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July 1, 2009

The HSUS and USDA Reach Settlement to Improve Animal Research Monitoring

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States and the United States Department of Agriculture have reached a settlement in a lawsuit over access to annual reports of facilities conducting animal research. The HSUS filed the case in federal court in January 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act.

The lawsuit alleged that the USDA violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide The HSUS with numerous reports required by the Animal Welfare Act concerning painful animal experiments conducted without anesthetics or other pain or distress relief measures. The suit also sought to compel the USDA to make annual Animal Welfare Act-mandated animal research facility reports available online. 

Pursuant to the settlement agreement signed by the parties today, all of the annual reports, including pain and distress information, will be made available to the public electronically and in a timely manner. USDA will also have to indicate on its website which facilities did not submit annual reports, and therefore failed to abide by the Animal Welfare Act. The HSUS expressed its gratitude to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for providing greater transparency about what is happening to animals at research facilities across the nation. 

"The public has a right to know whether the USDA is properly enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and whether research institutions are abiding by the law," said Kathleen Conlee, director of program management for animal research issues for The HSUS. "While it became apparent during the suit that the USDA might be acting to shield animal research facilities from public scrutiny, we are pleased that the settlement will ensure public access to animal research information, and shed light on whether USDA is doing its job."

Reports released to The HSUS prior to the settlement describing procedures that caused unrelieved animal pain and distress had large amounts of information redacted. In some cases entire pages were omitted. As a result of this settlement, the USDA has agreed to provide those reports to The HSUS with more information so that the public will have more information about the procedures used and the scientific justification for the unrelieved pain and distress that some animals experienced.

The settlement will be submitted to the federal district court for the District of Columbia today for final approval. The HSUS is represented by the public interest law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

Facts

  • The Animal Welfare Act covers the care and handling of warm-blooded animals other than laboratory-bred mice, rats and birds at registered research institutions and licensed animal dealer facilities. It is enforced by the USDA.
  • Birds, mice and rats bred for and used in research are exempt from Animal Welfare Act provisions.
  • An amendment to the Animal Welfare Act in 1970 required the submission of annual reports by research institutions.  Pursuant to this requirement, each animal research facility must submit a report to the USDA annually regarding its activities. These reports include information on number and species of animals used in research protocols; whether pain and distress relief were provided to the animals during; and justification as to why pain and distress relief were not provided, when applicable.
  • An estimated 20 million to 25 million animals are used each year in research in the United States and tens of millions more are bred and subsequently euthanized. Approximately 1 million of these animals used for research at an estimated 1,275 institutions are protected by the Animal Welfare Act. Animals used in research include dogs, cats, rabbits, non-human primates, guinea pigs, mice, rats, birds, farm animals and others.

Timeline

  • March 2008: USDA discloses to The HSUS that it never received mandatory annual reports from 81 animal research facilities over the course of five years.
  • May 2005: USDA announces that in response to The HSUS's lawsuit, the agency will again start posting registered research facilities' annual reports to their website, as required by the Freedom of Information Act.
  • January 2005: The HSUS files suit against the USDA seeking to restore the reports.
  • 2002: USDA removes key documents concerning the use of animals in research from its website.
  • 2001: The HSUS files a request with the USDA for certain documents related to pain and distress in laboratory animals.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

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