USDA Removes Animal Welfare Data From Public Website

Due to privacy concerns, the US Department of Agriculture will no longer make animal welfare inspection reports and enforcement records public.

Feb 7, 2017
Joshua A. Krisch

WIKIMEDIA, APHIS

Update (February 14): Yesterday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and others jointly filed a lawsuit against the USDA, arguing that the agency violated the Freedom of Information Act. The complaint asks the judge to order USDA to reinstate electronic access to all the records.

“The government should not be in the business of hiding animal abusers and lawbreakers from public scrutiny,” Delcianna Winders, a co-plaintiff and Academic Fellow of the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Program, said in a statement sent to ScienceInsider.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s decision to remove all animal welfare data from its website has sparked controversy among animal activists, Nature reported. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced the decision on Friday (February 3), citing the agency’s “commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals.”

Animal welfare groups were quick to retort. “Claiming ‘privacy’ is a smokescreen to unjustifably evade critical transparency about government operations,” Justin Goodman of the animal advocacy group White Coat Waste Project told Nature.

On Monday (February 6), activists at the Humane Society of the United States criticized the move and promised to challenge it. “This outrageous action undermines longstanding consensus about public access to information concerning these laws, and frustrates state, local, and industry efforts to help enforce them,” Humane Society Chief Executive Officer Wayne Pacelle said in a statement sent to reporters.