Environment

Agriculture Department Quietly Removes Animal Welfare Data From Website, Sparking Outrage From Advocates

The USDA has given cover to people who abuse animals.

Cows on a factory farm
Photo Credit: Ewais/Shutterstock

Did you know that the public availability of a database of animal welfare inspection reports is actually a threat to transparency? No? Well, the United States Department of Agriculture was way ahead of you on Friday, February 3, when it quietly removed critical animal welfare inspection reports from its website, presumably so commercial dog and horse breeders can abuse their animals without the threat of pesky public comment and regulations. The government can't say that out loud yet, however, so officially this redaction is based on, as a government spokeswoman told the Associated Press, "our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals." 

The information in the lost reports is used by animal welfare and protection groups and concerned citizens to monitor practices at factory farms and dog breeding facilities—some of which are puppy mills. As John Goodwin, of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign at the Humane Society of the United States, told the AP, "What the USDA has done is given cover to people who neglect or harm animals and get cited by USDA inspectors... The public is no longer going to know which commercial dog breeders, horse trainers, which zoos, which research labs have horrible animal welfare track records.” 

Instead of finding the database, visitors to the animal welfare site are now greeted with a message from the USDA saying it is "implementing actions to remove documents." The department is attempting to defend itself by citing ongoing court cases and guidance from the Department of Justice, but as the AP points out, it cites no specific cases. The USDA says the information will still be available via Freedom of Information Act requests, which are expensive and can take years to complete. 

The Trump administration is hiding behind privacy concerns about exposing the addresses and other personal information of inspection sites. The spokeswoman and the message replacing the database both failed to mention that the reports already redact personal details to protect privacy. 

There's no indication of whether the removal is temporary or permanent. Just another reason to be concerned that Trump doesn't have a pet or have any empathy for animals.

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.

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