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Monday, February 6, 2017

The Department of Secrets

In all of the commotion surrounding the new administration in Washington, there are lots of things which have slipped past quietly, overshadowed by the debates over immigration, health insurance, and the wisdom of having guns in schools to protect students from rampaging grizzly bears.

One of those has been a decision quietly made by the United States Department of Agriculture - the entity that inspects, among others, all facilities that exhibit mammals to the public, from your neighborhood petting zoo to the San Diego Zoo.  The results of those inspections had been available online.  On more than one occasion, I'd heard a colleague trying to gain information about another facility, one that they had never heard of, to determine if it was reputable and provided suitable animal care.  One of the easiest ways to do so was read their USDA inspection reports online.

Without warning, USDA has since removed that information.  It can now only be obtained with a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Some keepers are very happy about this.  Too often in the past, Animal Rights groups have been able to denounce zoos by saying that there have been "USDA violations"... maybe without specifying that those "violations" were cobwebs in the kitchen and some hay that no one had gotten to sweeping up yet.  Others are highly skeptical of this new law.  In a surprising new twist, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Humane Society of the United States - two organizations that are usually in some degree of opposition - have come out in opposition to the rule change.  AZA's position?  We have nothing to hide, so why make it seem like we do?

To be clear, zoos and aquariums were probably not the entities that this rule change was made for.  The blackout covers government labs that engage in animal research... which does make you wonder what is motivating the change.

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