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  1. News Release

  2. Mar 16, 2019

Federal Appeals Court Rules Against USDA in Lawsuit Challenging Agency’s Censoring of Animal Welfare Data

Federal judges admonish USDA for releasing to the public “mutilated versions of documents previously published.”

WASHINGTON—A federal appeals court ruled today that a lawsuit filed by the Physicians Committee to challenge the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s shutdown of an animal welfare database must resume, reversing a lower court’s dismissal of the case.

The Physicians Committee—a nonprofit of 12,000 doctors—sued the USDA for removing from its website inspection reports revealing whether animal research laboratories comply with the federal Animal Welfare Act. While USDA resumed publication of portions of the reports due to the lawsuit and public pressure, the agency continues to obstruct the Physicians Committee’s work by redacting critical information.

The appeals court disagreed with USDA’s claim that the agency had done enough to assure transparency, saying that the USDA did not “convince us that, as to all requested document types, it is ‘absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur.’” Regarding the USDA’s increased redactions, the appeals court noted that it would be inappropriate for the agency to “restore mutilated versions of documents previously published without redactions.”

The online reports have been essential in the Physicians Committee’s work to challenge animal experiments that were not furthering human health research. The records were critical to revealing violations of federal law that led to the deaths of numerous primates at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center, which was closed. The records also helped the Physicians Committee stop 186 chimpanzees from being transferred to a research facility that violated the Animal Welfare Act more than 30 times in five years.

The lawsuit will now return to the lower court, where it will resume before the judge who dismissed the case. In the meantime, the Physicians Committee must file Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain certain documents previously available on the website. These requests can take months or years to complete and may require legal appeals or even lawsuits to obtain the information that used to be freely available.

Media Contact

Jeanne Stuart McVey


Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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