On February 3, 2017, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), removed all records of animals used in laboratories—including information related to instances of abuse—from its website. This action has devastating implications for animals and greatly impedes the ability of advocates to hold animal abusers accountable for their actions. Farmed animals were not accounted for in these records as the USDA is not required to track abuse within the animal agriculture industry.
Several animal-rights organizations have already taken action. Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) took immediate action to reinstall the inspection reports removed from about 9,000 facilities—including zoos, laboratories, dog breeders, horse show organizers, amongst others—that use animals. HSUS filed a notice of violation of a standing agreement the organization made with the USDA in 2009 to make these types of records public. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is also fighting back by re-publishing lost records on its own site. PETA also launched a petition to reinstate animal welfare records on the USDA site so that activists can continue to do their work for the betterment of exploited animals.
VegNews spoke with Shannon Keith, the president and founder of animal-rights organization Beagle Freedom Project, which has rescued countless dogs and other animals from laboratories since 2010. Keith knows first-hand the atrocities that occur within labs, particularly those that use beagles—an extremely trusting breed that makes up 96% of dogs used for experiments. “Throughout the course of history, atrocities have occurred because people did not stand up for what they believed in,” Keith tells VegNews. “I am proud to see fellow Americans taking a stand for what they believe in lately.” While beagles are only a portion of the millions of animals abused in labs every year, VegNews chats with Keith to gain some perspective about what to do next.
VegNews: What does the action of removing welfare information from the USDA site mean for animals?
Shannon Keith: Information that was posted on the USDA/APHIS website not only included how many animals, of what species and breed were being used and where, but it also contained information regarding any animal welfare violations that institution may have had. Since government oversight of animals in labs is sadly scarce, it has been up to the public to keep tabs on these facilities and inquire further to make sure animals are being treated humanely. Without public oversight, or even basic knowledge of animals in labs, the animals’ voices are now even more silent than ever. They are essentially blacked-out. It is as if they do not exist. Now more than ever, facilities can do what they want to these animals without fear of reproach or punishment. They can break federal law and nobody would ever know. The animals will be able to suffer in silence—even more than they already have been for so long.
VN: Why is it important for the government to provide information about animals used in laboratories?
SK: It is critical for the government to provide information about animals used in laboratories in order to provide a basic modicum of transparency. A majority of animals used for experimentation are in taxpayer-funded institutions, which means that your taxpayer dollars go towards funding research you may not agree with. As a taxpayer, you have the right to know where your money is being spent, and you have a right to challenge it. With this sudden blackout of information about animals in laboratories, the public no longer has access to thousands upon thousands of records. This means, as a citizen, you not only do not know where your money is being spent, but you will have a very difficult time challenging it.
VN: What can activists do to mitigate the damage caused by this action?
SK: There are many things activists can do to challenge this action:
1. Make your voice heard! Contact your representatives and tell them to take action on this. Call them, write them, and email them!
2. Register your opinion on the White House page.
3. Sign our petition.
4. Join Beagle Freedom Project! We need your support now than ever to fight this. Donate, volunteer, and get involved!
“With silence comes complicity,” Keith says. “Don’t be silent. Let Trump and your legislators know animals have rights.”