Los Angeles, CA — The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) removed an online database Friday that included inspection reports and other information documenting animals killed, injured, or mistreated at facilities such as zoos, fairs, exhibits, performance animal training centers, puppy mills, and research laboratories. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said in a statement the information was removed due to privacy concerns. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) strongly condemns the move.

Removing public access to information concerning the treatment of animals will serve to harm animals and our communities. “Replacing a searchable database with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests is the antithesis of transparency and will endanger the lives of animals,” said spcaLA President, Madeline Bernstein. “The USDA works for American taxpayers. We have the right to know how our tax money is spent.”

spcaLA urges all those who would see animals provided basic care to contact their elected officials and demand the USDA reports be restored. “Now more than ever, the animal welfare community must come together to protect those most vulnerable: animals used for commercial gain,” said Bernstein. The public is also urged to submit FOIA requests for the information removed.

Access to USDA reporting alerts the public and animal advocacy agencies about the treatment of animals. “Consumer attitudes about attractions like traveling circuses changed when they were afforded a view behind the curtain – culminating in the announcement of the voluntary closure of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last month,” said Bernstein.

Limiting public access to information permits those who would provide a low standard of care to do so without public scrutiny. “Corporations inspected by the USDA should want the public to know they are able to provide your next family dog or his mother with basic veterinary care, clean water, food, and protection from the elements.”

Housing a large number of animals is difficult work that necessitates proper care and strict adherence to sanitary and disease-prevention protocols. Being able to point to the USDA reports permits upstanding facilities to prove they have a good track record with animal care, and protects them from false accusations from competitors or those disgruntled with their business. In a number of States, a clean USDA record is a requirement of breeders before they are permitted to sell puppies to pet shops.

USDA inspections and reports are an important first line of defense against animal cruelty and for public safety. “Over the past 140 years, spcaLA has been the voice of the voiceless, enforcing anti-cruelty laws in the state of California,” said Bernstein. “Limited public access to USDA reports will not deter spcaLA Humane Officers from investigating individuals, corporations, or other organizations suspected of criminally abusing or neglecting animals.”

Though not a government agency, spcaLA is Law Enforcement. When investigating animal cruelty, spcaLA Humane Officers are granted the full power of Peace Officers by the State of California. spcaLA is a private, nonprofit animal welfare agency, serving the Los Angeles community since 1877.

To donate to spcaLA, visit spcaLA.com.

To request that public access to USDA reports be restored, call your members of congress. To locate the phone numbers, please go to https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members.

To submit a FOIA request, visit https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/App/Home.aspx.

For more information, please contact Miriam Davenport at 323-730-5300 x233, 323-353-4658 cell or mdavenport@spcaLA.com.

Since 1877, spcaLA has been the premiere independent, nonprofit animal welfare organization serving Southern California. There is no national SPCA, parent organization, or umbrella group that provides financial support to spcaLA. Donations run programs and services including Cruelty Investigation, Disaster Animal Response Team, Humane Education, and a variety of shelter services.