The FDA may be forced to provide information about the living conditions of egg-laying hens that it collects from large factory egg farms, courts ruled Friday.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower district court’s judgment from 2013 that allowed the FDA to withhold this information and has sent the issue back to the district court for trial.
The original lawsuit stemmed from the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s 2011 Freedom of Information Act request for information on hen welfare at factory egg farms in Texas. The FDA refused to provide this information, censoring critical elements of the inspection reports before delivering them to the Fund. When letters further requesting this information did not prove fruitful, in 2012, the Fund sued the Agency.
“Public health and safety is on the line, and the people have a right to know how the FDA is protecting them,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a news release. “Details of animal welfare and the risk of disease outbreaks that affect human health are too important to remain hidden from the public.”
An upcoming trial will decide whether the release of this information is “likely to cause competitive harm” to factory egg farm facilities, which would make the information exempt from forced disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
Factory egg farms often house laying hens in battery cages, in which each hen is afforded 67 square inches of cage space, making the hens unable to carry out natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. In addition to animal welfare issues, the close quarters afforded by battery cage systems increases the risk of diseases such as salmonella and bird flu, of which consumers should have the right to be aware, the Animal Legal Defense Fund argues.
Some factory farms also use a cage-free system, which allows hens to walk, spread their wings, and lay their eggs in nests. These hens are, however, are often confined to large buildings in close quarters, which can lead to many of the same problems as faced by hens in battery cages.
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