Harvard Law Fellow Appeals USDA’s FOIA Records Total Blackout

Agency Heightens Secrecy Over Animal-Inspection Records as PETA and Other Groups Sue for Transparency

For Immediate Release:
May 1, 2017

David Perle 202-483-7382


Having received 1,771 pages of totally blacked-out pages of records required to be publicly available, Harvard University’s animal law and policy fellow, Delcianna Winders, this morning appealed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) wholesale redaction arising from the agency’s February 3 decision to—without warning—delete thousands of records related to puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling animal shows, and other enterprises that use and exploit animals.

On the day the records were deleted, Winders submitted an expedited Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information—but when she received the first set of records, all 1,771 pages were completely blacked out. “It was as if someone had spilled a bottle of black dye across the pages,” she says. Her appeal is based on the FOIA’s mandate that agencies segregate and disclose any material that is not FOIA-exempt.

“Not only is the USDA concealing how it’s regulating companies that use animals, but now it’s defying the public’s right to know why,” she says. “This indefensible action underscores why PETA and others are suing for the records that the public is entitled to by law.”

Winders is part of the coalition—including PETA, Beagle Freedom Project, Born Free USA, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—that sued to compel the USDA to return all the inspection records to its website. The groups’ lawsuit contends that the removal was illegal because the FOIA requires agencies to post frequently requested records on their websites. The USDA has acknowledged that inspection reports were the most frequently requested records, and before the blackout, they were routinely posted online pursuant to the FOIA’s affirmative disclosure requirements. The groups use such records to expose cruelty to animals and the USDA’s lack of enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

The plaintiffs are represented by Washington, D.C., public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.

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