December 26, 2019
Docket No. APHIS—2011—0102
Regulatory Analysis and Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8
4700 River Road, Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238
RE: Docket No. APHIS—2011—0102; Privacy Act of 1974; System of Records
To Whom it May Concern,
These comments are submitted by the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) on behalf of our over 25,000 members and supporters. AAVS is very concerned about USDA’s citing of the Privacy Act to justify its proposed changes to its system of record keeping, including changes to policies and practices for storage, retrievability, and retention and disposal of records in the system and to notification, record access, and contesting record procedures.
Overall, the proposed record keeping changes would significantly reduce transparency by severely limiting public access to animal welfare records and other information about government licensed and registered facilities. Instead, USDA should provide full access to records and reports documenting compliance and enforcement for all facilities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
Disclosure of animal welfare records addresses the legal requirement for accountability of both animal users and the agency. Fulfilling the public’s right to know ensures accountability of those profiting from animal use, providing evidence that regulated facilities are—or are not—meeting the minimal standards required by the AWA. Additionally, because the regulatory process is funded by taxpayer dollars, giving public access to such information provides assurance that USDA is—or is not—adequately enforcing the law, as mandated by Congress.
In the recent Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (H.R. 1685), Congress reinforces the importance of transparency at USDA and included several provisions instructing the agency to provide information and records that document compliance and enforcement at AWA regulated facilities. In §788, page 124, it orders USDA to “restore on its website the searchable database and its contents that were available on January 30, 2017;” make all AWA “inspection reports, including all reports documenting all [AWA] non-compliances overserved by USDA officials and all animal inventories” available, “in their entirety without redactions…;” and include “all final [AWA] research facility annual reports, including their attachments with appropriate redactions made for confidential business information that USDA could withhold under FIOA Exemption 4.”
Additionally, the public uses these documents to make consumer choices, and to understand the facts about research activities conducted at universities, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and other businesses that are regulated under the AWA. AAVS utilizes animal welfare records, annual reports, as well as other information to educate and inform the public, as well as to identify important trends regarding the use of animals by dealers, breeders, and research facilities. In recent years, AAVS has noticed an increase in the number of facilities no longer being licensed under their business name, but instead by an individual, making it easier for them to cite privacy issues and conceal from the public information about their operations, location, and compliance history.
AAVS does appreciate the protection of privacy, but it is not acceptable to establish a formal policy that will conceal, delay, or delete reports and other information documenting violations of the AWA. USDA’s proposed policy changes will drastically reduce public access to records regarding the care and treatment of animals by various industries, leaving citizens with few, if any, reliable sources to obtain information. Americans care about animals and have the right to know how animals are being used and treated at government regulated facilities.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this issue.
Crystal Schaeffer, MA Ed., MA IPCR
AAVS Outreach Director