USDA moves to permanently hide animal welfare records on puppy mills, walking horse shows and other regulated businesses
By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to permanently conceal crucial animal welfare records, including inspection reports and enforcement records of puppy mills and horse shows where Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds are vulnerable to the heinous practice of soring.
Last month, the agency posted a notice in the Federal Register announcing a regulatory change and cited privacy as the reason for concealing the records. But that excuse doesn’t hold water, since the records pertain to commercial businesses that sell or use animals, not to individuals who keep animals for their own private use.
The proposal would further solidify the obfuscation that began when the administration purged all Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA) records from the USDA website, just a few weeks after President Trump took office in 2017. This is a change we’ve been fighting in the courts and in Congress, with some success, because it is a blatant attempt to keep Americans in the dark about how a taxpayer-funded agency is enforcing animal welfare laws. Worse, the absence of public scrutiny could provide AWA and HPA violators with a cover to continue with their substandard and frequently abusive animal welfare practices, even after they have been cited for such mistreatment.
USDA oversight of businesses that use animals is already at a record low. We have been reporting on a disturbing drop in enforcement of the AWA and HPA, and in August, the Washington Post revealed the lengths the administration is going to in order to prevent USDA inspectors from documenting and reporting violations of these important animal welfare laws.
Now, with this attempt to permanently black out certain records from public access, the administration is showing us just how far it will go to put industry interests over the most basic animal welfare needs and transparency. The regulation change, if finalized, would also make it impossible for the public to learn, for example, about puppy mills where there are recent serious disease outbreaks that can affect animal and human health. These puppies are often transported across the country, bringing with them very contagious illnesses.
This is a very real concern — just yesterday, we released our eighth investigation into a Petland store, this one in Florence, Kentucky. Our investigations into this chain, notorious for sourcing animals from puppy mills, have repeatedly revealed that the animals at its stores suffer from untreated contagious health problems, such as campylobacter, which can be – and often is – passed on to humans.
In the past, whenever there’s been a proposal like this, we’ve called on you to submit your comments on the regulations.gov website, and you’ve always responded by the tens of thousands to help animals. We need your help this time too: public comment on the proposal closes on Dec. 26, and we need you to speak up immediately and let the USDA know that you do not approve of this regulatory change that blocks public access to key animal welfare records. Please also share this blog with your friends and encourage them to comment as well.
Your help could make all the difference in stopping our government from moving forward with this dangerous regulation. Let’s work together to make sure that the agency charged with the mandate of protecting our most vulnerable animals does not provide a cover to some of the very businesses that mistreat them.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
Editor’s note: The deadline for comments has been updated to Dec. 26th.