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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Urgent alert: Help us stop the USDA's latest attempt to protect puppy millers, horse sorers

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Recently, in a shocking move, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its plans to continue to conceal crucial animal welfare records from public view, including inspection reports and enforcement records of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and horse shows where Tennessee walking horses and related breeds are vulnerable to soring. This is a blatant attempt to keep Americans in the dark about how a taxpayer-funded agency is enforcing animal welfare laws, and we urgently need your help to stop it.

Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

With this proposal, published at the end of October in the Federal Register, the USDA is trying to completely normalize its purge in January 2017 of substantive Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act records from its website. It’s a disservice to the American public and an action meant to let regulated industries and interests carry on without oversight or accountability.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund have been fighting a hot war against this lack of transparency within our federal agencies for the last several years because we believe that there ought to be an unambiguous standard when it comes to our government’s commitment to animal welfare. This is one of the most important fights of this kind--to preserve the American public’s right to know how enterprises that keep or use animals are treating them--for many reasons. For instance, recent outbreaks of diseases such as drug-resistant campylobacter infections and brucellosis have been linked to USDA-licensed puppy mills, and the public has a right to know what, if anything, the agency is doing to make sure that animals are cared for in clean and healthy environments.

The institutions, industries and operations now regulated by the USDA are commercial entities that sell or use animals, not individuals who keep animals for their own private companionship. Over the years, access to the USDA's inspection and enforcement records has made it possible for us and others to track the rigor of the government’s efforts to regulate such stakeholders, and in some cases, to use that information to advance or to publicize compelling animal welfare concerns. Were this misconceived proposal to go into effect, our government would give puppy millers, horse sorers, laboratory managers, roadside zoo operators and other entities a free hand to conduct their affairs with no fear of public scrutiny.

We cannot let this happen. So far, more than 5,000 people have commented on this regulatory change, almost all in opposition to it. But in order to win this fight, we need more people to weigh in before the Dec. 26 deadline. Please leave your comment at this link, and let the USDA know quickly that you do not approve of this regulatory change that blocks public online access to key animal welfare records. The American people needs full searchable access to this data to ensure government transparency and proper enforcement of the AWA and HPA—laws that are intended to protect animals and the public.

Please use or personalize this message:

I am writing to oppose the USDA’s decision to further hide crucial Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA) records from the public. USDA should reinstate its public, searchable database for all AWA and HPA inspection reports and enforcement records including warning letters, administrative complaints, stipulations, settlement agreements and court orders, consistent with USDA’s practice of many years prior to 2017.

Full access to this data is crucial to ensure government transparency and proper enforcement of the AWA and HPA, laws which are intended to protect animals and the public. The parties regulated under these laws are not private individuals, but commercial entities acting as businesses, so the personal privacy concerns cited by USDA when removing the records from its site are invalid.

Moreover, the public has a vital interest in the information. Inspection and enforcement records allow, for example, a consumer to check if a puppy breeder is complying with the AWA to ensure the animals are being treated adequately and to prevent the spread of disease. Providing consumers access to this information encourages regulated entities to comply with the law. These records are also needed to determine whether USDA is doing its job under the AWA and HPA. Rather than protecting commercial entities by concealing their bad behavior from the public, USDA should focus on the legitimate public interests in government transparency, animal welfare, and public health and safety.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

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