FDA Ordered to Disclose Stats on Confinement of Hens

Posted on August 27, 2013

Freedom of Information Act Clashes with Commercial Interests in Battle over Egg Production Practices

For immediate release:

Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund

chickens_hensSAN FRANCISCO – Last Friday, the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to disclose information to the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) about the confinement of egg-laying hens. The FDA had previously denied ALDF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about the agency’s inspection of Texas egg factories, under an exemption that aims to protect the confidentiality of commercial interests. As a result of ALDF’s lawsuit (ALDF v. U.S. FDA), the court ordered the FDA to disclose information to ALDF regarding the number of birds per cage pursuant to the federal Egg Safety Rule, a regulation designed to protect the egg supply from Salmonella contamination. This is the first time a federal court has ordered the disclosure of records regarding factory farmed eggs. While granting ALDF’s request for numbers of birds per cage, Chief Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte denied ALDF’s request for other information regarding conditions of confinement, including total hen population. ALDF is likely to appeal this portion of the ruling.

Why the flap over the confinement of egg-laying hens? Information regarding birds per cage can demonstrate animal welfare and food safety conditions at egg production facilities. Approximately 95% of all eggs sold in the U.S. come from birds crammed inside tiny wire cages in which they cannot fully stretch their wings. Research by industry experts show consumers will pay a premium for eggs they perceive to have been humanely produced. Hen density in tightly confined quarters is also closely linked with potential food safety violations, Salmonella contamination, and other risks to human health. An increasing public outcry regarding the confinement of hens has resulted in pending federal legislation to reform animal welfare requirements for egg-laying hens. ALDF’s lawsuit marks the first time a private citizen has received access to federal records about the number of birds per cage.

“Withholding public information regarding animal welfare in order to protect corporate interests is like letting the fox guard the henhouse,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of ALDF. “The FDA is obligated to regulate production in the egg industry—not prevent the full disclosure of information the public deserves.”

Copies of the lawsuit are available by request.

4 thoughts on “FDA Ordered to Disclose Stats on Confinement of Hens

  1. Patti Lawson says:

    Good for your guys. We go to a farm down the road where the chickens are free to roam and go in and out of the when house they please. Turkeys are also treated in horrendous crowded conditions and poor pigs in gestation crates…it makes me sick and i can’t think of eating anything raised in thie enviironment.

  2. Pat says:

    Shame on the FDA!!!

  3. Ellen Kessler says:

    Thank you for trying to make the lives of these poor creatures a little saner. I wish you’d take it one step further and sue to eliminate factory farms, gestation crates, and the ridiculous language of “grass-fed”, “humanely slaughtered,” etc.

    I would love to have a copy of the lawsuit.

  4. Courtney says:

    Thank you, ALDF, for pursuing this important issue. I always try to buy eggs certified as having been humanely produced, and it doesn’t bother me that I’m paying more for that peace of mind. The statistic in your press release–that 95% of eggs sold in the US come from hens suffering terrible living conditions in factory farms–is sickening. Such conditions need to be phased out as quickly as possible.

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