Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"We are not aware of any previous agency data purge of this scope," says ASPCA. (Photo: iStock)

Animal Rights Groups Sue Over Unprecedented USDA Website Blackout

'The government should not be in the business of hiding animal abusers and lawbreakers from public scrutiny'

Deirdre Fulton

Leading animal rights groups sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday over the removal of animal welfare records from its website early this month. 

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by PETA, Beagle Freedom Project, Born Free USA, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, along with public health advocacy group the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Harvard animal law and policy fellow Delcianna Winders, demands the reinstatement of the records, which included thousands of inspection reports, research facility reports, and violations at zoos, research laboratories, and commercial breeders.

"The government should not be in the business of hiding animal abusers and lawbreakers from public scrutiny," Winders said in a statement. 

The USDA took down the records on February 3, citing privacy concerns. The agency said those seeking the information would henceforth be required to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The Humane Society of the United States said at the time: "This action benefits no one, except facilities who have harmed animals and don't want anyone to know."

As The Dodo noted:

The recently disappeared reports include information about SeaWorld, dog breeders, and puppy mills, zoos, circuses (including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus) and taxpayer-funded animal testing labs, among others.

[...] "We've been the USDA's watchdog for 20 years," Deborah Howard, president of the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), told The Dodo recently, explaining that CAPS investigators use the USDA reports to show which pet shops are sourcing their dogs from puppy mills. "We compare our findings to the inspectors. If we didn't have those reports, we wouldn't be able to do our inspections."

The removal came amidst reports of other federal agencies scrubbing critical data and research from their websites under the Trump administration.

Indeed, Deborah Dubow Press of the ASPCA told Teen Vogue, "It happened just two weeks after President Trump took office. It's a very detrimental and disappointing action out of the gate from our new president. It does not leave us very hopeful."

Press told the outlet: "We are not aware of any previous agency data purge of this scope."

As such, the decision received significant public scrutiny and was the subject of a social media campaign under the hashtags #AnimalWelfare and #NoUSDABlackout. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'This Is Big': House Passes Amendment to Cut US Complicity in Saudi Bombing of Yemen

The vote, said Rep. Ro Khanna, "sent a clear message to the Saudis: end the bombing in Yemen and lift the blockade."

Andrea Germanos ·


Tlaib Praised for 'Braving the Smears' and Voting Against $1 Billion Israel Military Aid Bill

One rights group thanked Tlaib "for speaking truth to power" while being attacked "for simply insisting that Palestinians are human beings who deserve safety, security, and freedom from Israeli apartheid."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Hold Strong': Coalition Urges House to Reject Bipartisan Bill Until Reconciliation Package Passed

The bipartisan infrastructure bill "doesn't contain the climate solutions and care, education, and economic investments we need," more than 90 progressive groups wrote in a letter.

Kenny Stancil ·


New Legal Campaign Aims to Protect People and Nature From Polluters' 'Irreparable Damage'

"States must listen to communities' demands to recognize the human right to a healthy environment and better regulate businesses with respect to the impacts of their operations."

Jessica Corbett ·


'You Tell Me What We Should Cut': Sanders Not Budging on $3.5 Trillion

"Poll after poll tells me, and tells you, that what we are trying to do is enormously popular."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo