‘Two weeks into the Trump Administration, thousands of documents detailing animal welfare violations nationwide have been removed from the website of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been posting them publicly for decades. These are the inspection records and annual reports for every commercial animal facility in the U.S.—including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.
These records have revealed many cases of abuse and mistreatment of animals, incidents that, if the reports had not been publicly posted, would likely have remained hidden. This action plunges journalists, animal welfare organizations, and the public at large into the dark about animal welfare at facilities across the country. The records document violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the federal law that regulates treatment of animals used for research and exhibition.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which has maintained the online database, cites privacy concerns as justification for the removal. Critics question that reasoning. The agency has long redacted sensitive information from these records, and commercial facilities do not necessarily have the same right to privacy as private individuals…
Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, an animal advocacy nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., is “shocked” by the purge. He says the documents shed light on cruelty in “substandard roadside zoos, shameful animal circuses, puppy breeding factories and more.” Often, the animals in these facilities may have visible wounds or cramped conditions or no access to water, according to Roberts. He says “the government’s decision to make it harder to access this information further protects animal exploiters in the shroud of secrecy on which their nefarious activities thrive.”
From now on the documents will be accessible only via official requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA requests can take months to process. That’s far too long, Roberts says. When Born Free receives welfare complaints from concerned citizens, he says the organization has always checked USDA records to see if any complaints had already been made involving the facility or animal in question. Waiting months for a FOIA report for information that previously could be obtained with the click of a button “may mean prolonged suffering for an animal in need,” Roberts says.
The impact on journalism—and therefore the public’s awareness of animal suffering—may also be significant. “Long delays in processing federal FOIA requests already hinder the public and journalists in obtaining information that’s essential to ensuring that government is truly working for the people,” says Doug Haddix, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, based in Columbia, Missouri. The added burden of animal requests could slow FOIAs down even more…’
Source: National Geographic