Victory for Animal Rights Groups in ‘USDA Blackout’ Lawsuits

Settlement Includes Agency's Sworn Commitment to Making and Keeping Records Public

For Immediate Release:
July 20, 2020

Contact:
Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382

Washington – On Friday, PETA and co-plaintiffs the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Born Free USA, the Beagle Freedom Project, and Lewis & Clark Law School Assistant Clinical Professor and Animal Law Litigation Clinic Director Delcianna Winders successfully settled their lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which were filed in 2017 and 2018 in order to force the agency to restore vital records related to puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other animal-exploiting enterprises that it illegally removed from its website in February 2017.

The settlement includes the USDA’s sworn statement that it has restored and will continue to provide public access to those records on its website.

The “USDA Blackout” litigation, together with immense public pressure, inspired Congress in late 2019 to require the USDA to restore the records. Plaintiffs kept the lawsuits active until they could confirm that the agency was complying with Congress’ order to provide the public with information about its enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

In its sworn statement, the USDA also admits that it has not issued any letters of warning to nor entered into any settlement agreements with any animal-exploiting operations since December 20, 2019. This is a damning admission, given that settlement agreements and warnings are the agency’s primary means of enforcing the AWA.

The Washington Post reported previously on the USDA’s precipitous lack of AWA enforcement, and the declaration that plaintiffs have secured makes it clear that the situation has only gotten more dire for the millions of animals the agency is supposed to protect under the act. In fiscal year 2017, the USDA initiated 273 AWA enforcement actions—so far in 2020, the agency has initiated only two. That the USDA’s chronic under-enforcement of the AWA worsened during the information blackout demonstrates how access to the public records is crucial to expose the agency’s appalling enforcement failure.

“PETA is thrilled about this victory and that the records have been restored. It should not have taken litigation or an act of Congress to force the USDA to be transparent about its derelict enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Caitlin Hawks. “PETA will keep pushing this negligent agency to do its job and ensure that animals are treated humanely in laboratories, in circuses, at roadside zoos, and anywhere else they’re at risk of being neglected or abused—and that means thorough inspections and thorough recordkeeping.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way” and which opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview—and the other plaintiffs were represented in their lawsuits by the public interest law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind