The US Department of Agriculture Has Removed All of Its Inspection Records–Here’s Why it Matters

The United States Department of Agriculture has recently removed all inspection records from its website–this means that inspection records from the 9,000 licensed facilities that use animals have been taken down. This covers a vast array of facilities working with animals including animal research labs, commercial dog breeders who are often puppy mills, roadside zoos, and Tennessee Horse Walking shows. The Humane Society of the United States is suing the USDA to reinstate these records.

As Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society, has detailed in his recent book, The Humane Economy, public opinion has drastically shifted in regard to animal welfare—particularly in regard to the treatment of farm animals. This has resulted in major positive steps for animal welfare including the biggest producers of eggs switching to cage-free facilities, better oversight and consequences for those who run puppy mills, the removal of elephants from the Ringling Brothers circus, and the ending of breeding captive orcas at Sea World. Sadly legal efforts to ban horse soring have been stymied since the Trump administration took office.

These efforts would not have become possible if not for a drastic shift in public opinion on these issues, which forced businesses to change their practices. People do not want to buy puppies raised on puppy mills, as has been demonstrated by initiatives of big companies like Petsmart and Petco who only feature dogs from local animals shelters. Real progress has been made in short period of time that will affect the treatment of thousands of animals.

Why does it matter that these inspection records have been removed? Firstly, the government has an obligation to provide transparency. The public has made clear that they do not tolerate unethical treatment of animals and have shown this in their buying power, but also by voting for ballot initiatives that support animals. This was recently demonstrated in Massachusetts where they voted to mandate that all chickens, pigs, and calves not be confined in small cages. Thus, consumers want to know if the products they are buying are coming from a company that upholds ethical standards.

Why should Social Workers care about this issue? Social workers have a responsibility to promote social justice and uphold a high ethical standard, and this includes the environment and animals. Factory farms are known to produce high levels of methane, which contribute to global warming—which in turn affects people. Furthermore, people that commit animal abuse are more likely to abuse their partners and children. Finally, factory farms have been known to mistreat their workers. At one poultry farm, workers were denied bathroom breaks and had to use diapers just to keep their jobs.

What are our next steps? Contact your elected officials. Animal related issues are often bi-partisan, so your voice can make a difference.

Show that you care through your buying power and support companies that are committed to upholding ethical standards around animals.

Finally, educate others on animal related issues. Many people are unaware of the abuses on factory farms and puppy mills. Rolling Stone recently did a very eye-opening story on puppy mills that you can share with others. Stay positive, as the movement for a ‘humane economy’ has had many important victories and will need our commitment to keep the momentum.

Confidentiality Policies that Hurt Children in Child Welfare Protection Cases

A news story regarding abuse animal recently resulted in thousands of dollars in donations. The community was appropriately outraged when pictures and details of the abuse were aired by local television stations. The community responded with donations and tips that led to the identification and arrest of the abuser. It was striking that the community immediately mobilized to provide care for the dog, supporting the local rescue organization, and law enforcement in their efforts. The response was immediate and generous.

For me, the more striking aspect of this story was something unrelated. A story on Page 6 of the local newspaper reported the same day that three children had been removed and placed in foster care. A two-year-old had tested positive for exposure to three different illegal drugs.  Their babysitter called authorities when they observed that the toddler was not acting normally. The story went on to state the children lived in deplorable conditions and two children were hospitalized, but there were no donations. If there was an arrest, it was not reported. Instead of support for the organization charged with providing emergency care for the children, there was criticism that the abuse was not identified earlier.

boy with dogThe contrast in the two stories was readily apparent. The community rallied to support the animal rescue organization, law enforcement, and the veterinary clinic providing medical care for the dog. There were donations of money and supplies, assistance to law enforcement, and offers of care for the dog. The animal rescue organization issued a statement saying they did not need a home for the dog 24 hours after the story was reported; they had more than enough donations and offers of assistance.

Meanwhile, the child welfare agency was criticized, the medical provider not identified, and the role of law enforcement was not acknowledged. I doubt the story of child abuse prompted many calls offering a home for the children. Generally only stories of abandoned or abused infants generates calls from potential new foster parents or inquiries about adoption.

Why was there such a difference in response? I believe that, in part, confidentiality played a role. The names and locations of the children were not included in the news story. Details of the care required for the dog were shared while the care of the children remained confidential. The names of the alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the dog were widely publicized, including their ‘mug shots’. The rescue organizations and other community support agencies were identified. Conversely, the names of alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the children were withheld. Rarely are details of child abuse shared with the public. When there are news stories, they tend to be only the horrific cases where a child has died, has been starved, or is severely abused, and the focus generally is on ‘system failures’. For the record, I would not advocate for publicizing ‘mug shots’ of abusers in most child abuse cases. I firmly believe in a strength-based approach to treating and ultimately ending child abuse.

I understand the interest in shielding vulnerable children from media coverage, and my intent is not to compare children to animals. It is worth noting, however, that child protection emerged as a field as a result of animal protection laws. I am not one of ‘those people’ who bemoan the support received by animal rights organizations.

However, maybe child welfare could learn something from animal protection efforts. Maybe the public reporting of child abuse should be accompanied by a request for support, a list of opportunities to help. Maybe child welfare should be more transparent about the important work they do every day so that the next time a child is abused finger-pointing is replaced by offers of support. I look forward to the day that shelter care facilities for abused children are obsolete because of the abundance of foster homes available. And perhaps one day child welfare will be able to turn away offers of support. Better yet, maybe one day communities will be so engaged in protecting children that abuse reports are a rarity and replaced with a ‘norm’ of citizens reaching out to ensure children are cared for and nurtured. Perhaps one day….

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