More activists & animal charities sue
WASHINGTON D.C.––The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service on February 17, 2017 reposted some of the inspection reports on animal research facilities that it deleted from the USDA-APHIS web site two weeks earlier, on February 3, 2014, but not enough to quell protest or forestall lawsuits against the alleged censorship.
“The agency said more reports could be added as it continues a review of what types of information it puts online,” summarized Associated Press reporter David Klepper. “The reposted documents include annual reports of animal research institutions and inspection reports for certain federal research labs. Still missing from the database,” Klepper noted, “are inspection reports for other facilities, such as dog and horse breeding centers and zoos. All told, the agency inspects about 9,000 facilities annually.”
USDA-APHIS omitted unrelieved pain data
Fumed Stop Animal Exploitation Now cofounder Michael Budkie, whose work for the past 25 years has centered on reviewing the USDA-APHIS data bases, “The USDA has omitted two-thirds of what they used to post,” including “the most controversial and most crucial parts of the reports. These documents are mainly a smokescreen, designed to placate the public, while still protecting animal abusers,” Budkie told ANIMALS 24-7.
“The released lab reports are incomplete, leaving out some of the most damaging information. Annual reports should contain explanations of experiments involving unrelieved pain and standard care exceptions. These documents have been removed from these records,” Budkie explained.
“Some of the files for the annual reports do contain the unrelieved pain and deviations of standard care info,” Budkie acknowledged. “But it is not continuous with the report from the lab itself. Allow me to explain, regarding UC Davis 2014 report,” as a quick example. “The actual report for the lab with the animal use stats is at page 92 of the 223 page file for California. The associated documents for the UC Davis report begin at page 189 (column E and exceptions to standard care).
“To most people,” Budkie pointed out, “there is nothing on there that identifies the report as being connected with U.C. Davis. It doesn’t say U.C. Davis on it. The only thing that would connect the two is that they have the registration number at the top of the associated info. However, most people would not know to look for that. So, effectively, it would still be hidden from the public.”
“The USDA has a lot more to do here”
“Under duress,” PETA Foundation director of captive animal law enforcement Brittany Peet told media, “the USDA is now attempting to get away with reposting only a tiny fraction of the animal welfare records it suddenly and indefensibly deleted from its website two weeks ago.”
Blogged Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “This is an important turnaround and a good start, but the USDA has a lot more to do here. The agency must pursue a policy of full restoration.”
“Lawmakers, the press, animal advocates, and even the regulated community want transparency and accessible records,” wrote Pacelle. “Even the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Petland, and the biomedical research advocacy organization Research Speaks! objected. It seems the only people happy about the move are people [who have been] cited for soring horses and operating delinquent puppy mills.”
“Ridiculous overreaction” says USA Today
Assessed the USA Today editorial board on February 15, “Purging the site is a ridiculous overreaction to litigation,” mentioned in passing in a USDA-APHIS statement that was posted in place of the deleted information.
“While the agency has not specified what the litigation is,” the USA Today editorial board noted, “a Texas couple who raise Tennessee walking horses and were cited for violations of the Horse Protection Act sued the department a year ago,” in 2016, “charging that their due process rights were violated by enforcement procedures and the publication of their names without any sort of hearing.
“By that logic,” the USA Today editorial board continued, “police and the FBI would violate the rights of every person arrested, but not yet tried, by releasing their names to the public. And the Food and Drug Administration would violate the rights of every regulated business that receives ‘warning letters,’ which the FDA publicly posts after inspections. The public would be left in the dark.
“Public deserves access”
“The public deserves access to information gathered at government expense under the Animal Welfare and Horse Protection laws,” the USA Today editorial board concluded. “Most of all, innocent creatures deserve public oversight to assure that they are treated humanely.”
Not waiting for litigation to win restoration of the deleted USDA-APHIS data, Arizona information access advocate Russ Kick reposted as much of the information as he could gather at http://thememoryhole2.org/blog/aphis.
Explained Kick, “APHIS reposted a microscopically small number of documents. Media headlines proclaimed that the APHIS database is returning! In the understatement of the decade, articles mentioned that not everything had been reposted, but nothing I read detailed the ridiculously tiny number of documents that were in this so-called ‘first batch,’ so I’ll break it down.
Inspection reports reposted for only 8 labs
“APHIS reposted,” according to Kick’s count, “inspection reports for eight facilities, literally not even 0.1%. And those eight facilities are all run by the federal government, including the USDA itself. No privately owned facilities are covered.”
APHIS also reposted “Three years of annual reports (2013-2015) filed by laboratories that experiment on animals. That’s it,” Kick said. The reposted data included absolutely no notices of violations, enforcement actions, etc.,” and “absolutely no documents concerning breeders, kennels, zoos, aquariums, etc.
“The fact that any documents have been reposted is great news, of course,” Kick acknowledged. “APHIS has taken the tiniest little baby step in the right direction. But I’ll continue to post more missing documents. If and when the full database comes back online,” Kick pledged, “I’ll scrape and mirror the entire thing on an ongoing basis.”
Kick was prepared
“Kick, a 47-year-old writer and anthologist, said he immediately sprang into action,” reported Melissa Chan for TIME Online, “when the USDA-APHIS data disappeared.
“Months before the Agriculture Department decided to no longer give the public access to its inspection reports and records of violations and enforcement, Kick said he had an inkling that information would soon disappear,” Chan wrote. “His hunch led him to save nine years’ worth of data” from APHIS.
“We have the right to know what’s going on,” Kick told Chan. “The more we know about what’s going on, the better.”
Kick has previously re-published information deleted from official web sites by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency,” wrote Chan. “His only goal, he said, is to increase transparency and make important government documents more easily available.”
Recounted Kick, “I quickly reposted the nine years of annual reports. Then Delcianna Winders – an Academic Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program – sent me a ton of missing documents. After Motherboard, Politico, and Rachel Maddow spotlighted my efforts, more documents and leads came in.”
Winders, previously deputy general counsel for the PETA Foundation, after a stint representing Farm Sanctuary, is also listed an individual co-plaintiff in a lawsuit filed on February 14, 2017 by the Los Angeles-based Beagle Freedom Project, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Born Free USA, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the Massachusetts SPCA.
The lawsuit “challenges USDA-APHIS to restore the online database of records related to puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling animal shows, and other enterprises that use and exploit helpless animals,” a Beagle Freedom Project media release said.
This lawsuit came a week after the Humane Society of the U.S. on February 6, 2017 separately notified the U.S. Department Justice of intent to sue seeking restoration of the deleted USDA-APHIS data.