USDA Removes Animal Welfare Records from Website

USDA Removes Animal Welfare Records from Website

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture removed animal-related records from their website, including thousands of reports on animals involved in research labs, companies, zoos, and more. [1] The website previously contained information on over 9,000 animal-related facilities, such as all records of violations against USDA regulations, including animal abuse or neglect. [2] Now that this information has been removed from the website, animal rights advocates are concerned the change will lead to more abuse. [2]

The USDA said in a statement that public access to the reports has been revoked in order to be transparent and “maintain the privacy rights of individuals.” [2] However, Michael Budkie, the co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, says that “they’re actually going backwards in terms of governmental transparency.” [3] Previously, public access to the records allowed major media sites such as The Boston Globe, Nature, and The New Yorker to document problems of animal abuse within research labs, which sometimes led to closure of the labs or certain rights being revoked. [2] For example, after a Nature report on the mistreatment of goats at Santa Cruz Biotechnology, the USDA repealed the company’s license to market research antibodies. [2] By promising punishment to groups that tolerate and enact animal abuse, third party organizations had leverage against abusers, something that has now been taken away by the USDA’s recent actions. Now, documents are only available by request through the federal Freedom of Information Act. [3]

The website was important not just for tracking organizations using animals for work or research purposes, but also as a way for pet owners to track breeding. [4] It was the only way the public could check on specific breeders and their treatment of animals. [4] Dia DuVernet, CEO of the Virginia Beach SPCA, recognizes the change as a “consumer rights issue” in terms of customers knowing the condition in which their pets were raised. [4]

The Humane Society of the United States responded by saying that the only ones who benefit from this change is “facilities who have harmed animals and don’t want anyone to know.” [2] The Brown County Animal Shelter believes that lack of access to information and records will cause more animals to be subjected to abuse and suffering. [1] Renee Bates, Auxiliary Deputy of the shelter, recognized that although there are people who breed livestock and raise horses perfectly well, the removal of records on the USDA website also protects and allows for animal abuse at puppy mills and other locations to continue. [1]

More than 92,000 people have signed a petition online opposing the USDA’s decision. [1] Animal activists and companies alike are concerned that animal abuse and neglect will increase as a result of the USDA’s recent decision. Although the information is available through the Freedom of Information Act, activists, watchdog organizations, and journalists are worried about the length of time it would take to access the information. [3] Budkie points out that before online access, sometimes it took years to get requests for information fulfilled. 3]

References

  1. Schmidt, Jessica. "Local Animal Advocates Concerned USDA Website Change Could Lead to More Abuse." Fox 19 Now. Fox News, 9 Feb. 2017. Web. http://www.fox19.com/story/34471721/local-animal-advocates-concerned-usda-website-change-could-lead-to-more-abuse

  2. Wadman, Meredith. "USDA Blacks out Animal Welfare Information." Sciencemag.org. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 3 Feb. 2017. Web. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/02/trump-administration-blacks-out-animal-welfare-information

  3. Hamrick, Brian. "USDA Removes Animal Welfare Reports from Website." WLWT5. 10 Feb. 2017. Web.  http://www.wlwt.com/article/usda-removes-animal-welfare-reports-from-its-website/8729840

  4. Rule, Kelly. "Va. Animal Activists Call Bill ‘critical’ after USDA Removes Animal-welfare Inspection Reports from Website." Wtkr.com. WTKR News, 10 Feb. 2017. Web. http://wtkr.com/2017/02/10/va-animal-activists-call-bill-critical-after-usda-removes-animal-welfare-inspection-reports-from-website/

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