Thousands of inspection reports for animal facilities across the country, including zoos, breeders, circuses, and labs, were removed from the USDA’s database known as Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The information, which has been available for more than a decade, was removed from the site late last week. Dog owners were also able to look up breeder information by license number to determine if there were violations before purchasing animals.
Now animal watchdogs, who had relied on the public database for more than a decade to hold dog breeders and animal handlers accountable, fear violations and abuse will run rampant at the facilities without the public keeping a careful eye on them.
“I’m very concerned that there will be no incentive for breeders or research labs or any of these facilities to comply because the public won’t know,” said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society, a national nonprofit to end the killing of dogs and cats in U.S. shelters. (Time)
Now the Agriculture Department is saying the information will be available under Freedom of Information Act requests only, which is typically a long and arduous process. The Humane Society says this violates a court settlement reached in 2009 and congressional provisions from 1996 and 2006 designed to increase transparency. Representatives declined to comment directly on the threat of a lawsuit from the Humane Society, but instead said they would consider posting redacted information online if enough people requested it via the FOIA.
“The (Humane Society) sued the USDA in 2005 over public access to (Animal Welfare Act) reports concerning animal use in university and other laboratories. That case was settled in 2009 in exchange for the USDA’s agreement to post certain data on its website concerning research on animals,” the Humane Society said in a statement Monday. “The agency’s precipitous decision to purge virtually all AWA and HPA enforcement documentation – just two weeks after President Trump assumed office — violates the plain terms of the settlement and a federal court order.”
The Humane Society noted that the USDA, per the 2009 settlement, has 30 days after the society files a notice of violation to try to resolve the dispute, before being ordered to comply or being held in contempt. It also noted that the 2009 settlement only covered a small amount of the information scrubbed from the USDA website.
“The prior lawsuit only covers some of the vast corpus of important enforcement data the USDA has scrubbed from its website,” the statement says. “We hope this mandatory consultation period will give the USDA a chance to reconsider this ill-advised and precipitous maneuver across the board.” (TPM)
It should be noted this data was removed from the site only two weeks after Donald Trump took office, just another in a line of pages that have disappeared. On inauguration day, the page on climate change, LGBTQ rights, Disabilities, and civil rights all disappeared within moments of him taking office. Some fear this is a trend that will only continue to get worse under this administration.