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The U.S. Department of Agriculture unexpectedly removed inspection reports and other information that had previously been available to the general public, sparking conversation that President Trump’s nominee selections for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture may not have the best interest of animals at heart.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture stunned animal welfare groups recently by removing information about the treatment of animals at research laboratories, dog breeding and other facilities and zoos from its databases. Citing privacy laws and court rulings for the decision, the department now says all information, which also includes records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act will still be available, but only accessible under requests of the Freedom of Information Act. Those requests are known to take years to be approved, so in essence, the department has now buried years and years of documentation pivotal to the protection of animals in red tape.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.


















The records not only contained information that was used to monitor treatment of animals across the country, but also to expose violations, and investigate dog breeders and pet stores. There are seven states that currently require pet stores to only sell puppies who come from breeders cleared by the USDA Inspection reports, but without access to that information, following the law will be much more difficult.


Animal welfare groups are outraged, fearing that this action will allow the horrors of puppy mills and abusive zoos and labs to be hidden, and animal abuse will now essentially go unchecked. And so, when the information seems so imperative to the health and well-being of animals, the motivation of the department is now in question.

Not surprisingly, President Trump’s nominee options for people to lead the Department of Agriculture come to the forefront of intent. In December of 2016, Trump’s choice was Brian Klippenstein–who has a reputation for being a defender of puppy mills and cites the abuse of circus animals as ‘traditions,’ with which he sees nothing wrong.

Trump followed the possibility of Klippenstein with U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a more moderate possibility, but one who also took herself out of the running for the position mid-January 2017.

















Currently, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is the President’s nominee for the position. Perdue has no relationship to Perdue Chicken, and we are cautiously optimistic as he worked as a veterinarian for many years before coming a small business owner and then moving into the political arena. Of Perdue, President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has publicly applauded Perdue’s commitment to animal welfare when governor of Georgia. Perdue worked to make dog fighting a felony and to outlaw the use of gas chambers by animal shelters, but still, watchdog groups are waiting to fully weigh in on his appointment. The Puppy Mill Project has gone so far as to claim Perdue views dogs as livestock, though we find no evidence to support that as his belief, and in fact, we have to admit goes contrary to his behavior as governor where he’d visit spay and neuter clinics to volunteer in a veterinary capacity.

The correlation between the nominees for the lead position of the USDA and the purging and moving of records remains unclear. As Perdue hasn’t been appointed yet, it is doubtful that he is spearheading the move, though that the steps have been taken to make it difficult to protect animals concerns us and is worth closely watching.

~Petguide.com
 

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Thank you for this. In my state, pet stores selling puppies are required to post in plain view the name and address of the breeder as well as the last 2 years (if I remember correctly) of USDA inspection reports. A few years ago, I visited the two puppy stores near me and found one did not have the names and addresses posted (this was before inspection reports were required). I used the APHIS database on the USDA website to look up more information on where these puppies came from. If that database is gone, that is a huge blow to consumers and advocates to learn about where these dogs come from and how large the facilities are. Many of the puppies in stores near me were from places with hundreds of adult dogs, and many came through Hunte. This information needs to be public!
 

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So, I like to go to the source for information. Here is the statement on the USDA APHIS website:

Today, March 3, 2017, APHIS is posting the inspection reports for certain exhibitors and dealers (breeders and brokers) the Agency regulates under the Animal Welfare Act. The reports posted here 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. APHIS expects it may be several weeks before it will be prepared to issue its next update.

To conduct the review, the entire agency search tool database was taken off line. As announced on Feb. 7, 2017, the agency will continue to review records and determine which information is appropriate for reposting.

APHIS is committed to ensuring the welfare of animals and continues to carry out the critical day-to-day work of ensuring the humane treatment of vulnerable animals through unannounced inspections, pre-compliance visits, horse protection inspections, and other activities.

The reposted information can be found on our website, here. 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.

Today, February 24, 2017, APHIS is posting the inspection reports for registrants (including certain research facilities, and intermediate handlers and carriers that move animals) the Agency regulates under the Animal Welfare Act. 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.

On Feb. 17, 2017, APHIS posted the first batch of annual reports of research institutions and inspection reports for certain Federal research facilities that the Agency regulates under the Animal Welfare Act. 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 reposted information can be found on our website, here. As announced on Feb. 7, 2017, the agency will continue to review records and determine which information is appropriate for reposting.

Editor’s Note (Revised Feb. 7, 2017) The review of APHIS’ website has been ongoing, and the agency is striving to balance the need for transparency with rules protecting individual privacy. In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.

Courts are continuously issuing decisions that provide agencies with guidance on interpreting and applying laws applicable to the release of information to the public by the Federal government, including the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice maintains comprehensive guidance involving the Privacy Act, Freedom of Information Act, and other laws, and updates such guidance based on legal developments. APHIS, with the support from the Office of the General Counsel, continuously monitors these sources of information and makes refinements to APHIS’ practices, as needed.

Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that contain personal information. These documents include inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence (such as official warnings), lists of regulated entities, and enforcement records (such as pre-litigation settlement agreements and administrative complaints) that have not received final adjudication. In addition, APHIS will 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 to ensure personal information is not released to the general public.

Those seeking information from APHIS regarding inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence, and enforcement records should submit Freedom of Information Act 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 Freedom of Information Act process, 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) are available on the USDA’s Office of Administrative Law Judge’s website (https://www.oaljdecisions.dm.usda.gov).

For more information on preparing and submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, please visit https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/palMain.aspx.
 

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Some reports have been posted here: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/sa_awa/AWA-Inspection-and-Annual-Reports

Choosing a type of licensee and state gets you a PDF of all the reports in that category they have decided to post. The PDF is searchable using the CTRL+F keyboard shortcut. This is a far cry from the previous database that allowed a very detailed search of the entire database, allowing the user to find the information they were looking for quickly and easily. These PDFs make it much harder to find the information, and there is no guarantee that the information someone needs is even there!
 
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