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Tag: database

Protecting animals just got a lot harder

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For journalists, animal welfare activists and all Americans, accessing information that can help protect animals just got a lot harder.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website that keeps tabs on the treatment of animals at research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said court rulings and privacy laws were responsible for the decision, though many suspect President Trump or members of his transition team are behind it.

APHIS said the removed documents, which included records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, would now be accessible only through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Those can take up to a year or more to be approved.

The records that had been available were frequently used by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animal treatment at circuses, research laboratories, zoos and puppy mills.

lolitakillerwhaleAnimal welfare organizations say the removal of the information will allow animal abuse to go unchecked.

“The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign.

“This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things,” the Beagle Freedom Project said in a statement on Facebook.

The lack of immediately accessible inspection reports is expected to cause problems in seven states that currently require pet stores to source puppies from breeders with clean USDA inspection reports. No longer will they have a quick way to check on that.

In a statement, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called it “a shameful attempt to keep the public from knowing when and which laws and regulations have been violated. Many federally registered and licensed facilities have long histories of violations that have caused terrible suffering.”

Whether President Trump is directly responsible for the website purging isn’t clear, but one member of his USDA transition team, Brian Klippenstein, has a long history of fighting animal welfare organizations.

Klippenstein is executive director of Protect the Harvest, a group that, among other things, has opposed legislation to regulate puppy mills. The group was started by Forrest Lucas, an oil magnate, cattle rancher and arch nemesis of the Humane Society of the United States.

The change came two days after U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, introduced a bill calling for more transparency and a reduction in testing on animals at government research labs.

beagle-5The bill is backed by an advocacy group, the White Coat Waste Project, which has been using the USDA-APHIS database to gather much of its information on animal testing at hundreds of federal laboratories.

“There was already a troubling lack of transparency about what happens in government-funded labs,” said Justin Goodman, the group’s vice president for advocacy and policy. “This was a very important resource for us, and for every animal organization, in terms of tracking patterns of animal use and compliance, whether it’s in labs or other settings.”

The USDA web page where the information was located now brings up the announcement about its removal.

The Humane Society of the United States has threatened to sue the Agriculture Department if the decision to block Internet access to the database isn’t reversed.

“We intend to sue them unless they take remedial action here,” Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told TIME. “The clock starts ticking immediately.”

monkeyThe searchable database allowed anyone to check government regulation of how animals are treated at about 9,000 zoos, circuses, research laboratories, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

Up until late last week, the site also allowed dog buyers to look up specific breeders by license number and see any possible violations under the breeder’s name before buying the animal.

“I’m very concerned that there will be no incentive for breeders or research labs or any of these facilities to comply because the public won’t know,” said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society.

“It’s going to impact every species of animals,” she added. “There shouldn’t be any reason to hide inspection reports for a dog breeding facility or a research lab. There shouldn’t be any need to keep from the public how many animals you have [in] your facility or whether or not you’re complying with care standards. That alone is a big red flag for everybody.”

“The posting of these documents has been an invaluable tool in rooting out some of the worst abuses that are occurring,” HSUS CEO Pacelle said. “Essentially, this is now going to give a bit of a get-out-of-jail card to horse soring, puppy mills, delinquent roadside zoos and animals research labs that are flouting the law.”

The Humane Society says the Agriculture Department is required to make its inspection records at animal research facilities public under a court order.

HSUS sued the government in 2005 over public access to the reports and won a settlement in 2009 that directed the Agriculture Department to post certain data on its website related to research on animals. That information, the Humane Society said, was among the data that was just purged from government website.

The USDA did not comment on the Humane Society’s threat of legal action.

In a statement explaining the change late last week, APHIS cited a year-long “comprehensive review” of public information on its website.

“Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act that contain personal information,” the statement said.

“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 statement added.

rabbitYesterday, the USDA released another statement, saying the change had nothing to do with the new administration:

“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.”

Criticism of the change has not been limited to animal welfare activists.

Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports laboratory use of research animals, said in a blog post:

“When information is hidden … the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combating the public perception that they are not transparent.”

Condo board dumps DNA poop proposal

The proposal to establish a DNA database of every dog who resides in Baltimore’s Scarlett Place Condominiums — all in hopes of figuring out who’s not picking up their dog’s poop — appears to have been dumped.

At a meeting of the condo’s board this week, the proposal was tabled and the decision was made to to pursue more “realistic and acceptable” alternatives.

While the meeting was closed to the public, a resident correspondent reports on the Baltimore Sun’s Unleashed blog that the board chairman said that other alternatives to finding the culprit would receive further study.

Under the proposal, every dog in Scarlett Place would have had to provide a DNA sample. Any unpicked-up poop found at the building would then be sent to an out of state laboratory for comparison. The owner of the dog linked to the poop would then face fines.

Unleashed author Jill Rosen wrote that, after breaking the story, she was originally invited to attend the meeting, but uninvited when the story developed legs, appearing in publications and on websites across the globe, thereby, in my view, bringing the luxury condominium the embarassment it deserved.

Richard Hopp, a Scarlett Place resident, reported to Unleashed that the condo board, in a standing room only meeting, “tabled the proposal.” Not a single resident spoke in favor of it, he said, and the board member who came up with the idea wasn’t present.

“For what it is worth, my take on this is that the board members realized they had really ‘stepped in it’ with their doggy DNA proposal,” Hopp reported, “and in order to save face, they tabled the matter, rather than just vote it down and move on…”

Condo considers DNA tests to track poopers

DNA testing, which may have its place in crime solving — not to mention pinpointing your baby daddy — is increasingly being considered around the world as a way to nab dog owners who fail to pick up poop.

Now, in addition to government bodies from Germany to Israel, a ritzy Baltimore condominium is considering using the technology to help track down the owners of the dog or dogs who are not being picked up after.

Some residents of the Scarlett Place Condominiums are so steamed by dog poop — at least some of which is being deposited indoors — they’re willing to watch thousands of dollars be spent in an effort to figure out whodunit or, more appropriately, whodroppedit.

Under the condo board’s proposed plan, all dogs in the building would be swabbed for DNA testing to create a database. Dog owners would pay $50 each to cover the costs of tests, and an additional $10 per month for the cost of having building staff pick up wayward piles of poop.

The staff would then send the samples to BioPet Vet Lab, a Tennessee-based company, which would compare the mailed-in samples to those in the dog poop database.

When the company is able to identify the owner of the dog whose poop was not scooped, that owner would pay a $500 fine.

“We pay all this money, and we’re walking around stepping in dog poop,” resident Steven Frans, the board member who proposed the plan, told the Baltimore Sun. “We bring guests over and this is what they’re greeted by.”

The Scarlett Place condo board is expected to make a decision later this week.

I, for one, would not want to live in a complex whose management, or for that matter, a city whose government, is so anal that it  goes around collecting dog poop and sending it in for analysis.

Such a program is underway, on a trial basis, in the city of Petah Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv in Israel, and other jurisdictions in Europe, as well as New York City, have considered it.

As for the Scarlett Place Condominiums, perhaps a cheaper route would be to hire a poop picker upper, adding that service to what its website describes as its “a plethora of desirable amenities.”

“Entering the lobby, you will be greeted by one of the Front Desk attendants who will take care of your packages, guests, concerns, and deliveries. Attendants are on duty 24 hours a day … A full service, recently remodeled health club is available 24 hours a day and a spectacular indoor pool is at your disposal complete with magnificent walls of glass overlooking The Inner Harbor and Scarlett Place Condominiums courtyard.”  

Meanwhile, if they pursue testing dog poop for DNA, I’m wondering what the more-money-than-they-know-what-to-do-with condo board’s next initiative will be: Establishing a database of their human residents so they can ascertain who’s wiping boogers on the elevator walls?