On August 18, more than six months after its massive data purge, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a “refined” Internet database of animal facility inspection reports. The diminished database and search tool, launched with no warning or input from animal welfare stakeholders, is essentially useless and the ASPCA denounces it as a massive step backward in the protection of our nation’s animals.
The database’s reports hide critical identifying information, including breeder names, addresses and federal license numbers. The USDA also announced that the agency no longer plans to post enforcement actions online, meaning the public will not know whether the USDA has pursued action against breeders violating the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). With these deliberate omissions making it impossible for local governments and advocacy groups like the ASPCA to monitor puppy mills, the USDA continues to endanger the lives of dogs who suffer in commercial 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,” says Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President & CEO.
While the USDA insists that animal welfare inspection records are still obtainable through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, this is disingenuous—the ASPCA has obtained reports using this method only to find that they, too, are heavily redacted, allowing animal abusers to operate without accountability. Neither the online database nor the FOIA process have any value whatsoever for discovering which breeders have AWA violations. Why are they hiding so much information on commercial breeders who are obtaining public licenses to operate? What are they really trying to keep from public eyes?
In their complete, unaltered states, USDA inspection reports and enforcement documentation provide critical information about the commercial dog breeding industry and about how competently the agency is enforcing the AWA. The formerly available reports were valuable tools for educating the public on the inhumane conditions commonly found at USDA-licensed breeders. They were also vitally important assets for passing and enforcing laws that protect breeding dogs.
“Public access to these records is especially important given the USDA’s shamefully weak enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act,” adds Bershadker. “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.”
Please join the fight to end puppy mills by joining the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade.