It’s hard to believe the Trump administration would even alienate animal lovers. You’ve probably never heard of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but it’s long kept important records used by animal welfare advocates to keep track of how the government is regulating treatment in scientific research labs, zoos and circuses. People and pet stores have used the online data base to look for information about dog breeders.
Not anymore. Last Friday, the Department suddenly deleted inspection reports and more from its website. This followed what the branch called a “comprehensive review” that’s been ongoing for the past year. Documents including enforcement actions taken against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act are now only available if you file a Freedom of Information Act request.
John Goodwin, who heads up the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills campaign and has utilized these reports to publish a yearly “Horrible Hundred” dog breeding operations, says: “The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare.”
This is outrageous, though perhaps not surprising since Trump is the first president in American history not to have a pet in the White House. So far, anyway. Reportedly, a philanthropist friend of the president is prepared to give him a golden retriever/poodle mix puppy after it’s been trained. The dog’s name? Patton.
These particular website deletions are part of a broad Trumpian pattern including eliminating references to climate change on the EPA’s page. “Ignorance Is Strength,” as George Orwell wrote in 1984. And it’s likely only the beginning of what we’re going to see inside the Agriculture Department.
Trump’s final cabinet appointment, Sonny Perdue, is awaiting confirmation as its administrator. He grew up on a farm and then ran a fertilizer business before becoming governor of Georgia. Today, he runs a company that trades agricultural commodities around the world. A spokesman for the arch-conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank sees him as a man who will “work diligently to free our nation’s farmers from excessive regulation, stop government handouts that presume farmers cannot compete in the marketplace like other businesses, and break down barriers to increase farmers’ freedom to trade.”
The fact is, increasing droughts, heat waves and severe floods are already cutting crop and livestock yields drastically. At the same time, the EPA has calculated that close to ten percent of the nation’s total greenhouse-gas emissions are directly connected to agriculture. Livestock produce tons of methane. Soil management practices like tillage and fertilizer pump out nitrous oxide.
Perdue will certainly not make agriculture’s contribution to climate change a priority. Like most of Trump’s other appointees, he doesn’t really think it’s a problem. Here’s what Perdue wrote in 2014 in an op-ed piece for the National Review: “Climate change, we’re told, is responsible for heavy rains and drought alike. Whether temperatures are unseasonably low or high, global warming is the culprit. Snowstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes have been around since the beginning of time, but now they want us to accept that all of it is a result of climate change. It’s become a running joke among the public, and liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.”
In 2010 under Obama, the USDA set forth a climate change science plan calling on all its offices to create reports on related risks and potential solutions. That same year, Perdue and 19 other governors signed a letter fighting the EPA’s attempts to slash greenhouse-gas emissions. The question is what will happen now to the department’s 2014 climate change adaptation plan outlining strategies for climate resilience in agriculture.
You may not realize that Perdue’s agency also oversees the U.S. Forest Service and its 193 million acres of woodlands that, in addition to providing wildlife habitat, absorb carbon dioxide. Perdue’s Georgia is among the country’s largest timber states, and he’s himself a woodland owner who’s taken campaign money from the industry. He’s known as an advocate of “smart management” to combat threats like drought, fire, and invasive species. Those techniques include thinning forests and prescribed burns – which Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate and energy program notes have “been used by timber companies as a backdoor into destroying habitat” and thus obtain more access to federal lands.
Here’s how Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group summarizes what we’re likely to see at the USDA. “Everything we know about Sonny Perdue shows he’s going to put the interests of big commercial farmers, farm lobbyists and farm chemical companies ahead of the interests of small farmers and public health.”
Do we want Sonny Perdue in charge of what Abraham Lincoln once called “the People’s Department?” There’s still time to put pressure on our Senators to stop him.