The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health inspection Service released a statement claiming the decision came after a “comprehensive review”. According to the statement posted to their site, “As a result of the comprehensive review, APHIS has implemented actions to remove certain personal information from documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act. Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication. APHIS will also review and redact, as necessary, the lists of licensees and registrants under the AWA, as well as lists of designated qualified persons (DQPs) licensed by USDA-certified horse industry organizations.”
Essentially now violations against the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act will only become accessible after submitting a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) — which can take several years to get approved. The statement goes on to explain:
‘Those seeking information from APHIS regarding inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, and enforcement records should submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for that information. Records will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act.’
The records previously made available by the USDA were often accessed by animal rights activists in their efforts to monitor animal welfare at circuses, zoos, and scientific labs. Individuals looking to adopt pets could also use the site’s online database to find information about dog breeders before purchasing pets. Seven states require pet stores to source puppies through breeders with clean USDA inspection reports, but with the removal of the documents, where the puppies come from will likely no longer be traceable.
Since the news surfaced Friday evening, animal welfare organizations have spoken out to condemn the USDA’s removal of the information, as many believe it will only allow animal abuses to be swept under the rug.
Senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign, John Goodwin, told The Washington Post:
‘The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare.’
It’s unclear at this point as to whether or not the information removed is a permanent or temporary change.
The senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Kathy Guillermo, said it’s “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.”
Many have referenced the usefulness of the resource, saying it allowed organizations to track animal welfare in labs that otherwise lack transparency.