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A Federal Agency Has Started To Return Censored Animal Safety Records Online

Facing a public backlash and a lawsuit, the agriculture department is starting to put reports on animal use and inspections back onto the web.

Originally posted on
Updated on

Facing a barrage of public criticism, the US Department of Agriculture on Friday started returning documents describing the number of animals used at research facilities across the nation back online.

The agency also posted a limited number of reports describing inspections of facilities for compliance with the 1966 Animal Welfare Act — but only for federal research facilities, including the department’s own research centers, and labs at Veterans Health Administration hospitals.

The vast majority of research facility inspection reports removed earlier this month still remain offline. So do inspection reports for animal breeders and facilities regulated under the Horse Protection Act.

Also still missing is the database that once let animal welfare groups, researchers, and journalists download bulk data on animal research across the US to get a detailed picture of trends in animal research across the nation.

“The reports posted are part of a comprehensive review of the documents the Agency removed from its website in early February and are in the same redacted form as before,” said a statement emailed to users of the database on Friday morning.

“We will continue posting documents over the next few weeks,” USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa told BuzzFeed News by email. However, she declined to comment on whether the full database would be returned to service.

The USDA provoked a storm of protest on Feb. 3, when it abruptly removed the database and documents from the web. It suggested the move was taken to protect “personal information.” However, later reports linked the decision to a legal battle involving the USDA’s regulation of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. To get their horses to walk with the desired high-stepping gait, trainers may apply caustic chemicals to the animals’ legs.

The animal welfare reports put back online cover the fiscal years 2013 to 2015. Research facilities should by now have sent in their 2016 reports on animal use, including the numbers of animals used in experiments involving unalleviated pain or distress. These have not been posted online.

“This agency is still unnecessarily withholding information from the public,” said Michael Budkie of the advocacy group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, in a statement emailed to reporters.

The USDA’s move to start reposting animal welfare documents online comes just days after it was sued by other advocacy groups, including the People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals, demanding that the information be returned to public view.

“The agency has a duty under the law to restore all of the deleted records, and to continue posting new records going forward,” PETA said in a statement issued today. “PETA and its co-plaintiffs will continue to fight until it complies with this duty.


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UPDATE

This story has been updated to include information on the missing explanations for certain experiments, and a comment from Michael Budkie of Stop Animal Exploitation Now.

CORRECTION

Labs’ explanations of any experiments involving unrelieved pain or deviations from standard animal care are included with the reports posted online. An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that they were missing.


Peter Aldhous is a Science Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. His secure PGP fingerprint is 225F B2AF 4B8E 6E3D B1EA 7F9A B96E BF7D 9CB2 9B16

Contact Peter Aldhous at peter.aldhous@buzzfeed.com.

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