Barletta Urges President to Restore Animal Welfare Information to Website

Feb 15, 2017
Press Release
USDA Removed Data Containing Animal Welfare Violations by Labs, Zoos, Breeders

WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) joined 100 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives in writing to President Donald J. Trump to urge him to restore data to a Department of Agriculture (USDA) website, which contained information about animal welfare violations by research laboratories, zoos, dog breeders, and other facilities.  Documents regarding enforcement of animal welfare laws were removed in early February from the online database maintained by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  Barletta was one of the leaders in drafting and circulating the letter among House members for support.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote.  “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 House members argued that access to such animal welfare records performs a public service, as the free flow of information can deter organizations from abusing animals, while also guiding consumers in their decision-making.

“Access to these records has enabled the public to learn about many animal-care violations including those by puppy mills, roadside zoos, and training barns engaged in cruel horse soring,” the letter reads.  “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.”

The members noted that withholding such information impedes the enforcement of animal welfare laws on the state and local levels.

“For example, seven states currently prohibit the sale of dogs from breeding operations with a history of serious AWA violations,” the lawmakers wrote.  “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.”

Finally, the members of Congress said they were not persuaded by USDA’s explanation that the information was withdrawn out of concern with court rulings and privacy laws.  The suggestion that information could be obtained by the public through Freedom of Information Act requests was also unconvincing.

“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,” the letter concludes.  “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.”

To view a copy of the letter, click here.