WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in cooperation with the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, convened a coalition of lawmakers, legal scholars, and organizations on Capitol Hill Thursday, June 6, to bring attention to the federal government’s withholding of animal welfare information. The briefing, held in the Capitol Visitor Center, was in partnership with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). Speakers from five other advocacy organizations also spoke to the 125 attendees at the briefing.
In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture abruptly removed public access to the Animal Care Information System, an online, searchable database that included inspection reports, annual reports, and other documents regarding enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and Animal Welfare Act. The database is an important tool for the Physicians Committee’s efforts to modernize and humanize research and medical training. Without it, efforts to find out how animals are used in laboratories and whether those facilities are complying with federal law are increasingly difficult.
Rep. Blumenauer called the issue “one of the rare areas where there is a significant amount of bipartisan agreement and it matters to lots of people.” Rep. Blumenauer said that an accurate and current database allows those concerned about animal welfare “to be able to track what’s going on, to be able to hold people accountable, to understand that everyone’s playing by the same rules and, those that aren’t, be able to do something about it.”
“It’s an important check to make sure there’s a little gentle pressure on the federal government itself to live up to our ideals,” said Rep. Blumenauer.
In response to the USDA’s move, 17 senators joined Sen. Robert Menendez in February in protesting the action, writing a letter that stated: "The public has a right to know if regulated entities have subjected animals in their care to abuse or otherwise failed to meet basic animal welfare standards." In addition, Arizona Republican Martha McSally and 100 other members of the House of Representatives encouraged President Trump to restore the database, writing: “We should be increasing government transparency, not diminishing it.” The USDA’s move also came under scrutiny from several organizations interested in open government, animal protection, research transparency and consumer protection.
The Physicians Committee is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that requires the USDA to immediately restore its Animal Care Information System, a website that included a searchable database of reports on how animals are used in laboratories and whether those facilities are complying with the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research and medical training.