Challenging the USDA for Public Records of Inspection Process at Nonhuman Primates Research Facilities
Animal Legal Defense Fund and Rise for Animals v. United States Department of Agriculture
The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the USDA under FOIA for the agency’s failure to respond to a request for public records related to the inconsistent inspection process of nonhuman primate research facilities.
Defendant to Answer Complaint
On October 16, 2020, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Rise for Animals filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the agency’s failure to respond to a request for public records related to the inconsistent inspection process of nonhuman primate research facilities accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, a private advocacy organization for the research industry. The plaintiffs are represented by Harvard Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Clinic.
The FOIA request for public records was sent to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on July 17, 2020, following a lawsuit filed against the USDA in June 2020 focused on protecting primates used in biomedical research. The request became necessary after plaintiffs had reason to believe that APHIS informed its inspectors that they may choose which aspects of a particular facility they wish to inspect, allowing inspectors to ignore or disregard entire sections of the laboratory that impact the well-being of nonhuman primates.
Current enrichment regulations were last updated in 1991, when much less was known about the psychological needs of primates. These regulations defer to research facilities to develop their own enrichment plans and have been criticized by the USDA’s own inspectors as vague and unenforceable. The regulations fall far short of what the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded was necessary to protect the psychological well-being of chimpanzees.
Who is being sued, why, and under what law? The United States Department of Agriculture under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the agency’s failure to respond to a request for public records related to a possible inconsistent inspection process of nonhuman primate research facilities accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.
What court is the lawsuit filed in? U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
Why this case is important: Nonhuman primates, such as apes and monkeys, are highly intelligent animals with complex psychological and physical needs. But current Animal Welfare Act regulations do not impose specific standards for a physical environment that is adequate to ensure the psychological well-being of nonhuman primates used in research. As one participant at an NIH-sponsored Symposium on Animal Welfare and Scientific Research lamented, “[i]f you show a picture of a primate cage from 40 years ago and a primate cage now, it’s basically the same: it’s all metal with a perch added.”
The requested public records are necessary to ensure there is transparency in the inspection process of nonhuman primate research facilities and that animals receive adequate care under the law.
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