On February 3, in an attempt to keep the public in the dark about companies or people who’ve violated animal-welfare laws or hurt animals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suddenly removed from its website all inspection reports and most information about laboratories, circuses, roadside zoos, breeders, and other facilities that confine animals and use them for profit.
But PETA acted quickly and teamed up with other leading animal-protection groups, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and a Harvard Animal Law & Policy Fellow to file a lawsuit earlier this week to push the USDA to return to its website all animal welfare records. Our lawsuit argues that such records are required to be publicly available and that the government should not be shielding animal abusers.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires agencies to post frequently requested records on their websites. The USDA itself has acknowledged that inspection reports were the most requested records before they were made available online years ago.
These inspection reports, research facility reports, and other records are essential for animal-protection groups like PETA to work to expose cruelty to animals and to monitor the USDA’s enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Their removal also jeopardizes state and local laws that prohibit the sale of dogs by businesses with AWA violations and keeps the public in the dark about such places.
According to the USDA, people can still get information about animal-welfare violations by submitting an FOIA request—however, that process is complicated and it can take as long as 836 days (i.e., more than two years) to process a “simple” FOIA request and up to 157 days for an expedited one. That’s not good enough!
We’ll keep you updated on what happens. It’s more important than ever to stay away from any industry or outfit that uses animals for profit, such as roadside zoos, aquariums, circuses, and breeders.