It’s no secret that Donald Trump’s sires are no champions of animal rights causes. Most people with social media accounts have seen pictures of Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. proudly posing with their bounty, including one or both of them with a leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo bull, and waterbuck.
Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Donald Trump, the President, will effectuate any policy that will negatively impact animal rights, does it? Just because that’s a past time of his children doesn’t mean that he necessarily harbors the same lackadaisical attitude about animal welfare. Unfortunately, it appears that this is a case of “like father, like son(s).”
Trump has chosen a man named Forrest Lucas, a billionaire who founded an organization called Protect the Harvest, to be his agricultural adviser. Essentially, this organization was formed to actively oppose the Humane Society, including opposing any legislation aimed at restricting animal cruelty practices in the production of meat, dairy, and eggs. Furthermore, he has been instrumental in opposing efforts to establish felony-level penalties for cruelty against dogs, cat, and horses. He has even fought against the establishment of standards for dogs in commercial puppy mills. Lucas’s organization is literally an anti-animal welfare organization.
Working beside Lucas will be Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. Branstad actually signed a bill into law that punishes whistleblowers, this effectively gives factory farmers free rein over their treatment of animals and worker safety. Another adviser, former Nebraska governor Dave Heineman, vetoed a bill to end the sport hunting of mountain lions and has defended factory farming practices that many people, including animal rights activists, find unethical and cruel, including the use of battery cages and gestation crates.
Donald Trump seals his stance on animal welfare by reportedly considering Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa factory farmer, to become Trump’s agriculture secretary. Rastetter’s brother is the CEO of a company that builds large-scale hog facilities, as well as gestation crates for breeding sows. Trump has surrounded himself with advisers who only see animals as a source of revenue, rather than animals that we need to take care of and treat with respect. The saga of Trump’s attack on animal rights and welfare does not end with his choices for advisers…
Already, despite his short time in office, the Trump administration has ordered that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service immediately remove thousands of records related to Animal Welfare Act-related entities from its website, including research facilities that experiment on dogs and cats.
The information in this database contained inspection reports that gave the public access to see a myriad of law enforcement records related to the Animal Welfare Act. Such records included inspection reports from facilities that were violating the law, annual reports that revealed which laboratories where experimenting on animals, how many animals were used for research, and other important information. This rule extends to other regulated entities, as well, including puppy mills, circuses, and zoos. In all, over 9,000 licensed facilities had accessible files and were being held accountable. The significance of this demand from the Trump administration is that is essentially allows those who break the law to evade public scrutiny.
Now, if such information such as inspection reports is desired, the public will have to make a request to the USDA through the Freedom of Information Act. Which, if anyone has ever filed a FOIA before, knows that it is frequently tedious, time-consuming, and frustrating.
“This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things,” the Beagle Freedom Project, a lab animal rescue group, said in a statement on Facebook.
Luckily, on February 6, 2017, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), took the first step to initiate legal action to challenge this attempt to limit the accountability of companies who are responsible for the welfare of animals.
In fact, the HSUS sued the USDA in 2005 over public access to Animal Welfare Act reports concerning animal use in universities and other laboratories. That case was settled in 2009 in exchange for the USDA’s agreement to post certain data on its website concerning research on animals. The agency’s unfortunate decision to remove virtually all enforcement documentation violates the plain terms of the settlement and a federal court order. It also runs contrary to Congressional provisions in 1996 and 2016 designed to increase transparency and electronic access to information.
Donald Trump’s administration is clearly pro-business, even when the interest of animal welfare is at stake. Profiting off of the misery of animals seems to not be of concern to him based on his choice of advisers and the fact that he’s attempting to remove all means of accountability from companies or individuals that do abuse animals. However, that does not mean that Trump will prevail. In this case, the HSUS has a strong case for demanding that the information Trump ordered to be taken off the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service website will be replaced and that accountability will be restored. It may be one small victory, but accountability is everything in a democracy and we must continue to remain vigilant if we want a renewable environment for years to come.