Humane Society Fights Back Against USDA Records Removal

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
The United States Department of Agriculture is removing years’ worth of data about inspection reports for thousands of animal facilities and breeders. Now, animal welfare groups are fighting back.

When the USDA announced it was removing thousands of records that included inspection reports for places such as laboratories, zoos, and commercial breeders from its public database, and that the information henceforth would only be accessible under request from the Freedom of Information Act, animal welfare groups were outraged. Was it a sketchy attempt to bury information that helps to ensure the welfare of animals in a variety of venues? Well, animal protection groups promised they’d fight back.

One group in particular, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is putting its money where its mouth is to have the removed information returned, and legally challenging the USDA’s move. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle says that not wanting the information to be public suggests that there is a purposed effort to hinder the efforts toward animal protection.

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The Humane Society is no stranger to taking the government to court when it comes to information about animal treatment. In 2005, they sued the USDA for violating the Freedom of Information Act for not providing animal related records. The parties came to a settled agreement in 2009, with the USDA making a number of records regarding information about pain and distress in lab animals available online.

Recently, the Humane Society sent a notice to the USDA claiming they violated the terms of the previous settlement by removing the database of that information, and they insist that the USDA immediately publish the records or the HSUS will retain a court order mandating they do so, as well as possibly reopen the previously settled suit.

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While the USDA claims that privacy is the driving factor behind the removal of the records, and that the information is still available, under Freedom of Information Act requests, they fail to mention that most of those requests can be costly and take months, or even years. Until recently, the public records were easily accessible and used to ensure the proper care and welfare of animals. Even facilities that are subject to USDA inspections, such as zoos and aquariums, feel that the removal of the records now will have the public’s trust in the care of businesses that care for animals in question.

There are several online petitions currently available demanding the information to be placed back where it’s been for years, and we’ll continue to watch for the USDA’s response to the Humane Society’s request to restore the information to the databanks. One thing’s for sure… though the information is gone for now, whether it stays that way remains to be seen.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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