The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to remove from its website information about animal welfare is an assault on the democratic rights of citizens who care about animals. It signals to commercial and other interests that their use of animals are even more protected from public scrutiny and accountability. The action was taken abruptly without public notice on Friday, February 3, two weeks after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The USDA is responsible for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates animal use in such areas as trading, transporting and exhibiting animals, and in research, testing and eduction. Although it is unfit for purpose in regulating animal use in any meaningful way, the Act is the primary federal legislation that animal advocates and others interested in animal protection have available to them to monitor, investigate and litigate to ensure its enforcement.
As The Washington Post reported (“USDA abruptly purges animal welfare information from its website”) on February 3, 2017:
The records that had been available were frequently used by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animal treatment at circuses, scientific labs and zoos. Journalists have used the documents to expose violations at universities.
How should the social justice movement for animals respond?
First, animal advocates must understand the political context. The USDA’s action is part of a broader assault on democracy from the Trump administration. Whether it is attempting to ban Muslims from entering the USA or removing information from other government websites or relaxing the law for the coal industry or censoring information on the USDA’s website — they are all authoritarian actions designed to restrict and control what citizens can and cannot do.
Second, regardless of anyone’s preferred philosophical ideology — whether it be rights, protection or welfare — the USDA’s action impacts everyone and every organisation who cares about animals. Consequently, animal advocates must come together in every possible way for action because what we now face is a far greater danger than any differences of opinion we may have.
Third, we must frame our concern for animals and USDA’s actions as part of the greater public debate now underway about other social justice issues threatened by the present administration. The administration’s actions are all rooted in the same authoritarian impulse.
These are broad declarations. There is so much more to be said and done. Most importantly, we need to recognise and understand what is happening today in the USA. And confront it.