February 3, 2017; New York Times
Animal welfare organizations were stunned and outraged Friday when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) removed animal welfare inspection reports, enforcement records, and other information about the treatment of animals from its website, citing privacy and other laws. The move rolls back decades of hard-fought wins from groups like Farm Sanctuary and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who worked to increase transparency and get information into the hands of consumers who could then vote with their wallet and feet when commercial dog breeders, zoos, and research labs were cited by the USDA for neglecting or harming animals.
Jennifer Swanson, a New England animal welfare advocate and volunteer active with Beagle Freedom Project, was not pleased to learn about the information removal from the USDA website. She believes 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.”
Beagle Freedom Project plans on fighting the removal of information and started circulating a petition against the blackout. The group feels the move by the Trump administration destroys transparency and makes it harder to rescue animals from laboratory experiments. Swanson adopted two beagles rescued by Beagle Freedom Project who were formerly used for medical testing. She feels that being able to make informed choices is the right of every consumer.
“Making this information difficult and costly to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act is not the kind of transparency that we’ve expected under both the Bush and Obama administrations,” Swanson said. “The removal of information protects businesses with shady practices at the expense of our integrity as a nation and as human beings. It is not what this country is or should be about.”
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The New York Times reported that a spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Tanya Espinosa, said the information was removed from the site around 11 a.m. Friday. She would not say if the removal was temporary or permanent in the new Trump administration. According to the Times, “the online notice cities ongoing court decisions and guidance from the Department of Justice regarding privacy and Freedom of Information laws. The notice does not cite any specific cases or guidance, and a spokesman for the Department of Justice referred questions back to the department.”
The New York Times reported that the move comes two days after Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) introduced a bill to require more public information on animal testing. The bill is backed by a group called the White Coat Waste project, which seeks to reduce the amount of federal dollars spent on that testing.
“There was already before today a disturbing lack of transparency in how animals are used,” said Justin Goodman, a vice president for the group, told the Times.—Carrie Collins-Fadell
This article has been altered from its initial form.