Earlier this month, we reported that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), without any notice, removed thousands of animal welfare documents from its website. They also deactivated their Animal Care Information System (ACIS) Search Tool, a database that NAVS relies on to generate customized reports about the use of animals in research.
Considering that the current level of recordkeeping and reporting on the use of animals in research, teaching and testing in the U.S. was already inferior to methods used elsewhere in the world, we were shocked that the little information that was publicly available on animal research has been removed.
The USDA faced a lot of pushback following this decision, with animal advocates like yourselves demanding that access to this information be restored. Though the USDA cited “privacy concerns” as the motivating factor for removing public access to the data, personal information on forms posted by the USDA had already been redacted prior to publication.
A week after removing documents from public view, the USDA began to slowly restore some of the missing information. An announcement on the USDA website noted that they would “continue to review records and determine which information is appropriate for reposting.” A USDA spokesperson indicated that more documents would be posted over the next few weeks.
While this is a small step in the right direction, it is important to note that only a fragment of the previously-posted documents are again available. Notably, the ACIS Search Tool remains deactivated. Moving forward, the USDA recommends that the public file Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain animal use data, despite the fact that such an approach will create new financial barriers for data and transparency seekers, will move the response time from minutes to months, and will create a new and unnecessary work burden for USDA employees.
Please continue to demand accountability from the USDA. Transparency surrounding animal use directly impacts animal welfare efforts, as understanding trends in animal use can help us better gauge whether efforts to refine, reduce and replace the use of animals in research, safety testing and education are effective. This information can also help us better understand which facilities have violated the Animal Welfare Act, and why they were in violation.
NAVS will continue our efforts to restore this data as well as continue to request that additional data be collected and reported so that there is clarity about how many, what type of animals, and for what specific research, testing and educational purposes the animals are being used.
Source: Wadman, M. “In reversal, USDA reposts some animal welfare records it had removed from website.” Science, Feb. 17, 2017.