In a report that accompanied the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2018 Spending Bill, Congress ordered the USDA to improve its online searchable database of animal welfare records, a step that would result in increased transparency of animal welfare reports.
As you may recall, in February 2017, we reported that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA unexpectedly took the Animal Care Search Tool offline. This was an interactive database containing information regarding animal welfare reports necessary for understanding trends in animal use and investigating Animal Welfare Act violations by research institutions.
After much public outcry, APHIS reposted some documents and created a new online database, making some animal welfare records available to the public. However, this new database lacks important features that were present in the original Animal Care Search Tool, including the ability to run customized searches. Additionally, some of the documents that the agency has reposted are heavily redacted, restricting the quality and quantity of information that can be collected.
The public has been asked to file Freedom of Information Act Requests (FOIA) to access animal welfare information, a time-consuming process that takes months to obtain information, making it impossible to access data in a timely fashion.
Fortunately, Congress has recognized the shortcomings of the way that the USDA has been handling animal welfare records, noting in a recent report that its “actions to date do not meet the requirements in H. Rpt. 115-232 that the online searchable database should allow analysis and comparison of data and include all inspection reports, annual reports, and other documents related to enforcement of animal welfare laws.”
The USDA has been directed to comply with these requirements, and we will be sure to update you on the outcome.
Source: Wadman, M. “Congress orders USDA to restore transparency, completeness, to animal welfare reports,” Science, March 22, 2018.