USDA FOIA Logs Posted

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published on its website a list of all Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that were submitted to the department in 2017. NABR is analyzing the documents and will report any findings of interest to the biomedical research community.

FOIA was enacted in 1966 to promote transparency and ensure accountability of government officials and agencies. The law permits the public to request records owned by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

To review NABR’s analysis of FY 2016 FOIA requests from animal rights groups please click here (log-in required).

NABR Releases FY2016 FOIA Analysis – Government Costs Increase

NABR has prepared a review of federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that were submitted by animal rights organizations in Fiscal Year 2016. FOIA was enacted in 1966 to promote transparency and ensure accountability of government officials and agencies. The law permits members of the public to submit requests for records in the possession of federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In FY 2016, both USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the NIH received a significant number of requests from animal rights activists. As outlined in further detail in NABR’s FY2016 FOIA Analysis (log-in required), these agencies received 12% more requests from animal rights groups than the previous year, and the cost for the government to respond to the requests increased by 20%.

NABR believes animal rights activists will continue to submit broad requests for large amounts of data about research facilities in FY 2017 in part because of the USDA’s decision on February 3 to temporarily remove the Animal Care Inspection Service (ACIS) database. NABR will continue to monitor FOIA requests submitted to federal agencies and, when possible, alert members if they are named in the requests. Research facilities should carefully review all information submitted to federal agencies. To read the full FY2016 FOIA Analysis, please click here (log-in required).

NIH Official Educates PETA About the Applicability of Animal Research

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), NABR has obtained a response from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to PETA regarding their recent letter which alleges the use of animals in federally-funded research is “misleading.”

PETA’s letter, dated April 5, expressed concern about applicability of animal research to humans and stated that “the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports a 92 percent failure rate of clinical trials for new pharmaceutical drugs following preclinical success in animals.” The letter also referenced a recent PETA report that claims to highlight ways to reduce the federal budget by slashing animal research funding.

In the NIH’s response to PETA, Michael Lauer, M.D., Deputy Director for Extramural Research at the NIH, declared the importance of research with animals and explained that numerous medical advancements have resulted from research with animals including vaccines, blood transfusions, treatments for breast cancer and epilepsy, in vitro fertilization, organ transplants, and more.

Lauer specifically stated that “research using animal models continues to make significant contributions to human and animal health. Although research based on animal models needs to improve and has limitations, it is not justification for eliminating powerful tools that have arguably saved millions of Americans…In our view there is no consensus that animal models should be eliminated—rather, we want to build on prior successes and learn from prior failures.”

NIH’s response to PETA also described the strict federal and institutional regulations in place to ensure that animals are used only when necessary and that the well-being of animals is maximized.

Click here to read PETA’s letter and report. Click here to read NIH’s response.

USDA’s APHIS Removes Enforcement Action Database; Information Still Available Through FOIA

UPDATED - February 9, 2017

On Friday, February 3, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) notified stakeholders that during the last year it had “conducted a comprehensive review of the information it posts on its website” and “will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication.”  The move impacts information related to research facilities subject to the Animal Welfare Act and entities subject to the Horse Protection Act.

APHIS indicated that such records can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act.  NABR members attempting to access information on the APHIS website will notice changes including deactivation of the Animal Care Search Tool known as ACIS. The only information currently available on the website is a list by name and state of licensed and registered facilities.

The APHIS website changes have been widely reported by news media as an “abrupt removal” of information and animal rights groups have speculated that the changes may be driven by the new administration.

However, it is more likely the changes are related to a federal lawsuit filed by individuals and organizations involved with the horse industry in a February 2016 filing against USDA in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Contender Farms vs. USDA). The lawsuit alleges that APHIS’ publication of enforcement actions is unlawful, misleading and falsely identifies thousands of people who never received notice of an alleged violation, never had a USDA complaint filed against them and were never afforded the opportunity for a formal hearing as “violators.”

In reviewing the information currently available to NABR, the net result of this action appears to be that all of the information available on the USDA website related to inspection and annual reports will still be available to anyone who files a FOIA request with the personally identifying information redacted. FOIA requests can be filed here: https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/palMain.aspx.

UPDATE - February 9, 2017

NABR supports transparency for information that serves the public good. Historically we have found USDA enforcement data extremely valuable in tracking and analyzing animal use trends in research. We hope the USDA can strike the proper balance between protecting personal privacy and informing the public as expeditiously as possible.

NABR will continue to report as new information becomes available. Please continue to check your email, visit www.NABR.org or follow us on Twitter.

NABR Presents Annual Analysis of Federal Animal Rights FOIA Requests

In its ongoing efforts to keep the animal research community informed, NABR presents its annual analysis of animal rights FOIA requests, "A Review of Animal Rights FOIA Requests FY15."  This is an in-depth report of every federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made during FY15 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by animal rights groups that you won’t find anywhere else.

