USDA pulls inspection data from website

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Editor's note: The USDA provided an updated statement after the print edition of this story was published.

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced Friday that it has pulled scores of inspection reports and public data tied to a Tennessee Walking Horses industry lawsuit.

The statement reads, in part: "APHIS, during the past year, has conducted a comprehensive review of the information it posts on its website for the general public to view. As a result of the comprehensive review, APHIS has implemented actions to remove certain personal information from documents it posts on APHIS' website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act. Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication."

The move also affects data pertaining to zoos, dog breeders, research laboratories and other regulated animal businesses, according to media reports.

USDA provided this statement late Tuesday morning: "The review of APHIS’ website has been ongoing, and the agency is striving to balance the need for transparency with rules protecting individual privacy. In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting."

Move praised

Jeffrey Howard, publisher of The Walking Horse Report, hailed the change.

"I think it is the proper move by the USDA," Howard said. "This is the position of the current lawsuit in the Fifth Circuit that where Contender Farms and SHOW are the plaintiffs. The USDA has been unfairly punishing people by listing them as violators of the HPA while never allowing those parties an opportunity for notice and a hearing.

"The violations statistics that the animal rights movement and HSUS have used to further their cause have been false and misleading statistics and are not violations. I commend the USDA for correcting this misinformation and protecting the privacy and rights of those parties involved."

Records process

APHIS said in the announcement it will also review and redact, as necessary, the lists of licensees and registrants under the Animal Welfare Act, as well as lists of designated qualified persons (DQPs) licensed by USDA-certified horse industry organizations.

The Walking Horse industry will try to clarify if the USDA's policy change is permanent or temporary, as a ruling has not been announced yet in the lawsuit, said Mike Inman, CEO of the Celebration.

"We're happy they voluntarily took it down," he said.