Compassion and capitalism can coexist as long as legitimate watchdogs work to ensure that the social norms of humanity are respected for those who have no voice. But on February 3, when the USDA’s animal and plant health Inspection service (APHIS) lifted a decades-long commitment to transparency by removing critical inspection reports from its website, the system became very unbalanced and put hundreds of thousands of animals at risk.
This amendment-which was only notified to key stakeholders once completed-removed a searchable database containing reports on the official Animal welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act, which reveal violations of an institution’s animal welfare, and removed communications on enforcement measures against violations. Some of these violations, as described in the reports, resulted in terrible injuries to animals.
Advocates, consumers and state governments have long relied on these reports to monitor individuals and businesses that hold AWA licenses—including Zoos, research centers, and commercial dog breeders—and enforce animal welfare standards. If these reports are cleared, animal advocates will face longer delays and obstacles that can help many animals suffering too late or not at all.
The ASPCA, for example, has used these published data to monitor the commercial dog breeding industry, alert lawmakers to the presence of unscrupulous breeders and animal cruelty, and inform the public about inhumane breeding conditions and regulatory restrictions through its campaign against puppy mills.
The reports are also a cornerstone of state laws that rely on AWA records to prohibit pet stores from obtaining dogs from farms with documented violations. Obstructing access to this information makes it almost impossible for pet stores to comply with laws, successfully enforce authorities, and tell consumers what they actually get when they buy dogs from pet stores.
The USDA now requires consumers and advocates to go through the Freedom of information request (FOIA) process, which is complicated even for experienced advocates and can take months or even years to produce documents. Animals in need can and should not wait that long to act.
By preventing access to this important data, the USDA removes the critical protection of the animals they need most. And rather than helping to quickly identify and stop animal mis-word—an important responsibility of the USDA— it actually offers better coverage to perpetrators.
Last month, I publicly asked the Minister-designate of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to prioritize the welfare of animals in need. In the interests of the dogs, horses and other vulnerable animals that deserve our protection, we call on the new leadership of the USDA to restore transparency and the right balance in protecting hundreds of thousands of animals behind the walls of institutions regulated by the AWA.
You can do your part by learning more about the topic, contacting your representatives, and signing this petition urging the USDA to take on its human responsibilities.