The USDA Database Controversy
February 10, 2017
Visit SAEN's Facebook page
The recent removal of databases from the USDA website has generated a huge controversy, and an equal amount of misunderstanding. The REAL tragedy of this anti-transparency move by the USDA has NOT yet been seen.
While the information that was already posted on the USDA website was useful, the old information is NOT what is truly crucial. The catastrophic loss is in NEW information, yet to be posted, which now may not be seen by the public for YEARS!
Inspection reports and animal use reports, from three years ago are NOT the most significant casualty in terms of either transparency or making a difference for animals. The REAL LOSS here is the reports for January 2017 (which should be online by now) and all future reports, which may not be seen for years.
What SAEN is concerned about is CURRENT and FUTURE documents generated by, and submitted to, the USDA - such as inspection reports, enforcement actions, annual animal use reports, etc.
1) ACCESS TO INSPECTION REPORTS is crucial for two reasons. First, reports from USDA scheduled inspections often contain egregious Animal Welfare Act violations. Timely access to these reports is crucial to expose offenders and to push for enforcement. Second, inspection reports are often generated due to SAEN's Official Complaints to the USDA. SAEN’s complaints supply crucial data to the USDA based on information from non-USDA sources discovered by our investigations. We need to monitor the USDA to insure our complaints are being acted upon.
2) ACCESS TO ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS is vital to monitor and publicize the conclusion of open cases. We need to know if an entity (lab/dealer/breeder) has been cited, fined, or warned.
3) ACCESS TO ANNUAL REPORTS filed with the USDA by labs is crucial to demonstrate trends in usage and which labs use animals in painful/stressful experiments without pain relief. The most crucial annual reports are not from previous years. The crucial ones are those from 2016 which would normally be posted online by now – but which we may NEVER see.
SAEN operates very proactively, so having CURRENT data in a TIMELY manner is imperative so we have a more complete picture of what is transpiring NOW behind the closed doors of labs/dealers/breeders. SAEN gathers information from many sources, including the USDA website which mainly comes into play during our monitoring phase. However, a CRITICAL piece of the puzzle, now missing, due to the USDA’s information blackout, is data relevant to non-public entities (businesses, private universities, etc.) which are not subject to other techniques of information acquisition. To know anything about private entities, we are entirely dependent on obtaining documents from government agencies who monitor them, such as the USDA.
The only avenue currently available to gain access to NEW documents from the USDA is via FOIA - Freedom of Information Act - which has always been slow and arduous. Now, with all USDA documents being funneled solely through their FOIA office, this process will take months, if not years. SAEN presently has open USDA FOIA requests from October of 2016, with no documents in hand as of yet.
Another huge reason for having current information is the news media - who only wants to report about current events, such as a recent fine. Now, with this information only coming out months, if not years, later the media is much less likely to care, and most likely guilty parties will go unexposed, despite breaking federal law and negligently killing or injuring animals.
This blackout of info will only benefit labs/dealers/breeders when their criminal activity remains hidden from public scrutiny, especially private businesses and private universities, for whom government agencies are our only gateway inside these entities.
Please stay tuned to the SAEN's Facebook page for the latest developments.
Thank you for realizing why this USDA blackout is crucial to fight NOW and into the future, so access to NEW USDA documents will again be timely.