When animal advocates received a bulletin from the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week claiming that it had restored additional animal welfare inspection data to its website, it was clear that the agency intended to give the impression to lawmakers and others concerned about its massive information take-down that it had remedied the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the agency did has accomplished nothing to address the core concerns at issue.
There’s still no meaningful data on violators of the Horse Protection Act – the federal law that forbids injuring the feet and legs of Tennessee walking horses to cause them to exaggerate their gait to perform the pain-based “big lick” gait (a practice sure to be in evidence at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration this week). Inspection reports for individuals and facilities exhibiting captive wild animals have still not been completely restored. HSUS researchers who pulled up puppy mill inspection reports online using the USDA’s new “refined public search tool” quickly found that, while details on more specific violations are now provided, the vast majority of them are not linked to the names or identities of any of the suspected violators. Most of the puppy mill inspection reports merely list violations, with the details on the licensee’s identity and location blacked out. This makes the information useless. You have to have the name and the violation in order to understand what’s happening at the mills on the ground.
The USDA is still executing its policy based on what it represents as an overriding concern about “privacy” – and not wanting to point the finger at licensees involved in violating our federal animal welfare laws prior to any court proceeding. Consequently, the only records that are now available related to pet breeders on the website are those that are “non-residential business entities,” leaving out the majority of puppy mills that operate from a home address. This includes only a handful of dealers, such as the large puppy brokers that resell to pet stores. And while the USDA has a list of licensed individuals online, there are no inspection reports tied to the names.
This anemic response to criticism of the agency still makes it impossible for the public, animal welfare organizations, or businesses that use and sell animals from regulated facilities to know who the worst animal welfare violators are or whether the USDA is enforcing federal laws as it should. That means a family that wants to buy a puppy without supporting a puppy mill has no way of knowing if the puppy they wish to purchase in a pet store or online came from a facility with a terrible history. Our researchers are still unable to determine which puppy mills and other regulated entities are accumulating the worst violations – information that is vital to reports such as our annual Horrible Hundred report on problem puppy mills. And we are still unable to see the official warning letters and stipulations that indicate which facilities have been put on notice by the USDA regarding inadequate animal care.
Nobody who violates the law has a guarantee of privacy. Court records of individuals who are accused of violating even the most mundane traffic laws are routinely made available on municipal court websites, for example – even before such cases are fully adjudicated. The USDA is applying a standard here that’s not in evidence in any other domain in which people are asked to adhere to the law. Lawmakers, animal protection groups, and other citizens shouldn’t be bamboozled by this feeble attempt to say the data dump issue has been settled or to claim that privacy concerns trump the public’s right to know about inspection activities for a federally funded program.
A bipartisan group of 120 federal lawmakers sent letters in February urging the administration to restore online access to the records. Then, 222 senators and representatives requested appropriations language on this and a House committee directed the USDA to resume posting the records in a searchable database. More than 134,000 citizens have signed a petition urging the same.
The fractured, disconnected information now on the USDA’s Animal Care website is still unusable, and we are no closer to resolving this mess now than we were months ago, when the USDA first yanked its search tool overnight and without any compelling justification. By continuing this practice, the USDA is not only defying Congress, but also the customs and procedures that govern enforcement activity of almost every type in our country.
Yesterday, in the company of three adorable puppies whose mother had endured the misery of a Wolfeboro mansion that doubled as the nation’s most unusual puppy mill, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced his support for comprehensive reforms to strengthen the state’s animal cruelty laws and update its commercial breeder regulations. At the Wolfeboro property, . . .
In our latest maneuver of this type, The HSUS is helping engineer, with some incredible partners, the transport of more than 200 dogs in need from Puerto Rico to the mainland United States. Next week, two planes will depart from Puerto Rico – one set to land in Florida, the other in North Carolina – . . .
As we build momentum for U.S. legislation to ban the trade in dog and cat meat in the United States (H.R. 1406 now has 150 cosponsors in the U.S. House), Humane Society International and its partners on the ground in Asia continue to save dogs and build the case for ending the entire, miserable trade. . . .
This week, British Columbia’s newly formed government, responding to the will of an overwhelming majority of the province’s citizens and following through on its own campaign promise, announced a ban on all trophy hunting of grizzly bears there, starting in November. Under the prior Liberal government, B.C. had become the world’s grizzly-bear-hunting hub, with trophy . . .
The HSUS unites with family farmers and food retailers to drive positive reforms in animal agriculture
Since a dozen or so hoofed mammals and the red jungle fowl were domesticated for use in agriculture starting 10,000 years ago, humanity has put animals ever more squarely at the center of the human experience. By conscripting other species for meat, eggs, labor, and other purposes, ancient civilizations assumed duties and responsibilities to animals, . . .
In 2015, Sodexo—one of the world’s largest food service companies—worked with The HSUS to announce that it would eliminate cage confinement of chickens from its egg supply by switching to 100 percent cage-free eggs. The company was an early mover in an industry-wide shift toward cage-free purchasing practices. But because conventional cage production came to . . .
Farm Bill should ban eating dogs and horses, along with instituting other key animal welfare reforms
Americans shouldn’t butcher dogs or horses, or enable the activity, and then sell the meat for human consumption, and Congress can make that the law of the land as it pieces together the far-flung provisions of the Farm Bill in the coming months. Our thriving agricultural sector is successful enough that we as a nation . . .
Today, the national fast food chain Sonic has announced new policies to bring about better conditions for all the chickens in its supply chain. The Oklahoma-based company serves food to more than three million customers each day at its 3,500 locations, so this announcement will surely reverberate through the poultry sector. Sonic joins the surging . . .
Films have long been inviting us to rethink the way we view animals—a studious spider who weaves words about saving a pig from the dinner plate, a terrified baby elephant yanked from his mother and forced to perform in a circus, a clownfish who journeys far across the ocean to rescue a son swiped from . . .