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Update: After Congress complains, USDA restores animal welfare reports

Science: “Following Congress’s request for greater transparency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has apparently restored detail in its most recent animal welfare inspection reports. Reports published on the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website since last August have omitted inventories that list the number and species of animals housed at facilities within companies and research institutions. But newly posted reports seem to reflect lawmakers’ concerns that such redactions make it hard to track the agency’s findings and activities. Newly posted inspection reports, dated March, are apparently the first since last August to show animal inventories. USDA did not immediately respond to request for comment on whether it plans to include such information in all future reports. Below is our original story from 22 March. There was an outcry from both animal welfare groups and animal research defenders 13 months ago when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) blacked out a public database containing thousands of animal welfare inspection reports, as well as records of enforcement actions that USDA took against violators of the Animal Welfare Act, including research facilities. Months later, the agency began posting the inspection reports again, but in a redacted form that critics said made the records much harder to analyze. And USDA did not continue to post enforcement actions, forcing outsiders who wanted those records to file a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIA process typically takes many months to yield a response and often produces heavily redacted documents. Now, Congress is telling USDA that it isn’t happy about the situation, and is ordering the agency to clean up its act and make the database more user-friendly. Yesterday, lawmakers released a report accompanying USDA’s 2018 spending bill. The report notes the agency “is now posting heavily redacted inspection reports that make it difficult in certain cases for the public to understand the subject of the inspection, assess USDA’s subsequent actions, and to evaluate the effectiveness of its enforcement.”..”

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