People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Beagle Freedom Project, Born Free USA, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—along with public health advocacy group the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Harvard Animal Law & Policy Fellow Delcianna Winders are among the animal rights and public health advocacy organizations that filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), after it deleted all public records of animal abuse investigations from its website.
Filed yesterday, in the District of Columbia, the coalition requested that the court require the agency to repost the missing records, that reported on nearly 8000 facilities, including pet stores, commercial breeders, zoos and research labs among others.
The lawsuit claims the removal of the documents are a violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the public’s right for information as originally put forth by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Both legislations were passed in 1966.
“Congress enacted the AWA decades ago ‘to insure that animals intended for use in research facilities or for exhibition purposes or for use as pets are provided humane care and treatment,'” the groups said in their complaint.
“Plaintiffs and others have also relied on such records to advocate for protection of animals used in research, exhibition, and the pet trade, and to petition the USDA to more diligently enforce the AWA, to promulgate standards for animal protection, and to formulate and institute policies and practices that will advance the protection of animals.”
USDA Spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said in a statement that the agency “is trying to balance the need for transparency with rules that protect individual privacy.”
Animal welfare organizations believe, however, that this is another attempt for the agency to protect animal abusers.
“Our lawsuit seeks to compel the USDA to reinstate the records, which it had no right to remove from its website in the first place,” said Delcianna Winders, a Harvard Animal Law and Policy Fellow, in a statement. “The government should not be in the business of hiding animal abusers and lawbreakers from public scrutiny.”
The editor of Speaking of Research, an animal research advocacy group, wrote “When information is hidden, particularly where it was once available, the public will naturally wonder why many stakeholders have cause for concern: the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combatting the public perception that they are not transparent.”
“These decisions are not final,” she Espinosa. “Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”
PETA is joined by Born Free USA, as well as the remaining co-plaintiffs, in also demanding that the USDA the groups legal fees.
Source: Vocativ, The Hill
Photo Credit: NJ.com