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Benson, Quijano & Prieto Bill Calling on USDA to Repost Animal Welfare Data on its Website Clears Assembly

Sponsors say information purge endangers animals, harms consumers and hinders transparency

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Dan Benson, Annette Quijano and Speaker Vincent Prieto urging the United States Department of Agriculture to restore deleted animal welfare records on its website was approved Wednesday by the General Assembly.

The USDA removed the information from its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHS) website earlier this month. Before the purge, the USDA posted violations, inspection records and annual reports for all commercial animal facilities in the nation, and complaints from members of the public against specific individuals or organizations. According to the resolution, this information has been an invaluable tool for government officials and advocates seeking to protect animal welfare.

“This data serves a real purpose. It keeps breeders in check and consumers informed. Denying the public easy access to this information takes away important oversight and puts animals in danger,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex), who also plans to revise his pet protection bill (A-2338) to prohibit breeders from sending animals into New Jersey if their inspection reports are not accessible on the USDA website. “The only ones who benefit from this lack of transparency are those with something to hide. Let’s not make it easier for them to ignore welfare standards and commit abuse.”

The USDA asserts that the public can still access this information through a Freedom of Information Act request, but the resolution points out that these requests can take months, even years to process. In addition to long processing times, the resolution argues that Freedom of Information Act requests can be extremely burdensome, especially for small businesses, such as pet stores, that relied on this information to ensure the health and safety of animals in their care.

The resolution (AR-215) contends that “by removing this vital information from its website, the USDA has delivered a devastating blow to animal welfare advocacy and law enforcement across the county, made it easier for those with a history of violating animal welfare laws to continue to engage in unscrupulous practices that put defenseless animals in harm’s way, and may be in violation of a settlement agreement between the Humane Society and the USDA.”

“This is bad for animals, consumers and businesses,” said Quijano (D-Union). “If someone looking to purchase a pet wants to know more about a breeder’s record, the only way to find this information now is through an FOIA request, which can take months. This is an unnecessary and tedious step that might deter people from buying and allow animal abuse to go unchecked.”

“This information has helped expose animal welfare abuses and hold law breakers accountable. Now it’s only available via a process that can take months to resolve. That’s a problem,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “This puts animal welfare in peril and inhibits consumer protections. The government should uphold these protections, not make decisions that facilitate exploitation.”

Copies of the resolution will be sent to the President of the United States, the Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture and every member of Congress from New Jersey.

The resolution was approved 54-0-13 by the Assembly and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.