USDA reposts some animal welfare records after outcry

USDA reposts some animal welfare records after outcry
© Getty Images

The Department of Agriculture on Friday reposted some of the animal welfare records it had removed from its website, after outcry from animal rights groups when the material was taken down.

The documents that were removed earlier this month included records of animal welfare violations at zoos, commercial breeders and research labs.

USDA claimed it removed the records as part of a comprehensive review to balance the need for transparency with rules that protect individual privacy.

In a statement Friday, the agency said it reposted the first batch of annual reports of research institutions and inspection reports for certain federal research facilities.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The reports posted are part of a comprehensive review of the documents the agency removed from its website in early February and are in the same redacted form as before,” the statement read.

“As announced on Feb. 7, 2017, the agency will continue to review records and determine which information is appropriate for reposting.”

PETA and five other animal rights advocates and groups filed a lawsuit earlier this week claiming USDA violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in removing the records. The law requires federal agencies to provide certain records to the public as a whole and disclose any other records to individuals in response to FOIA requests

The groups argues that the records are needed to keep the public informed about the agency’s implementation and enforcement — or lack thereof — for the 1966 Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

The Humane Society of the United States called the USDA action on Friday a step in the right direction, but noted that years of material are still missing from the website.

“This is an important turnaround and a good start, but the USDA has a lot more to do here,” Wayne Pacelle, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

“Lawmakers, the press, animal advocates, and even the regulated community want transparency and accessible records.”

Rep. Vern Buchanan Vern (R-Fla.), co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, said the partial restoration of the website was “not good enough.”
 
“There’s no reason to hold back this vital information,” he said in a statement. “This website protects animals and the database should be fully restored. At the end of the day, putting a few documents back online is not good enough.”

Buchanan, along with 100 other members of Congress, sent a letter to President Trump on Tuesday asking for the database to be restored immediately.