The mysterious removal of records from the government agency reveals ties to the horse show industry.
A lawsuit filed against the USDA by Contender Farms, L.L.P., Mike McGartland, Lee McGartland, and SHOW Inc. was recently dropped. Last month, the USDA scrubbed all animal welfare records from its website without much explanation. The removal has been linked to this lawsuit which aimed to sue the USDA for violating the federal Privacy Act by publishing the plaintiffs’ names in inspection reports that accuse them of “soring” their Tennessee Walking Horses—an illegal practice of applying chemicals to a horse’s legs to encourage a high-stepping gait. In order to enter a Tennessee Walking Horse into a competition, the Horse Protection Act of 1970 requires an inspection conducted by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) sub-committee. When the McGartlands had multiple horses disqualified, the records on the USDA’s website reflected these animal cruelty allegations. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has taken immediate action since the blackout in order to reinstate inspection reports of industries that exploit animals. “We’re not sure if they cut a secret deal with the USDA behind the judge’s and the public’s back,” HSUS president Wayne Pacelle said, “or if they just realized that they had a very difficult path to prevail in court.” Though the USDA has republished some animal welfare information after legal pressure from animal-rights groups, APHIS spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said the remaining missing records are still under review in order to “determine which information is appropriate for reposting.”