PETA-Led Coalition Files Lawsuit Over Agency's Refusal to Release Public Records in Violation of the Freedom of Information Act
For Immediate Release:
April 16, 2018
Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382
Washington – A coalition of animal-protection groups led by PETA filed a lawsuit today challenging the Trump administration’s extremely controversial decision to conceal records revealing whether laboratories, puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other animal-exploiting businesses are engaged in practices that violate the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
The lawsuit seeks to rectify the following three policy shifts made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- Its protection of animal abusers by removing thousands of AWA enforcement records—which were historically made available to the public—from its website and by refusing to post any new such records online. The only way in which the public can now obtain access to these records is by submitting separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for each one, which the agency takes months or even years to process. The agency now says that it will take more than three years to process even a simple FOIA request.
- The agency’s new practice of deleting from the AWA inspection reports that are posted names, license numbers, and other information that would identify the facility at issue, rendering these important documents virtually useless for ensuring that the USDA is enforcing the act. For example, a recent USDA inspection of a guinea pig breeder resulted in 10 violations of the AWA, and six animals were found dead—but the name and address of the breeder were redacted, so the public has no way of knowing who’s responsible.
- Its recently adopted practice of deleting critical information about the reasons given for denying animals relief from pain and distress from annual reports submitted by research facilities.
“The USDA is protecting animal abusers—and hiding its own failure to protect animals—by refusing to post entire categories of records and heavily redacting those it does post,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA and the other plaintiffs in this case want the USDA to post full public records on its website promptly so that consumers can know whether a puppy mill or a roadside zoo in their town is hurting animals and what the USDA is doing about it.”
In addition to PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—the plaintiffs in the case are the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Rescue and Freedom Project (formerly the Beagle Freedom Project), and Winders, in her capacity as a visiting scholar at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.
The plaintiffs are being represented by the Washington, D.C., public-interest firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.
A copy of the legal complaint is available upon request.