USDA Tried to Keep Its Failures Secret—PETA Helped Force Transparency

Published by Zachary Toliver.

After three long years, the legal battle over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) assault on transparency and open government has ended!

PETA along with co-plaintiffs the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Born Free USA, Beagle Freedom Project, and Lewis & Clark Law School Assistant Clinical Professor and Animal Law Litigation Clinic Director Delcianna Winders successfully settled their lawsuits against the USDA. The plaintiffs were represented by the public interest law firm Eubanks & Associates.

tiger with severe hair loss at Waccatee Zoo

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuits to force the USDA to restore vital records related to animal-exploiting enterprises that the agency illegally removed from its website in February 2017. The settlement includes the agency’s sworn statement that it has restored and will continue to provide public access to those records on its website.

The so-called “USDA blackout” litigation together with immense public pressure inspired Congress in late 2019 to require the USDA to restore the records. The plaintiffs kept the lawsuits active until they could confirm that the agency was complying with Congress’ mandate.

The USDA chronically under-enforced the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) during and after the information blackout.

In the sworn statement, the USDA admitted that it has not issued any letters of warning nor entered into any settlement agreements with any animal-exploiting operations since December 20, 2019.

This is a damning admission. Settlement agreements and warnings are the agency’s primary means of enforcing the AWA.

In fiscal year 2017, the USDA initiated 273 AWA enforcement actions, but so far in 2020, the agency has initiated only two. This ever-worsening enforcement by the USDA demonstrates that access to public records is crucial to exposing the agency’s appalling failures.

The Washington Post previously reported on the USDA’s reckless decline in AWA enforcement. It’s clear that the situation is dire for the millions of animals the agency is supposed to protect.

The USDA fails, so we must get loud for animals!

No thinking, feeling being wants to be mutilated in torturous experiments or perform confusing circus tricks under the threat of a beating. Animals would rather raise their families and live free from harm. No lion, bear, or any other animal would choose living in a cramped, dingy cage at a roadside zoo over playing, swimming, and socializing with their friends and families. By their very nature, places that use animals are ripe with potential for abuse and neglect.

We’re thrilled about this victory and glad that the records have been restored. But it shouldn’t have taken litigation or an act of Congress to force the USDA to be transparent about its derelict enforcement of the AWA.

PETA will keep pushing the negligent agency to do its job and thoroughly inspect laboratories, circuses, roadside zoos, and anywhere else exploiters can neglect and abuse animals.

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“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind