By Casey Wooten
The USDA is walking back, somewhat, its scrub of animal welfare records from the department’s website.
In a Feb. 17 announcement, the Agriculture Department said it would post annual animal welfare reports for research institutions and certain federal facilities that the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regulates.
Those documents comprise part of the animal welfare data removed from the department’s website Feb. 3. The decision marks a small reversal for the USDA following protests among animal groups and some lawmakers. Several groups say the restoration doesn’t go far enough.
“The animal research facilities constitute just one-seventh of the regulated facilities and nearly all of their inspection reports haven’t been made available,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said. “We need the existing reports for all facilities and all players in every field covered under federal law, and a commitment to post new reports as they are completed by USDA personnel after inspections occur.”
The USDA said Feb. 3 that it would remove from its website animal welfare inspection reports, research facility reports and enforcement records that had not been fully adjudicated, making those documents available only through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The department cited privacy concerns as well as ongoing litigation for the decision.
The USDA also said the changes were planned before the Trump administration took office.
Animal rights groups, which use the data in campaigns against animal laboratory testing, puppy mills, traveling animal shows and other businesses, protested the move, saying that it limited transparency at the USDA.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and several other groups filed a lawsuit against the USDA over the data scrub, saying that it violated a FOIA requirement that it post regularly requested information online.
But the latest move by the USDA is likely related to the Humane Society’s 2009 settlement with the department over access to information about animal use in research labs. The agreement mandated that the USDA post information regarding animal welfare in laboratories on its website.
After the USDA’s Feb. 3 announcement about the data scrub, the Humane Society said it had violated the agreement and threatened legal action.
In its Feb. 17 announcement on reposting the laboratory inspection data, the USDA said the agency was conducting a comprehensive review of documents made public on its website, which necessitated taking the documents offline.
The department also took pressure from Capitol Hill after it removed the online records.
The bipartisan Animal Protection Caucus, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), sent a Feb. 14 letter to President Donald Trump calling on his administration to restore the documents.
A group of 18 Senate Democrats sent a similar letter to the USDA on Feb. 13.
Buchanan said the USDA’s decision to restore some of the documents was “insufficient.”
“There’s no reason to hold back this vital information,” Buchanan said in a Feb. 17 statement. “This website protects animals and the database should be fully restored. At the end of the day, putting a few documents back online is not good enough.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)