Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) removed all reports from its website that contained information about the way places like laboratories and puppy mills treat their animals. It is not okay for the USDA to take these reports off of their site without giving the public a fast and free alternative to access the information. The reports were about facilities that operate under the federal regulations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act (HPA). As far as I can tell, there is no other way for the public to access this information other than by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act, an act which allows citizens to request government documents that were not otherwise released to the public. These requests could and often do take months or even years to be approved.
Someone needs to be looking out for the rights of animals in these facilities, and these reports allowed for groups to do that. While the USDA did not necessarily have to do anything with the information in the reports, it allowed for other interest groups to hold facilities accountable for poor treatment of their animals. The reports were open to the public and let people know what facilities were testing on animals like dogs, primates and other animals.
These reports allow for groups to reach out to laboratories to tell them that once they are done using an animal for testing, the groups would adopt the animals. Often times, once the facilities have no use for the animals anymore they are euthanized. These reports told people what labs were testing on what kinds of animals and they were able to arrange with the labs for the proper treatment of the animals.
The reports also showed when places like puppy mills were treating their animals inhumanely by keeping dogs in crates that were too small for them to do things like turn around comfortably. Now that the reports are not accessible, people will not know there is a problem at a facility until it’s too late for many animals.
There also seems to be no reason for the sudden disappearance of the reports on the site. A statement put out by the USDA said, “We remain equally committed to being transparent and responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals with whom we come in contact.” By taking the reports down, however, the USDA is being anything but transparent. The USDA is solely protecting the “privacy rights of individuals with whom [they] come in contact,” which could be dangerous for many animals.
If the USDA were really looking out for all stakeholders, it would omit personal information about people who work in the facilities but still release the reports. It’s wrong to turn a blind eye to these animals. They need to be looked out for. It is not acceptable to allow animals to be mistreated and to know about it but not tell anyone else.
I don’t see any reason to even take the reports off in the first place. The USDA will still be receiving the reports. Putting the reports up on the site should not be an issue, in fact, it’s basically just scanning a piece of paper into a computer and uploading it to a webpage. It’s not challenging in any way and any person with a scanner can do it. In fact, you can do it with most smartphones, so it should not be a problem for the USDA to get the reports out to the public.
The USDA did not take the reports off of the site in the interest of all stakeholders. The only reason these reports would not be accessible is for the benefit of people who are abusing the animals. That is wrong. The only reason these reports are made is if animals are being treated inhumanely. The USDA is sentencing animals to death and allowing them to be tortured by keeping the information in these reports from the public.
Alyssa Salerno can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org