Sunday, February 5, 2017

Call your congressman: USDA makes it harder to track puppy mills, animal experiments

Feb. 6 UPDATE: The Humane Society of the U.S. says it is taking steps to sue the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for removing the APHIS database from the government website. Please read the full report here. 

Feb. 7 UPDATE: The USDA now says "adjustments may be made in the decision to remove animal welfare inspection reports from the APHIS website, the Associated Press is reporting.

Read the full story from AP here.

Learn more about why this issue is so important below.
I have never been political on this site, and I try very hard not to. 

But if there is one issue we can agree on, it's treating animals well and that was made harder up in Washington.

So now I'm asking that you take a moment to tell your Congressman and Senators that you don't agree with this move to remove USDA inspections and other enforcement information on animal facilities across the country.

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) has the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The agency is responsible for inspections on everything from livestock to commercial animal breeding (including puppy mills) to labs that test with animals.

When groups like Beagle Freedom Project are fighting to get lab beagles released from facilities, they use APHIS to find and track them.

It's also used to track abuse at facilities. And this database used to be public online.

Well, it's not anymore.

This week the USDA took it down.

Here's is what the USDA wrote on its APHIS section:

"APHIS, during the past year, has conducted a comprehensive review of the information it posts on its website for the general public to view.  As a result of the comprehensive review, APHIS has implemented actions to remove certain personal information from documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act.  Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication.  APHIS will also review and redact, as necessary, the lists of licensees and registrants under the AWA, as well as lists of designated qualified persons (DQPs) licensed by USDA-certified horse industry organizations. 
"Those seeking information from APHIS regarding inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, and enforcement records should submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for that information.  Records will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act.  If the same records are frequently requested via the FOIA process, in most instances APHIS may post the appropriately redacted versions to its website.  In addition, some enforcement records (such as initial decision and orders, default decisions, and consent decisions) will continue to be available on the USDA’s Office of Administrative Law Judge’s website."
This is a horrible decision.

First off, I just want to say there's no evidence this decision was made by the Trump administration or whether this was a holdover from the Obama administration (which it could be, judging from the way this is worded).

(Ed. UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that while the recommendation came in 2016, former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack decided not to act on it because of transparency issues. So this was a Trump administration decision.)

I don't care if Jesus Christ himself came down and made the decision, I don't like it.

Puppy mills are monitored by health inspectors, and the USDA tracks abuses and other problems. (ASPCA)
Not all commercial breeding facilities are puppy mills. But puppy mills are investigated through USDA. (ASPCA)
We make lots of so-called private information public. Did you know anyone can go online in many counties and do a property search just using through name?

With payment from the right system, I can get your driver's license photo.

And this is especially true for business, especially businesses that are subject to government regulation.

I don't know, maybe this is just true for Florida. We have a Government in the Sunshine and I believe this is entirely the right thing to have.

We have access to restaurant health inspection records. A company screws up something environmentally, we can get that info easily. A doctor or lawyer has his license suspended, we get the info and we can easily get background too.

Moreover, if any of these agencies are getting subsidies, grants, tax relief or other money from the government, if they are public labs when it comes to animal testing, we should know who they are and what they do and be able to track it.

In fact, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-California, recently released a bill to require MORE information to be released regarding animal testing.

Now in order to get a lot of this information people have to make an FOIA request. That can cost money, it could take a while, and you could be denied.

This makes the job harder for good organizations that are trying to help animals. This is what Beagle Freedom Project said:

If there is private information that shouldn't get out to the public, that's one thing. So take longer to post the reports until redactions are done, but don't not put the reports up and don't make it harder to get them.

I think we need to let Congress know we don't like this.

Please consider politely and forcefully writing or calling your congressman and your Senators.

Don't know who they are or how to reach them? You can find the information for your federal lawmakers on the U.S. House and U.S. Senate websites. You can search by state. All states have two senators who serve statewide.

If you need to figure out who your representative specifically is, you can search by zipcode on the U.S. House website.

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