How the USDA’s New Privacy Policy Undermines Animal Welfare

Citing privacy concerns, the USDA has scrubbed welfare reports and animal abuse data from its website.

With the USDA’s new privacy policy, puppy mill operators have little incentive to cease. By: Nikita Kravchuk

Petful does a great job keeping us up to date on animal welfare issues.

In the last month, animal welfare has suffered an enormous setback — and everyone should be aware of it. Animal welfare reports and animal abuse data have been obliterated from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website.

Let’s unpack what this means.

The Way It Used to Be

Before February 2017, a person could find out if animal laboratories, puppy mills, horse farms, animal transporters, breeders, small circuses and other animal enterprises were abusing animals, not passing USDA inspections or creating unnecessary or unethical pain.

For example, you could look up certain puppy mills and find out if the operation was breeding dogs until they died or keeping moms and puppies in stench-filled hovels.

Now, no one will have access to this and other important animal welfare information anymore. More importantly, animal welfare activists and watchdog organizations (no pun intended) won’t be able to ascertain this information either.

How It Is Now

In order to access USDA information regarding inspection reports at about 9,000 animal facilities, an individual or organization will now have to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act. These requests can take years.

The obliteration of these records not only means the information cannot be checked by a concerned individual — it also means the people and employees running these facilities have very little incentive to obey regulations.

Even when the USDA information was available, many animals at these facilities were suffering because guidelines were being broken by researchers, animal handlers and inhumane puppy mill operators. Now that they will have even less incentive to take proper care of the dogs, cats and kittens, rabbits, horses, monkeys and other animals in their care, the result does not look good for improving the welfare of these poor animals.

The Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act may exist, but they aren’t necessarily enforced.

The welfare of cats, horses and other animals are also undercut by this new policy. By: Max and Dee Bernt

The Humane Society’s Response

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) said, “This action benefits no one except facilities who have harmed animals and don’t want anyone to know.” HSUS is threatening to pursue legal action if the USDA does not reverse this bad decision.

Why would the government block public access to information regarding animal welfare? HSUS says, “the posting of these documents has been an invaluable tool in rooting out some of the worst abuses that are occurring. Essentially, this is now going to give a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card to horse soring, puppy mills, delinquent roadside zoos and animal research labs that are flouting the law.”

My Experience With a Laboratory Dog

The first dog I ever adopted on my own came from the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School. Elvis, the walker hound, was thin and already de-barked when he became a part of our family.

A sweet laboratory assistant took tender loving care of these laboratory dogs at Penn. When I asked him where Elvis came from, he said, “An animal transporter, I guess.” An animal transporter obtains animals from shelters and pounds and sells them for research. Elvis was lucky enough to end up in a “no-kill” laboratory and finally in a loving home.

But who de-barked him, and why? Why was he in poor health when he arrived at the university? He seemed to have been somebody’s pet at a happier time in his life.

The trafficking of animals, the animal research complex and all other for-profit animal industries need all the regulation possible to ensure that the simplest of guidelines set forth under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act are followed.

With the new lack of transparency at the USDA, I fear the worst.

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Editor’s Note: On Feb. 7, 2017, the USDA reposted a portion of the data it originally removed from its APHIS website due to the new privacy policy.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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