Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan: Restore Watchdog Website

Feb 14, 2017
Press Release
Database Exposed Animal Cruelty

WASHINGTON — Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) called on the Trump administration today to restore a government website that for more than 10 years has documented animal abuse in research labs, puppy mills and other facilities.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service suddenly and without notice removed the on-line database earlier this month citing “privacy concerns.”

“Secrecy in government is never good,” said Buchanan, the new co-chair of the Animal Protection Caucus in Congress. “Sunshine is always the best disinfectant.”

The website had posted complaints, official warnings, inspection reports and other information related to the USDA’s monitoring of animal welfare for more than a decade.

Buchanan, along with over 100 other members of Congress, sent a letter to Trump requesting that the database be “immediately” restored as an important safeguard to prevent animal cruelty. “The public has a right to know if regulated entities have subjected animals in their care to abuse or otherwise failed to meet basic welfare standards,” the letter said.

Animal welfare advocates noted that information that was available on the database was heavily redacted to ensure that personal information was not released along with reports of animal abuse, according to CNN.

The country’s leading animal protection organizations have blasted the surprising and disappointing move. In addition to watching puppy mills, animal welfare groups and journalists used the information to monitor circuses, zoos and research facilities according to the Washington Post.

The database has been used to expose animal abuse in the past, including instances where bighorn sheep and grizzly bears were given harmful doses of drugs and killed, according to CNN.

Buchanan and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) co-chair the bipartisan Animal Protection Caucus in Congress, a group dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and the humane treatment of animals.

Buchanan received the U.S. Humane Society’s Legislator of the Year award for his record in support of animal welfare legislation during the last Congress.

Text of the letter below.

February 14, 2017

The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump,

We are writing today in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) decision to remove from its website key documents regarding enforcement and oversight of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA), including inspection reports for all regulated entities and annual reports submitted by research laboratories.

We join a broad coalition of organizations – from animal welfare groups to pet store chains, biomedical research groups, and accredited zoos and aquariums – in urging the agency to restore comprehensive online, searchable access to these documents immediately in order to maintain ongoing transparency.

Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act decades ago, and in recent years Congress has provided tens of millions of dollars for enforcement of these laws. USDA annually inspects approximately 9,000 licensed facilities including commercial dog and cat breeding facilities, laboratories, zoos, circuses, airlines, Tennessee walking horse shows, and other operations. The work product of USDA employees executing these enforcement programs – invaluable information about both compliant and non-compliant licensees – is valued by lawmakers; the media; a variety of industries that use animals in commerce, exhibition, and research; the animal welfare community; and the general public. These are two of our nation’s most important and broadly supported animal welfare programs.

The public has a right to know if regulated entities have subjected animals in their care to abuse or otherwise failed to meet basic welfare standards. Public access to information can guide consumer decision-making and plays an important role in deterring regulated entities from violating the law. Public release of inspection reports and laboratory annual reports increases pressure on entities to abide by the rules.

Access to these records has enabled the public to learn about many animal-care violations including by puppy mills, roadside zoos, and training barns engaged in cruel horse soring. It has also provided accountability for research facilities that violate the law, and allowed assessment of how many animals are used (often with taxpayer funding) for research that causes unrelieved pain.

Lack of access to AWA and HPA documents not only undermines these federal laws, but also interferes with state and local laws meant to protect animals and consumers. For example, seven states currently prohibit the sale of dogs from breeding operations with a history of serious AWA violations. Without ready access to inspection reports, dog sellers in those states will have no practical way to comply with these laws, and state and local law enforcement efforts will be severely impeded.

While the agency has indicated that the public can access these documents by submitting a request under the Freedom of Information Act, history has shown that such requests can take months, and even years, to fulfill. We should be increasing government transparency, not diminishing it and shielding those cited for violations of these key animal welfare laws. We hope you will immediately restore what was removed from USDA’s website regarding the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act, and resume posting inspection reports, annual reports, and other animal welfare related documents so that the public can access them in an efficient and timely way.