On May 5th, the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that, in response to a lawsuit filed by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the agency will again post registered research facilities' annual reports to their website, as required by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The announcement came shortly after The HSUS filed suit in federal district court in Washington, challenging, among other things, the agency's 2002 decision to summarily remove key documents concerning the use of animals in research from its website. According to the USDA, after reviewing the merits of the lawsuit, the Department of Justice instructed the agency to restore public access to the reports via the internet.
The USDA is charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which provides minimal protections for certain animals used in research and other settings. The agency requires all facilities that conduct research on covered animals to submit reports on an annual basis, including information on the number and species of animals used in research, whether animals are provided with pain or distress relief and, if not, a description of the procedures involved and an explanation of why relief was withheld.
"Congress specifically recognized in the 1996 Electronic FOIA Amendments that internet access to agency records and federal agency accountability go hand in hand," said Peter J. Petersan, deputy director of animal protection litigation for The HSUS. "Prompt access to animal research reporting documents is not only required by FOIA, it is also critical to ensure full enforcement of the AWA and to promote the humane treatment of animals in research facilities around the country."
"After a number of setbacks in trying to obtain documents over the past four years, we are looking forward to using the available information in order to properly advocate on behalf of animals used in research, particularly those who are subjected to pain and distress, and to ensure that USDA is doing its job," said Kathleen Conlee, HSUS director of program management for animal research issues.
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