USDA Moves Animal Welfare Records; Sparks Concern About Secretary Nominee
The U.S. Department of Agriculture unexpectedly removed inspection reports and other information that had previously been available to the general public, sparking conversation that President Trump’s nominee selections for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture may not have the best interest of animals at heart.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture stunned animal welfare groups recently by removing information about the treatment of animals at research laboratories, dog breeding and other facilities and zoos from its databases. Citing privacy laws and court rulings for the decision, the department now says all information, which also includes records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act will still be available, but only accessible under requests of the Freedom of Information Act. Those requests are known to take years to be approved, so in essence, the department has now buried years and years of documentation pivotal to the protection of animals in red tape.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.
The records not only contained information that was used to monitor treatment of animals across the country, but also to expose violations, and investigate dog breeders and pet stores. There are seven states that currently require pet stores to only sell puppies who come from breeders cleared by the USDA Inspection reports, but without access to that information, following the law will be much more difficult.
Animal welfare groups are outraged, fearing that this action will allow the horrors of puppy mills and abusive zoos and labs to be hidden, and animal abuse will now essentially go unchecked. And so, when the information seems so imperative to the health and well-being of animals, the motivation of the department is now in question.
Not surprisingly, President Trump’s nominee options for people to lead the Department of Agriculture come to the forefront of intent. In December of 2016, Trump’s choice was Brian Klippenstein–who has a reputation for being a defender of puppy mills and cites the abuse of circus animals as ‘traditions,’ with which he sees nothing wrong.
Trump followed the possibility of Klippenstein with U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a more moderate possibility, but one who also took herself out of the running for the position mid-January 2017.
Currently, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is the President’s nominee for the position. Perdue has no relationship to Perdue Chicken, and we are cautiously optimistic as he worked as a veterinarian for many years before coming a small business owner and then moving into the political arena. Of Perdue, President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has publicly applauded Perdue’s commitment to animal welfare when governor of Georgia. Perdue worked to make dog fighting a felony and to outlaw the use of gas chambers by animal shelters, but still, watchdog groups are waiting to fully weigh in on his appointment. The Puppy Mill Project has gone so far as to claim Perdue views dogs as livestock, though we find no evidence to support that as his belief, and in fact, we have to admit goes contrary to his behavior as governor where he’d visit spay and neuter clinics to volunteer in a veterinary capacity.
The correlation between the nominees for the lead position of the USDA and the purging and moving of records remains unclear. As Perdue hasn’t been appointed yet, it is doubtful that he is spearheading the move, though that the steps have been taken to make it difficult to protect animals concerns us and is worth closely watching.