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U.S. Government Takes Animal-Welfare Data Offline

Department of Agriculture to stop making lab inspection results and violations publicly available, citing privacy concerns

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) agency charged with ensuring the humane treatment of large research animals, such as primates and goats, has quietly scrubbed all inspection reports and enforcement records from its website. The move has drawn criticism from animal welfare and transparency activists who say the public has the right to know how their tax dollars are being used.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which also oversees animals in circuses, zoos and those sold commercially as pets, says that making the data publicly available posed a threat to individuals’ privacy.

USDA spokesperson Tanya Espinosa would not specify what personal information the agency wanted to protect, but said that it would be impossible to redact it from all the tens of thousands of inspection reports, complaints and enforcement action documents that used to be public.

The decision is a result of the USDA’s “commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals”, according to a statement on the agency’s website. The records will still be available in redacted form through freedom-of-information requests. ”If the same records are frequently requested via the Freedom of Information Act process, APHIS may post the appropriately redacted versions to its website,” the statement concludes.

But some critics met the privacy argument with scepticism. The USDA routinely redacted the names of individuals from the public reports anyway, saysJustin Goodman, director of the non-profit White Coat Waste Project in Washington DC, which opposes animal research. “Claiming ‘privacy’ is a smokescreen to unjustifiably evade critical transparency about government operations.”

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