February 20th 2020
We have previously expressed our deep concern about the removal of access to an online database that allowed the public to easily obtain records involving the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website in February of 2017. These records were still available to the public, via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
We are glad to see that it appears the records have now been restored. According to the USDA:
“The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is restoring certain Animal Welfare Act records on its website. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, passed on December 20, 2019, included a provision that directs the restoration of these records.
Section 788 of the law requires the Agency to “restore on its website the searchable database and its contents that were available on January 30, 2017, and all content generated since that date”. APHIS removed these records in 2017 to address potential privacy concerns. While the Agency reposted most of the documents in 2017, the Agency did not repost or heavily redacted certain inspection reports and other documents that contained private information.
In response to the latest requirements, APHIS has restored the searchable database including all of the documents that were available January 30, 2017, as well as documents that have been created since that date.
Also, within 60 days APHIS will post records without redactions (except signatures) generated since the legislation was passed and continue hereafter. These records will include AWA inspection reports (including any non-compliant items), animal inventories, teachable moments, and final AWA and Horse Protections Act enforcement records. Within six months of receipt, APHIS will also post final Annual Reports and attachments from Research Facilities with appropriate redaction for confidential business information. All these records will remain available for a period of three years from posting.” Emphasis added.
As we expressed previously, the availability of these data can foster an environment of openness and transparency about animal research. In contrast, when information is hidden, particularly where it was once available, the public will naturally wonder why many stakeholders have cause for concern, and in turn, lead to researchers devoting even more resources to combatting the public perception that they are not transparent.
We at Speaking of Research, believe that the restoration of this online database and access to these records is one positive step towards openness and transparency of animal research. This is particularly true given the division of opinions of Americans with respect to the value of animal research.
~Speaking of Research