April 8, 2019

Ghosted by the U.S. Government: ASPCA Files Second Lawsuit Against USDA

Puppies in cage

Today, the ASPCA filed a second federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its failure to provide critical animal welfare records as required by law, thereby recklessly endangering the welfare of the animals it is entrusted to protect.

In 2017, the USDA deleted thousands of animal welfare records from its publicly accessible website. The agency told an outraged public that information would still be available via formal request. But that meant records that had previously been accessible in seconds—including basic information regarding the compliance of licensed commercial puppy-breeders with basic animal welfare standards—would now take months to receive. 

When responses to the ASPCA’s requests did start to trickle in, they looked nothing like the documents that had been previously accessible; they were almost completely blacked out, making them essentially useless. The USDA’s actions implied a belief that protecting the cruel puppy-breeding industry outweighed the public’s right to information.

The ASPCA took the USDA to court over the “blackout,” and while we’ve been fighting for a ruling to compel the agency to release additional information, we have also persisted in making public records requests. But increasingly, instead of continuing to send blacked out documents, the USDA has simply stopped responding. It has acknowledged—but otherwise ignored—nearly 40 records requests made by the ASPCA from early 2016 to late 2018. Despite the agency’s claim that the public can still obtain records via individual request, its failure to respond proves that, in practice, this is not the case.

The USDA is ignoring its obligation under the law to provide the ASPCA and the public with animal welfare records that are critical to our efforts to prevent animal suffering. Its inaction has made it impossible for the public to know what taxpayer-funded inspections find at these facilities, and what enforcement actions the agency takes—or more likely, does not take—when it uncovers a violation.

Why is the USDA protecting cruel breeders over the animals and consumers it is entrusted to protect? Please sign our petition demanding the agency give back full, public access to this lifesaving information.