LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com)  —    The USDA website removed animal welfare and inspection reports, the place the public could formerly go to check out breeders, ranchers, stores to see if they had violations.

KCAL9’s Peter Daut reports that animal rights activities are not happy.

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The unexpected move is now generating outrage from animal-welfare groups and businesses, as well.

Right now, it’s unclear if the USDA’s removal of the animal records is temporary or permanent. But many groups and businesses, fear the decision will have an immediate impact.

The online database was abruptly replaced —  with a message from the department saying the removal of countless records was “based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholder’s informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals.”

“Frankly it’s appalling and frustrating,” said Nadia Taha of PETA.

Taha says the information that had been available was frequently used to monitor animal abuse which she now worries could go unchecked.

“Hiding violations provides a sort of cover for those who violate animals. and that’s what we’re afraid of,” she said.

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It’s unclear whether the decision to remove the records was driven by newly-hired officials with the Trump administration.

As justification  the online notice cites ongoing court decisions and guidance from the Department of Justice regarding privacy and freedom of information laws.

But businesses are also concerned: pet-store ”The Healthy Spot’ in West Hollywood prides itself on being open and honest.

The store worries customers may not be fully-aware of problems with its competitors.

“If it’s a business that’s trying to do good and another business that’s your competitors is doing bad, but able to hide that, how are we able to compete with that?” said Billy Calhoun of The Healthy Spot.

The USDA say the records will still be available through Freedom of Information Act Requests (FAIR). but that can be costly to the public and sometimes take months or even years to obtain.

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