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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