Trump's USDA erases public records on animal abuse reports

Under the new rules, Trump's USDA won't tell animal lovers if inspectors have discovered poison-contaminated pet food.

Under the new rules, Trump's USDA won't tell animal lovers if inspectors have discovered poison-contaminated pet food.

When dog lovers turned activists and began protesting at Sheila and Paul Haag's factory-like canine breeding compound near Paynesville in 2015, the owners called in the cavalry. The Cavalry Group, more specifically.

The Missouri firm represents people in the animal business, from ranch owners to commercial dog breeders like the Haags. A year earlier, the Humane Society fingered them as operating one of nation's "worst puppy mills."

Cavalry Group owner Mindy Patterson came to the defense of her paying clients by organizing a counter-demonstration. She spearheaded a PR campaign against their critics, accusing "animal rights extremists" of "terrorizing the Haag Family's kennel.…" 

A more recent target of Patterson's energies has been the USDA.

Her online column in January ripped the department that's responsible for animal industry oversight. Patterson accused it of having "succumbed to the pressure of animal rights extremists."

According to Patterson, whose other clients include oft-troubled Har Mar Pet Store in Roseville, public USDA records such as inspections and enforcement actions against violations have been used by animal advocates to demonize businesses by publicizing addresses and photos of their locations.

Who would have known that the Trump administration was listening.

Earlier this month, the USDA suddenly erased inspection reports and other information from its website. The research had documented the treatment of animals at thousands of dog breeders, research labs, and other facilities. It's been used in the past by animal groups to expose mistreatment at zoos and kennels. 

The records now can only be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, which have been known to take months, sometimes years before approval.

Recent court rulings and "maintaining the privacy rights of individuals with whom we come in contact" were the reasons for the move, the USDA explained in a statement. Ironically, the department also mentioned that it remains "equally committed to being transparent."

Hardly, says Matt Rice of Mercy For Animals, a nonprofit that recently exposed brutal mistreatment of pigs at an Oklahoma farm that's a supplier to Hormel.

"These records," Rice notes, "which are paid for by American taxpayers, are essential to the work of animal protection groups, lawmakers, and law enforcement agencies nationwide to ensure the well being of millions of animals. 

"Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and appears to be a part of a pattern of decreasing government transparency that started even before the new administration took over. However, the new administration does not seem to be reversing that trend."