On Friday, February 3rd, 2017, the USDA abruptly removed thousands of documaents from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

Amid a flurry of executive action for the new administration, thousands of documents detailing animal welfare violations nationwide were removed from the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week. As of the time of this article (Feb 7, 2017) these crucial animal welfare documents will be accessible only via official requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which can take months to process.

 

On February 7th, the USDA responded to criticism over the blackout with the following statement:

 

“The review of APHIS’ website has been ongoing, and the agency is striving to balance the need for transparency with rules protecting individual privacy. In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”

This blackout by the USDA is a major setback for advocates, consumers, and state governments alike, as information about animal abuse becomes even less transparent with this move.

Here’s What the Experts Are Saying

 

  • In a statement, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called the removal “a shameful attempt to keep the public from knowing when and which laws and regulations have been violated. Many federally registered and licensed facilities have long histories of violations that have caused terrible suffering.”

  • Natasha Daly of National Geographic explains that “This action plunges journalists, animal welfare organizations, and the public at large into the dark about animal welfare at facilities across the country. The records document violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the federal law that regulates treatment of animals used for research and exhibition.”

  • The HSUS took the first step to initiate legal action to challenge this outrageous action, noting that, “This withholding of information that the American public has a right to see appears to be an inside job at the USDA – with the head of the Trump transition team probably directing the show. You’d think that USDA would want the work of its field personnel to be examined and used by the public. But this action suggests a deliberate effort to bury its work and impede efforts to ensure the well-being of animals in numerous sectors.”

  • Justin Goodman, vice president of the White Coat Waste Project lamented to the Dodo  that the removal of the information comes a day after a bipartisan bill — known as the Federal Accountability in Chemical Testing (FACT) Act (HR 816), which would require labs to disclose how many animals they are using for testing— was introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.). "We were already concerned about a severe lack of transparency about animal experiments that are conducted and funded by the government, as were a growing bipartisan group of Congress members," Goodman said. "So it's particularly alarming that the day after … the bill was introduced, the government decided to disappear the minimal information that was already available. It's possible that it's a coincidence, of course, but it doesn't make any less alarming."

  • Jennifer Swanson, a New England animal welfare advocate and volunteer active with Beagle Freedom Project, expressed to Nonprofit Quarterly that this is far from a partisan issue. Rather, everyone should be outraged. “Removing this information, including information about violations of the Animal Welfare and Horse Protection Acts by animal breeders, laboratories, and the horse industry among others serves only to prevent the public from being adequately informed about the businesses and universities they choose to support.”

How You Can Help

At Maine Animal Coalition we’re certainly frustrated and discouraged by the the USDA blackout, but we encourage you to join us in our work against those who profit from animal oppression and abuse. Here are a few actions you can take to combat the blackout:

  • Just as many recently called and wrote Susan Collins to take a stand against the new administration’s policies and government appointments, you can reach out to her or one of your other representatives about this.

  • Sign this petition to urge the USDA to live up to its humane responsibilities.

  • Call the USDA (919) 855-7100 or email them at aceast@aphis.usda.gov

  • Donate to the Humane Society, who planning legal action against the blackout.

  • Become a member of Maine Animal Coalition as we continue to work toward the elimination of animal abuse and exploitation in Maine through education, advocacy and example.

Animal Welfare Advocates Respond to USDA Removal of Animal Rights Records