FDA Ordered to Disclose Stats on Confinement of HensPosted 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
SAN 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.