March 03, 2017

Wyden, Menendez, Blumenauer Unveil Legislation to Restore Transparency and Hold Puppy Mill Operators, Other Animal Abusers Accountable

After USDA’s removal of public information about animal welfare violations last month, new legislation would reinstate transparency, prohibit animal abusers from receiving valuable tax break

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced legislation this week to restore public information on animal cruelty that was erased from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website under the Trump Administration. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and a large group of House members are expected to introduce the House version next week.

The Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act would require APHIS to again make publicly available information about entities that violate the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) or the Horse Protection Act (HPA). It would also prevent violators of these animal welfare laws from receiving certain business-related tax breaks for five years.

Since 2009, APHIS has made available to the public animal welfare inspection reports for animal research laboratories and other regulated entities. But on February 3, the part of the website that is dedicated to identifying animal cruelty violations was erased.

“Transparency is key when it comes to giving animal lovers and consumers information about whether their pets or the products they buy are the result of heartbreaking beginnings,” Wyden said. “This bill gets the facts out there to identify and hold puppy mill operators accountable while making sure taxpayers aren’t paying to keep animal abusers in business.”

“The USDA must continue to shine a light on any commercial breeder of dogs, cats or horses, zoo, aquarium, circus or research lab that abuses and tortures their animals,” Menendez said. “The public shaming and disclosure of this information is essential to holding these abusers accountable, deterring others from mistreating animals and increasing consumer protections. This legislation will ensure the restoration of all the data USDA recently wiped from its website.”

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why USDA would hide this vital information. In doing so, it's protecting animal abusers. It’s unacceptable,” said Blumenauer. “The agency must restore transparency, and those who treat animals with cruelty should not receive the same benefits as those who play by the rules.”

It is currently illegal in seven states for pet stores to acquire puppies from mills with a history of gross violations of the Animal Welfare Act. To enforce the laws in these states, law enforcement relies on the information that had been available on the APHIS website until last month.

In a letter to the Trump administration on Feb. 13, Wyden, Menendez and 16 of their Democratic Senate colleagues pushed the USDA to restore this public information on its website.

The Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act has been endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Born Free and the Animal Welfare Institute.

In the era of the Internet, it is simply unacceptable that USDA is reverting back to a costly, cumbersome, and, for most people, impenetrable process of written requests for paper documents generated by government inspectors and required by law.  USDA placed inspection reports and violation notices online and that public-facing resource served everybody involved, including the regulated community.  The take-down of electronic information amounts to a de facto cover-up for the worst operators,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.

“Advocates, consumers, and state governments rely on the ready availability of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection and enforcement reports to know if and when animals are being mistreated,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. “It is indefensible that USDA has taken steps to hide information that should remain easily accessible. The ASPCA applauds Senators Wyden and Menendez and Representative Blumenauer for their leadership in ensuring that those who profit from animals don’t escape public scrutiny.”

“It is alarming that the USDA is choosing to reduce transparency and reduce public access to information concerning its enforcement actions,” said Animal Welfare Institute president Cathy Liss. “We are proud to support this legislation to ensure that the USDA does not continue to bend to industry players at the cost of animal welfare, and that violators of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act are held accountable.”

I applaud Senator Wyden and Representative Blumenauer for demanding accountability and transparency from the USDA. The thousands of deleted documents are the product of an enforcement system that is funded with taxpayer money, and therefore taxpayers have a right to access the information. The Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act will ensure that the USDA cannot shield the worst animal exhibitors, breeders, and researchers from the public eye. The agency should facilitate, not complicate, access to this vital data. There is no place for secrecy in a democratic government,” said Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA.

Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., cosponsored the Senate version of the bill. Rep. Blumenauer, D-Ore., is leading the House version which will be introduced next week.

Read a one-page summary of the bill and find the bill text here.