PETA to sue USDA to obtain records on animal welfare enforcement

PETA to sue USDA to obtain records on animal welfare enforcement
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) will sue the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Animal Health Inspection Service in an effort to obtain records on the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

PETA told CNN that the group plans to file the lawsuit Thursday, after the Trump administration failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed over the past two years.

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The USDA last year pulled thousands of records on the Animal Welfare Act from its website, including those on the enforcement of the act.

The agency said it decided to remove the records after lawsuits accusing the USDA of falsely identifying people as having violated federal laws that prohibit the soring of horses for show. Thousands of the records have been reposted.

Delcianna Winders, vice president and deputy general counsel for the PETA Foundation, noted that the USDA has started to post some of the records. However, the agency “announced that it will not repost enforcement records, and has instead directed those interested in accessing these critical records to submit individual FOIA requests,” Winders told the CNN.

A USDA spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit to The Hill, citing the pending litigation.

PETA told CNN that the public release of the records "is especially important in light of the agency's longstanding and well-documented failure to meaningfully enforcement the Animal Welfare Act, as repeatedly found by its own Office of Inspector General."

The complaint will reportedly cite a 2010 USDA inspector general report that found the agency’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act was “ineffective” and that violators faced inappropriately light penalties, which were no longer viewed as “a deterrent for violating the law."

The lawsuit will also allege that the USDA has continued to not enforce the law in the years since the report, citing federal data showing a drop in enforcement actions.

A federal judge last year dismissed a lawsuit by animal rights advocates to repost documents that were removed from the USDA website, ruling that the documents could be provided through individual FOIA requests.

Updated at 12:10 p.m.