It's been reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently removed public access to tens of thousands of reports that document the numbers of animals kept by research labs, companies, zoos, circuses, and animal transporters—and whether those animals are being treated humanely under the Animal Welfare Act.
The lawsuit, filed in February 2016, was brought in part by Lee and Mike McGartland, Texas attorneys who enter Tennessee Walking Horses in various competitions. The breed is famous for its high-stepping gait, which some animal welfare advocates have charged comes from injuring the animals, typically by adding caustic chemicals to their legs and feet—a process known as soring. The Horse Protection Act of 1970 outlawed the practice, and the law is enforced by inspectors employed by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
A negative APHIS inspection can disqualify a horse from competition, even before the owners or trainers can contest the findings in court. As a result, the McGartlands, who have had several horses disqualified from competition because of allegations of soring, charged APHIS with violating their due process rights. In particular, because the inspection reports are posted online and contain the names of the alleged violators, the McGartlands say that USDA has violated the federal Privacy Act, which regulates the dissemination of personal information by federal agencies. The lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in Fort Worth, Texas, asks the agency to remove any such documents from its website.