The US Department of Agriculture recently proposed new “routine uses” of records under the federal Privacy Act that determine disclosure of information outside the department. The USDA seems determined to make permanent the drastic limitations on the information it makes available to the public regarding the compliance history of licensees under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The department seems equally determined to ignore members of Congress who have urged it to restore public access to inspection and enforcement documents.
Specifically, the USDA proposes that public access be limited to “final adjudicatory AWA and HPA decisions or orders.” The problem is that even though adjudication of cases that involve potential violations is often warranted, very few cases ever reach that stage.
AWI has joined others in reminding the USDA that the public has a right to see inspection and enforcement records in order to monitor the AWA and HPA compliance of commercial operations such as puppy mills, horse trainers, and roadside zoos. Even the USDA has acknowledged (in a document that is, unsurprisingly, no longer on its website) that such public access is necessary “in order to promote compliance.”