Information used by animal advocates, journalists and researchers related to animal welfare is no longer readily available after a massive purge from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website.
The Animal Welfare Act, signed into law in 1966, sets the minimum standard of care and treatment of most types of animals used in research and exhibition settings, which includes pet breeders, zoos, circuses, and research facilities.
Previously, journalists, researchers, and members of the public could access records related to the HPA and AWA that provide information about investigations and violations. An article from National Geographic explains that this information has been used in the past by journalists to expose repeat violators, including: a roadside zoo that had been the subject of an Animal Planet reality show; Harvard University Medical School’s research lab, where several primates died of dehydration; and Ringling Bros. Circus’s elephant act, where the animals were allegedly abused during training.
On the equine side, information about which trainers or riders have been in violation of the HPA is no longer easily accessible, meaning horse owners won’t have access to that data when choosing a trainer, purchasing a horse, or when selling a horse to a new owner. It may allow repeat violators to continue without scrutiny. Additionally, APHIS has removed the list of Designated Qualified Persons (DQP) who can be employed by horse shows to inspect horses for signs of soring as outlined in the HPA.
So why did the USDA make this change? According to a statement from APHIS, the documents were removed after “a comprehensive review of the information [APHIS] posts on its website for the general public to view” and that the actions were taken “to remove certain personal information from documents it posts on APHIS’ website.” However, multiple sources state that the documents that had previously been available already had personal information redacted.
These documents will still be available to interested parties if they submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which may take months to be processed.
Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com