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Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary lawsuit against USDA advances

17 July 2019, at 4:26pm

US District Judge Michael Telesca for the Western District of New York denied on 15 July 2019 the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the USDA by animal welfare groups.

In August 2018, the Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for department records related to the treatment of animals in US slaughter plants. The lawsuit is based on a 2016 amendment to FOIA that requires federal agencies to proactively post records that are subject to frequent requests.

The suit asks the USDA to proactively post records relating to the enforcement of two laws dating to the 1950s - the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act.

Such records expose inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter plants across the country, including incidents of workers throwing chickens and improperly stunning pigs and cattle and transporters abandoning trucks full of animals for hours in hot weather. Animal advocacy groups review hundreds of these records annually to monitor USDA enforcement and produce reports, action alerts and policy recommendations based on the findings.

“AWI is happy to see that the decision came down in our favor, and we are excited to move forward with the merits of the case,” said Erin Thompson, staff attorney for AWI’s farm animal programme.

“These records are critical to AWI’s understanding of how the Department of Agriculture is enforcing the Poultry Products Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act because they shine a light on the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses. Online disclosure of these records is a more efficient and effective way to deliver this vital information to the public.

“The poultry industry will undoubtedly benefit from this decision,” Thompson added, “because bad apples that flout good commercial practices (GCP) will be held accountable for their mistreatment of birds. Compliance with GCP reduces the needless suffering of billions of chickens and turkeys destined for slaughter every year.”

Proactively posting animal handling records would improve transparency and safety of the nation’s food supply, according to the plaintiffs, as well as increase the efficiency of the department’s FOIA process. The information would be useful to the agriculture industry in evaluating animal care standards, to government officials in creating and enforcing policy, and to consumers in making decisions about what products they purchase.