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Statement on the USDA’s Information Purge

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture scrubbed from its website all information pertaining to animal welfare inspection reports and enforcement records. These documents had given the public access to reports on violations of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act, which define animal care standards for lab animals, dog breeding operations, zoos, aquariums, circuses, and some horse breeders – in all, covering up to 100,000,000 animals in 9,000 facilities.

Now, the documents are gone – all of them. They disappeared Friday, February 3rd, at 11:00 in the morning. States had used the records to enforce rules requiring that pet stores only source operations with clean records, and journalists used them to expose violations at university labs.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released a statement assuring the public that the documents would be available through Freedom of Information Act requests, but those are often costly and can take years to process. USDA’s justification cites “maintaining the privacy rights of individuals.” However, hundreds of the facilities are subsidized by public tax dollars, and in order to protect privacy, many of the reports had already redacted data that identified violators.

The other reason USDA gives for this abrupt and draconian measure is transparency. The APHIS update reads: “We remain equally committed to being transparent and responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs.” In this case, stakeholders are publicly funded animal abusers who want to operate in the shadows, and the Trump administration has just given them cover.

As it is, animal welfare standards – especially for farmed animals – are weak and poorly enforced. Undermining the ability of citizen watchdog groups and journalists to at least monitor abuse and hold violators accountable dramatically ups the odds of condemning more animals to torturous treatment. It heightens the risk of squandering tax dollars on dubious and even potentially criminal recipients of public funds. Although the USDA, compelled by public outrage, has restored some records, those documents represent only a small fraction of the vital information still withheld.

In the name of transparency, President Trump’s USDA brazenly thwarts transparency, threatening the prospects of justice for people and animals alike. This represents a pattern of sabotaging citizen engagement across a wider social justice spectrum where rights of all kinds hinge on our access to the truth.

At Woodstock Sanctuary, we’ve long known that the best way to protect animals is to go vegan. And we won’t stand by as the few protections animals have are stripped away.

In my work at the Sanctuary, I see every day that Americans are a compassionate people who care about animals. They deserve leadership not bankrupt of the capacity to exercise compassion. Reinstating access to the information expunged from the APHIS website protects animals and the public interest, and would restore some measure of decency, as well as democracy.

For the animals,

Jeff Lydon

jeff

 

 

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