USDA Scrubs Website of Enforcement Records

On February 3, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) abruptly removed from its website inspection reports and other key documents relating to enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

AWI has since discovered that a pending lawsuit supported by a powerful segment of the walking horse industry appears to be behind this decision. The plaintiffs in Contender Farms v. USDA complain that posting these records violates their privacy. APHIS’ sudden action, coupled with AWI’s revelation of this behind-the-scenes motivation, garnered significant coverage in the journal Science, as well as in the Washington Post and other major news outlets.

This industry has long been sullied by the use of caustic chemicals and other irritants on the feet and legs of horses to “enhance” gait. Yet the industry vehemently resists oversight, and has already succeeded in holding up—and possibly scuttling—HPA regulations to end this abuse that were finalized, but not published, under the Obama administration. (See page 11.)

Now, those wishing to hold the government accountable for actually enforcing the AWA and HPA will have to wrestle information from APHIS’ Freedom of Information Act office. In the past, getting the office to fulfill such requests has taken as long as three years; by the time we received the material, it was woefully out of date. APHIS claims that removing online access to the information is all part of its commitment “to being transparent and responsive to [its] stakeholders’ informational needs.” Obviously, APHIS is confusing “transparent and responsive” with “opaque and indifferent.”

Take action: Join AWI in demanding that APHIS return this data to its website. Send an email through AWI’s Compassion Index at www. awionline.org/ealert-aphis or via Kevin.A.Shea@usda.gov, or write to the following address: Administrator Kevin Shea, USDA-APHIS, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250.