February 4, 2017

USDA Cowers to Special Interests While Animals Suffer

Yesterday, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reversed a decade-long commitment to transparency by removing documents related to the inspection of facilities licensed under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), including zoos, commercial breeders and research labs. By purging this information—long relied upon by animal welfare advocates, state and local governments, and consumers to track perpetration of animal cruelty in their communities—APHIS enables those who wish to operate undetected while profiting from animal mistreatment.

APHIS’s decision to suppress access to information is unacceptable but hardly out of character for the agency. “This appears to be a situation of agency capture with USDA cowering to special interests to the detriment of transparency and animal welfare,” said Nancy Perry, the ASPCA’s Senior Vice President of Government Relations. “Advocates, consumers, and state governments rely on the ready availability of Animal Welfare Act inspection reports to know when animals are being mistreated. This is public information and subject to FOIA so it’s dumbfounding why USDA would take action to make this information more difficult to access. We are deeply concerned this is an effort to protect those who are doing harm to animals.” Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests take months or years for APHIS to fulfill.

The Animal Care Inspection System published reports documenting any violations USDA inspectors found when visiting the premises of entities regulated under the AWA. 

Publication of these records is similar to other inspection documents commonly shared online by other government entities, like health department restaurant inspection records. APHIS’s justification for removal of inspection records vaguely alludes to its interpretation of FOIA and privacy law, but points to nothing specific. 

AWA inspection records routinely reveal appalling acts of animal cruelty and neglect at USDA-regulated facilities. Some recent inspection reports recounted typical violations:

  • A May 2016 inspection report from an Iowa kennel described “a female Morkie puppy was observed to be lying on the floor of her enclosure. The puppy was laying on her chest and belly and appeared lifeless and unresponsive.”
     
  • An August 2016 inspection report for Black Diamond Kennel in Iowa described “one male Standard Poodle (approximately 7 years old…) with two open skin lesions,” “female Mastiff ("Sophie," approximately 4 years old…) with a swollen muzzle,” and “male Old English Sheepdog ("Apollo," approximately 7 years old…) that is limping and barely putting weight on his left front leg.”
     
  • A December 2015 inspection report for Creekside Kennel in Ohio described “A Female Boston Terrier (#114) had reddened inflamed tissue protruding from the rear end area of the dog. This reddened inflamed tissue was between baseball and softball in size.”

With the removal of this information, APHIS condemns these animals to suffer in the dark. The agency has chosen to protect those who profit from harm to animals over the animals themselves. 

Please speak out against this information blackout by signing this petition urging the USDA to republish animal welfare inspection reports.