NABR’s experts have broken these requests down in an easy-to-read format to help you quickly understand the most commonly requested information, frequency of requests by party, and the cost to taxpayers. Of particular note, the number of requests for information about institutions submitted to NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare have increased dramatically.

While this report focuses specifically on the federal FOIA, we also encourage you to review where your state stands with respect to state-level open records laws at NABR's "FOIA in Your State." (log-in required)

As animal rights groups continue to rely on FOIA to gather intelligence about research projects, it is important to understand the impact of such requests.  Download "A Review of Animal Rights FOIA Requests FY15" today by clicking below, and share it with your staff and counsel.

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NABR Releases Analysis of Animal Rights Federal FOIA Requests in FY14

You have received a FOIA request.  You know what they want from your research institution.  But do you know what animal rights groups are looking for from other research institutions?  Do you know how many such requests were filed at federal agencies?  Do you know which groups are the most frequent requesters?  Do you know how much these requests cost the agencies?  Now you will.  Following on the heels of NABR’s successful analysis of animal rights FOIA requests in 2013, NABR has released “A Review of Animal Rights FOIA Requests FY14.”

This is an in-depth report of each and every Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made in FY14 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Institutes of Health by animal rights groups that you won’t find anywhere else.  NABR’s experts have broken these requests down in an easy to read format to quickly understand the commonly requested information, frequency of requests by party, and an examination of the cost to NIH and USDA.

As animal rights groups continue to rely on FOIA to gather intelligence about research institutions for targeting purposes, it is important to understand their tactics and the true impact of such requests.  Please download “A Review of Animal Rights FOIA Requests FY14” by clicking below and share it with your staff and FOIA offices.

 
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Bill Strengthening Oregon’s State Open Records Law Signed by Governor

On Wednesday, March 18, Governor Kate Brown (D) signed Senate Bill 386 into law.

SB386 will strengthen Oregon’s freedom of information statute (FOIA) by making permanent an exemption from disclosure of personal identifying information of those in animal research at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU).  Prior to this new law, the exemption from state open records laws had to be renewed every five years in the legislature.

To learn more about your state's open records laws and to see what can be improved, please click here to read NABR's "FOIA in Your State" analysis.

NABR Presents Inaugural Ranking of State Open Records Laws

NABR is pleased to announce its inaugural ranking of state open records laws. This publication summarizes and analyzes the open records laws of every state and the District of Columbia as they relate to biomedical research records. Using several key criteria, each state’s law is assigned a score of up to five stars to highlight those states with open records laws most protective of biomedical research records, as well as the states with the most room for improvement.

All those involved with the care and use of animals in biomedical research should care about their state’s open records law. Animal rights activists have increasingly turned to both the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state open records laws to acquire information about biomedical research and the personal information of researchers working with animals. Such information has been used to request baseless investigations, seek criminal charges for alleged animal cruelty and ask for enforcement actions to be taken for alleged issues involving noncompliance. It has also been used to inaccurately label researchers as “animal abusers” and target individuals and families at their homes. It is often posted online to encourage harassment. While many states’ laws include exemptions intended to protect proprietary information, these exemptions have often proven insufficient to protect animal care and use program and research data, photographs and the personal information of faculty and staff.

Researchers as well as administrators at both public universities and private companies should be aware of the state open records laws in each jurisdiction, as any communications, data, photographs or other information sent to or obtained by an employee of a public university is potentially subject to disclosure. This understanding is critical in the case of public-private partnerships or joint research ventures where some information is collected by or transmitted to a researcher at a public university.

In addition to analyzing whether institutional records and personal information are exempt from disclosure, these rankings also consider what costs a research institution may recover if it is required to spend valuable staff time researching and disclosing information. Many broad and vaguely worded open records requests, such as “all information related to research with nonhuman primates,” result in significant response costs associated with compiling the records,  legal review by  the institution’s legal counsel  of each page to determine what information is protected from disclosure, as well as copying and mailing expenses. An open records law that fails to permit an institution to recoup the full costs associated with responding, for example by only permitting photocopying costs to be charged, may encourage more broadly worded requests in the future.

In recent years, a number of states have recognized the crucial importance of protecting both research records and the personal information of researchers by amending their state’s open records laws to exempt this sensitive information from disclosure. The need for these changes has often been highlighted by examples of sensitive information being disclosed to and misused by animal rights activists and extremists. Proactive changes to the state’s open records law may have prevented many of these unfortunate circumstances from occurring.

The primary purpose of these rankings is two-fold: (1) to make those involved with the care and use of animals in biomedical research aware of the open records laws in their state and assist in evaluating each law’s effectiveness in protecting research documents; and (2) to encourage research institutions in states with room for improvement to proactively seek exemptions in their open records laws before information is released that may lead to targeting by animal rights organizations.

NABR also encourages researchers and administrators to download our Best Practices Guide, Responding to FOIA Requests: Facts and Resources, at NABR.org. This document includes information about the federal FOIA as well as several best practices and resources applicable to state open records requests.

To view NABR’s rankings of state FOIA laws, please click here.