When the pet-store chain Petland and the Humane Society of the United States—frequent opponents on legislative actions—are both on the same page and crying foul, you know we have entered new territory concerning the welfare of dogs.
Both Petland and HSUS today stated that they are calling upon the U.S. Department of Agriculture to amend or reverse the move it made Friday, deleting a long-public database of government reports that revealed what taxpayer-funded inspectors find everywhere from commercial-scale breeding kennels to animal-research facilities.
HSUS has initiated legal action “to challenge this outrageous action that undermines longstanding consensus about public access to information concerning these laws, and frustrates state, local, and industry efforts to help enforce them.”
Petland has scheduled an in-person meeting with USDA officials in Washington and plans to issue a press release this afternoon “calling upon the USDA to find a balance between privacy and transparency,” according to company CEO Joe Watson.
HSUS is challenging the takedown of the USDA database by claiming that the removal violates the terms of a previously settled case.
As the HSUS notice today states: “The HSUS sued the USDA in 2005 over public access to AWA reports concerning animal use in university and other laboratories. That case was settled in 2009 in exchange for the USDA’s agreement to post certain data on its website concerning research on animals. The agency’s precipitous decision to purge virtually all AWA and HPA enforcement documentation—just two weeks after President Trump assumed office—violates the plain terms of the settlement and a federal court order. It also runs contrary to congressional provisions in 1996 and 2016 designed to increase transparency and electronic access to information.”
Petland is challenging the takedown by asking the USDA to meet the burden of protecting privacy in a way that still makes the bulk of the reports open to public access.
In an email to Petland staff today, Watson wrote: “The USDA deserves credit for making an effort to protect the privacy of their licensees. We are all too familiar with how the activists misuse this data to attack breeders and pet stores. We have also heard of inspection reports being photoshopped by activists and used against us. We applaud the USDA’s efforts to address this abuse of information. At the same time, this decision creates an added burden on responsible pet stores, such as Petland. We must now obtain the inspection reports directly from the breeders and brokers. While this is not impossible, it does create a new set of challenges for our business. Also, the total denial of any public access creates a veil of secrecy that can be used against the pet industry. We need more responsible transparency, not less.”
This is the first time in recent memory, if ever, that HSUS and Petland have come out simultaneously, publicly and forcefully on the same side of a major national issue concerning animal welfare.