Schumer: Animal Advocates Should Not Have To Play Tug Of War On Transparency With New Administration’s USDA

Staff Report

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer today (Feb. 17) called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reverse its decision to remove inspection reports on animal facilities and related animal cruelty information from its website.

The USDA annually inspects approximately 9,000 licensed facilities including dog and cat breeding facilities, laboratories and more.

Over the past decade, the USDA has provided the public with information on compliant and non-compliant licensees by posting inspection reports on its website.

Schumer and his colleagues, which include Senator Menendez (D-NJ), wrote to the Acting Deputy Secretary of the USDA and asked that public access to animal welfare records be restored immediately.

“When it comes to protecting animals and potential pets, the Trump administration’s USDA has just dropped the ball by doing away with access to information that safeguards vulnerable animals and outs abusive puppy mills,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “Until now, pet owners, animal welfare advocates and others have relied on the USDA’s data to expose the evils of puppy mills and other inhumane treatment, but now this information is hidden, and that’s bad news for animals and the advocates who protect them. Public access to inhumane animal treatment at puppy mills, research labs, circuses, zoos and more is paramount to prevention, but suddenly, the USDA, under the new administration, has chosen to erase these online records from the public eye. The USDA’s decision to sweep this information under the rug and suspend its longstanding tradition of transparency means animal abuse could go unnoticed. I’m calling on the USDA to reverse its decision and continue to post animal welfare records online.”

Schumer said that the online database helped animal welfare advocates and consumers know whether a facility was violating government regulations of animal treatment.

Under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service inspects licensed facilities like commercial dog and cat breeding facilities, laboratories, zoos, circuses, airlines, Tennessee walking horse shows, and other for-profit animal businesses.

For over ten years the USDA has posted its inspection reports and other related information on its website, however, recently the USDA removed this online database.

The USDA’s animal welfare database has been known to provide the public with data otherwise hidden about animal exploitation.

These records have helped bring justice to any animals that may have been abused.

In addition, seven states currently prohibit the sale of dogs from breeding operations with a history of serious AWA violations.

Schumer said that an online database is necessary to make sure dog sellers in these seven states are complying with the law.

In the letter, Schumer wrote: “Public access to information can guide consumer decision making and plays an important role in deterring regulated entities from violating the law. For instance, a family will now have difficulty knowing that their family puppy did not come from puppy mill with a long track record of AWA violations. In addition, spectators at horse shows will no longer know if a specific horse trainer has a history of HPA violations. Also, a consumer purchasing cosmetics products will no longer have the certainty of knowing that the product being purchased comes from a company that is fully compliant with the AWA. Furthermore, scientific laboratories, circuses, aquariums, zoos and other for-profit animal businesses will no longer feel the pressure to fully comply with the AWA now that their violations will no longer be publicly available. These are just a few examples of the impact, intended or unintended, from the USDA’s retreat from transparency.”

He added, “We would like to know the following:”

1.  What led to the decision to remove this critical information from the USDA’s APHIS website and who, specifically within the USDA and elsewhere, was involved with and authorized this decision?

2.  The USDA states that courts are continually issuing decisions regarding privacy and this is a reason for the removal of this online information.  What court cases, decisions and legal precedent, specifically, is the USDA using to base this decision upon?

3.  Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests routinely take months and even years to be fulfilled.  Why does the USDA believe that a FOIA request is now the best and most transparent method for obtaining information related to violations of the AWA and the HPA; information that was previously readily available?

4.  The USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has previously described APHIS’s enforcement of the AWA and HPA as “ineffective” and USDA OIG initiated audits of AWA and HPA enforcement, in part, because the public had access to APHIS’s inspection reports and demanded action.  With this in mind, does the USDA believe that providing the public with less information will help the USDA to enforce these critical federal animal protection laws?