"This appears to be a situation of agency capture with the USDA cowering to special interests to the detriment of transparency and animal welfare," Nancy Perry, senior vice president of government relations for the ASPCA, told The Dodo in a statement. "This is public information and subject to FOIA, so it's dumbfounding that the USDA would take action to make this information more difficult to access. We are deeply concerned this is an effort to protect those who are doing harm to animals."
"The USDA has stripped animal protection organizations of a critical tool needed to identify and address the worst puppy mills," Kelsey Eberly, staff attorney Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), told The Dodo. "The USDA's rash decision also keeps consumers in the dark, preventing them from determining whether pet stores are sourcing their puppies from abysmal breeders ... This marks a major step backward which will severely harm animals and those who work to protect them."
To take action against this lack of transparency, you can file a request for information through FOIA. To ask that this information be made easily available again, you can sign this petition. To help CAPS conduct investigations into puppy mills, you can make a donation.
The USDA did not immediately reply to The Dodo's request for comment.
Update: Tanya Espinosa, public affairs specialist for legislative and public affairs at USDA-APHIS, replied to The Dodo on Tuesday morning. "The FOIA request is supposed to take 20 business days to process," Espinosa said. She also sent along a statement issued to her by the USDA-APHIS:
The review of APHIS' website has been ongoing, and the agency is striving to balance the need for transparency with rules protecting individual privacy. In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency's website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.
Watch a video about the information blackout below: