History of the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – APHIS

When Hardy the Beagle found a pig’s head in
luggage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, he didn’t wolf it down. Hardy, a trained detector dog for the U.S.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or (APHIS), signaled to his handler, and the
contraband pig’s head was confiscated. It could have carried African Swine Fever,
a potentially devastating threat to the American hog industry with no treatment or vaccine
available. It was all in a day’s work for Hardy, a member
of APHIS’s “Beagle Brigade.” In 1984 APHIS started training beagles, many
of them adopted from rescue shelters, at a center in Newman, Georgia, to detect the odors
of prohibited foodstuffs that could carry foreign pests and diseases in luggage at international
airports. Beagles are cute, friendly, and mellow. Most importantly, their remarkable sense of
smell is up to 10,000 times stronger than a human’s. By 2001, Beagle Brigade members were detecting
about 75,000 prohibited foodstuffs per year. The Beagle Brigade is just one of a variety
of efforts by APHIS to protect American agriculture. Established in 1972, it protects
against plant and animal pests and disease, regulates genetically engineered organisms,
enforces federal animal protection laws, and performs extensive testing regarding control
of plant and animal pests and disease. Interestingly, many of its functions date
back a century or more, operating independently of each other for years. These steers are examined by a veterinarian of the Bureau of Animal Industry Department of Agriculture The earliest roots of APHIS date to the creation
of the Bureau of Animal Industry in 1884, after a serious outbreak of disease among
American-raised livestock. The Service consolidated the diverse collection
of federal agencies that dealt with threats generally to the health and well-being of
plants and animals in the American agricultural system. Shortly before Congress created the agency,
it established a new and heart-warming responsibility when it passed the Horse Protection Act. This law banned the cruel practice used by
unscrupulous horse handlers of injuring, or “soring,” the animals to force them to
perform the high-stepping gait of Tennessee Walking Horses; honest trainers only obtained
this through years of intensive but humane training. The new agency continued to expand its mission
and worked to eliminate or limit many serious animal and plant diseases. Through it all, it sought to respond to the
often conflicting needs of farmers, importers and exporters, and the American consumer. To learn more about the history of APHIS and
other federal government agencies, check out the online hub “History at
the Federal Government” There you will find links to over 260 government history pages. To find APHIS, check the alphabetical finding aid. This message is a pilot for a series by the
Public Education Project of the Society for History in the Federal Government. The purpose of the PEP is to engage the American
public with the history of their government and thereby to promote a better informed exercise
of citizenship. Video produced by Lila Woodbridge for PEP.

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