In a recent broadcast of The Closer with Keith Olbermann 1; Olbermann discloses changes to the USDA’s reporting policy on two important animal protection mechanisms:
- Animal Welfare Act: U.S. Code, 7 U.S.C. Sections 2131 – 2159 2
- Horse Protection Act: U.S. Code, 15 U.S.C. Sections 1821-1831 3
What these changes mean for animal advocates and owners is that published inspection, enforcement, and other related regulatory reports are no longer searchable on the USDA’s government website (www.aphis.usda.gov).
The change, in part, is intended to protect the right to privacy of parties involved in regulatory actions and to allow ongoing litigation the USDA is party to, be resolved. How does this change affect the public?
Prior to the 2016 change in the reporting policy, citizens were able to search and immediately access archived reports online using the USDA’s Animal Care Search Tool. 4 Post change, to obtain a report one must submit a written request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provided, as the agency shall determine, the request is consistent with the Privacy Act. 5 Certainly a more detailed request process and potentially lengthy wait for data that is needed immediately, in the majority of cases. Note: Fees may apply!
Before filing a request under the FOIA, you can cross-check the Agricultural Decisions Publication for enforcement records on the USDA’s Office of Administrative Law Judges website at OALJ Decisions. The USDA also notes that records frequently requested under the FOIA may be posted on their website, in redacted form, for viewing. 5
For instructions on how to file an FOIA request, either online or in writing, please visit https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/App/Home.aspx for details.
Disclaimer: While Keith Olbermann’s statements appear to be of a more politically motivated nature, it has purely been my focus to clarify the USDA’s data access policy changes he mentions. The changes were placed into effect in 2016. 6
UPDATE – August 19, 2017
On August 18, 2017, APHIS and the USDA announced their rollout of a refined public search tool allowing public access to AWA compliance records. After much scrunity and public outcry arising from the agencies’ removal of compliance reports and other valuable data in February 2017 , access to most of the deleted data is now again available to the public. There still remains some information not directly available through the public search tool. However, the public can file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).
For complete details about the recent changes and public access to the agencies’ data, visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/enforcementactions for further information.
- Olbermann, Keith. “Life In Trump’s America Just Got Worse For Your Pet”. GQ Videos. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.