USDA Finally Restores Some Of Their Animal Welfare Database But Critical Information Is Still Missing
Nearly seven months after abruptly removing critical records from its website, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced on Friday the launch of its “refined” public search tool that provides access to compliance records for the Animal Welfare Act.
Despite the department trying to make it sound like a positive move forward, animal welfare organizations were quick to point out the abridged database and search tool’s flaws; the most severe being that it is still void of details which had been publicly accessible for more than a decade. Critical identifying information such as breeder names, addresses, and federal license numbers are glaringly missing.
As noted by the ASPCA, these deliberate omissions make the tool essentially useless in efforts to monitor puppy mills and advocate for increased protections for dogs who languish in substandard breeding facilities.
“Animal advocates, consumers, and government officials have relied on the USDA’s database to track enforcement against commercial breeders, many of whom raise dogs in deplorable conditions. This revision fails to protect vulnerable animals from suffering and cruelty, which is a prime responsibility of the USDA. Instead, it continues to protect animal industries looking to hide their practices from public scrutiny,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President, and CEO. “Public access to these records is especially important given the USDA’s shamefully weak enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act.”
According to the statement by the department, refinements to the ACIS search tool remain ongoing.
“As part of our comprehensive website review, APHIS is continuing to review animal inventories that accompany inspection reports for accuracy. For this reason, the newly posted inspection reports do not include animal inventories, but APHIS intends to make this information available in the future.”
The USDA also announced that the agency no longer plans on posting enforcement actions online, meaning the USDA cannot be held accountable for its investigative and enforcement responsibilities.
This, combined with the removal of information identifying the majority of breeders means that the public will no longer know whether the USDA has pursued penalties against a breeder violating the AWA, which was passed 51 years ago this week to ensure animals in commercial facilities are protected.
“We urge the USDA to immediately restore full access to this critical animal welfare inspection and enforcement information and stand by its responsibility to act in the best interest of the animals it’s obligated to safeguard,” continued Bershadker.
While the USDA insists that animal welfare inspection records are still obtainable through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the ASPCA’s recent records requests reveal that the USDA has begun suppressing critical information via FOIA.
Documents received are heavily redacted, allowing animal abusers to operate without accountability.
According to the ASPCA, the backlog of FOIA requests has jumped from 636 requests in January, to 1,138 requests currently, resulting in a long wait time.
USDA please restore all animal welfare records.