A chihuahua awaits adoption at a Los Angeles Department of Animal Services shelter.
A chihuahua awaits adoption at a Los Angeles Department of Animal Services shelter. - 
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has removed animal welfare inspection reports and some enforcement records from its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or APHIS website.

Advocacy groups, journalists and other members of the public have used the information to track any potential history of abuses on the part of animal testing labs and commercial dog and horse breeders.

The head of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, said the group often used the now-removed USDA reports to track animal rights abuses.

"We assembled information about the worst operators of puppy mills, people who were violating the federal Horse Protection Act," Pacelle said. 

Pacelle said taking down some of that information violates a settlement between the USDA and the Humane Society over public access to Animal Welfare Act reports. He's prepared to take legal action.

A statement provided by USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said the review of APHIS's website and decision to change what regulatory records it posts predates the change in administration. The statement also noted the agency is trying to balance the need for transparency with "with rules protecting individual privacy" of those named in reports.

"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," the statement said.

Mindy Patterson advocates for commercial animal interests with her company the Cavalry Group. She said animal rights groups take the USDA inspection reports out of context.

"They are opposed to anyone making a living raising and breeding animals," she said.

On its website, the Humane Society calls responsible breeders "vital partners."

The USDA said inspection reports and other documents can still be sought through Freedom of Information Act requests, though that process can be lengthy.

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Follow Annie Baxter at @anniebaxter123