FDA Ordered to Release Factory Farming Data on Intense Confinement of Egg Laying Hens
The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s persistent decade-long court fight will finally reveal inhumane conditions at egg farms
LOS ANGELES — The United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted a motion for summary judgement to the Animal Legal Defense Fund that orders the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to publicly disclose critical information about factory egg farms from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The ruling uncovers additional details that were previously redacted including cage rows, number of cage tiers, and number of cage floors per hen house on top of data obtained previously in the case that will help give the public a better sense of the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that FDA allows to fester on factory egg farms.
Due to the factory farming industry’s efforts to shroud its practices in secrecy, FOIA is critical to understand industry conditions and government law enforcement. FOIA’s Exemption 4, which authorizes the government to withhold confidential commercial information, is frequently used by agencies to withhold important information about industries that exploit animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s many victories in this case have set legal precedent that will empower the public to better understand what the government is doing to protect animals and public safety in the factory farm industry.
“The cruel practices of factory farming are kept from the public so consumers are left in the dark about the treatment of the animals involved in industrial agriculture,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “While it took a decade to get information on animals that the public has a right to see, we are pleased that the court ruled in our favor and that we can finally examine data that the industry has tried desperately to keep from coming to light.”
The decision is a key landmark in a decade-long legal battle for critical information about animal mistreatment in the egg industry. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a FOIA request in 2011 to obtain information related to hen overcrowding at several factory egg farms in Texas that the FDA collected during inspections under the federal Egg Safety Rule — but the agency refused to make it public at the behest of the egg industry. The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the FDA in 2012 for withholding that information, and in 2013, the court ordered the FDA to disclose information regarding number of birds per cage. But the court denied the request for other information regarding conditions of confinement. The Animal Legal Defense Fund appealed the denial of the other information, and in 2016 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark en banc ruling that the Animal Legal Defense Fund was entitled to a trial to determine whether the remaining information should be withheld.
That trial the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted was held in 2018, and led to a decision requiring the FDA to disclose the total number of hen houses, the total number of floors per hen house, the total number of cage rows per hen house, and the total number of cage tiers per hen house. The FDA appealed that decision, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case yet again for reconsideration under a new Supreme Court precedent, leading to the decision announced today. During the remand, the FDA voluntarily disclosed the number of hen houses per facility.
The public relies on transparency in order to expose illegal, cruel and dangerous practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses. Egg-laying hens are among the most intensively-farmed animals in the country, making it critically important that overcrowding information in the FDA’s Egg Safety Rule records not be suppressed.
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