The United States District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to disclose critical information about factory egg farms to the public.
Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the FDAin2012 to compel the agency to produce inspection reports of factory egg farms without censoring important information about the living conditions of the animals. In the January 23rd order, the court entered judgment holding that the public is entitled to nearly all of the challenged information the FDA withheld. This decision is a key victory for animal protection and for transparency.
“For years, the government attempted to conceal this information about the egg industry’s cruel practices, to shield factory farming from public knowledge and criticism,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a statement. “Transparency is necessary for accountability and animal protection, and is required by law.”
The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a FreedomofInformationAct(FOIA) request in December 2011 to obtain information related to total hen population and population density at several factory egg farms in Texas. The information is collected by the FDA under the federal Egg Safety Final Rule, but the agency refused to make it public at the behest of the egg industry.
Conditions at factory farms have a direct bearing on the animals’ health and on food safety; high population density and unsanitary conditions are associated with diseases like Salmonella, bird flu, and E. coli. But the FDA redacted important information in its FOIA response, contending that egg production information would cause competitive harm.
Competitive harm? This is about the welfare of animals, not about a competitive market for their eggs.
In 2013, a magistrate judge ordered the FDA to disclose information to the Animal Legal Defense Fund regarding number of birds per cage, the first time a federal court has ordered the disclosure of records regarding factory farmed eggs. But the court denied the request for other information regarding conditions of confinement.
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 was held in 2018, resulting in this week’s order 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 within 30 days for the factory farms at issue.
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 the FDA’s Egg Safety Rule records not be suppressed.