Since Trump took office the transparency of the federal government has increasingly diminished as the supposed “swamp drainer” slashed regulations and killed public access to all sorts of data collected by the federal government agencies responsible for regulating everything from the environment to finance.
The disappearance of formerly readily available public data even extends to the Department of Agriculture’s oversight of puppy breeders.
Information on the results of the agency’s inspection of so-called puppy mills was posted publicly on the USDA website for anyone to access until the month after Trump stepped into the White House when it suddenly disappeared.
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Last May, The Tampa Bay Times tried to get information on the results of the USDA inspections of the facilities of 15 different puppy mills that supply pet stores in the Tampa, Florida vicinity. It took the agency 9 months to get an answer that they could have looked up in a few minutes on the agency’s website during the Obama administration. When the USDA finally replied their answer was 54 blacked-out pages of completely redacted material.
The reason for the redaction: the USDA under Trump now says that providing “personnel and medical files” would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
For those of you familiar with the types of abuses that can take place at puppy mills, even those regularly inspected by the Department of Agriculture, that statement goes against every reason for conducting inspections in the first place. Animal abuse, injuries to the animals, use of expired medicine, unsanitary conditions detrimental to the health of the puppies, all are conditions that the agency has found.
“Having a USDA license for breeding dogs is like having a driver’s license,” said John Goodwin, the senior director of the Humane Society of the United States Stop Puppy Mills campaign. “You get to hold onto it even with a number of citations, except now, no one knows what those citations are. The worst people in the world could be selling to pet stores, and no one is the wiser.”
One of the reasons that this issue is particularly relevant in Florida right now is that the Republican-controlled legislature is considering a Republican-sponsored bill to prevent local municipalities from banning the sale of dogs from any breeder that is licensed by the USDA.
With no information on the track records of these licensed breeders, however, the bill ensures that pet businesses can’t be shut down by local officials for any reason, even animal abuse, as long as they keep their USDA license. And with no way of getting access to the USDA data on the puppy breeders, consumers will have no way of knowing if they are buying a lovingly raised healthy puppy or an unhealthy, disease-ridden, abused animal that will require costly veterinary treatment and display behavioral problems.
Even the lobbyist for the Florida pet stores pushing for the bill thinks that the lack of transparency in the Trump administration’s new policy is misguided at the very least.
“We support open records and open communication on those things,” the lobbyist, Ron Book, said. “We believe the public is well served by openness.”
It’s too bad that the Trump administration is trying to sweep everything under the carpet and is on record as becoming the most regressive administration in modern history when it comes to public access to publicly funded information.