabbit out of his hat at kids shows.

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Hahne, ahead of a July 29 deadline to complete a plan for his Netherland dwarf rabbit, had hired a professional disaster plan writer in order to comply with the rule, he told the Post.

Critics of the Obama administration’s regulatory policies seized on Hahne’s story as emblematic of overzealous and unnecessarily burdensome rulemaking that has is plaguing the private sector.

“If this story wasn’t on the front page of the newspaper, I would have thought it was a joke,” House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) seethed during a hearing last week. “But this is no laughing matter. This kind of story about regulatory overreach is unfortunately all too common.”

Even before the fallout, Agriculture Department officials told the Post that Secretary Tom Vilsack had ordered a review of the regulations and demanded “common sense be applied.”

A notice announcing the administration’s decision to stay the rule and conduct further analysis of the requirements will be published in Wednesday’s Federal Register.

“We intend to conduct this additional review to further consider the impact of contingency plan requirements on regulated entities, taking into account a reexamination of any unique circumstances and costs that may vary by the type and size of businesses,” the notice reads.