The Nonhuman Rights Project called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today to immediately restore to its website an important database the public uses to obtain information about where and in what conditions nonhuman animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act are kept. The NhRP also urged Americans to join the fight for nonhuman rights, without which nonhuman animals will remain legally vulnerable.
Yesterday, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced it had removed the database from its website. Filing a Freedom of Information Act request is now the only way to access annual reports, inspection reports, and other documents that show violations of these federal laws on the part of labs, zoos, breeding facilities, and other entities. As others have rightly noted, many animal advocates can’t afford to file FOIA requests—and all too frequently, the nonhuman animals they aim to help can’t afford to wait the months and years it can take to process them.
Precisely because of the gross inadequacy of animal welfare laws—including the AWA and HPA—the lion’s share of power already belongs to individuals, businesses, and institutions that exploit nonhuman animals. This action by the USDA grants these entities even more power by putting an enormous obstacle in the way of animal advocates gaining access to critical information.
Until courts and legislatures recognize nonhuman animals’ fundamental legal rights, it will be exactly this easy to sweep away what feeble protections members of other species have under our legal system. As history shows and as human tyranny never ceases to put to the test, rights endure. They are inalienable. They are the means by which—in keeping with our most cherished values—we defend the interests of the most vulnerable among us, especially the voiceless and the invisible.
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