WASHINGTON (CN) — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals scored a court win in its bid for government records on primate species imported to the United States for what it calls “painful and terrifying experiments.”
PETA first requested the records in May 2014 via a request under the Freedom of Information Act with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The group says on its website that more than 105,000 primates are “imprisoned” every year in U.S. labs, where they are “abused and killed in invasive, painful, and terrifying experiments.”
Yet “it is well known that nonhuman primates are sensitive, intelligent beings who share many important biological and psychological characteristics with humans,” PETA says.
Those very attributes make primates “prime targets for experimenters, who treat them as if they were disposable pieces of laboratory equipment.”
PETA sought all records submitted to the agency on prevention of the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases from nonhuman primates imported into the United States since May 2013.
When CDC said it would take 36 months to respond to the FOIA request, PETA sued.
The Office of Infectious Diseases, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases then told CDC an electronic search identified 1,575 responsive records from 10 parties.
Three importers — Missouri-based Central State Primates, Dallas Zoo Management, and the Japanese Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories USA — did not object to disclosing the files.
But the seven others did, namely: Bartons West End Farms of New Jersey, Buckshire Corp. of Pennsylvania, Charles River Laboratories of Massachusetts, Covance Research Products of Wisconsin, Panther Tracks Learning Center/Primate Products and Worldwide Primates of Florida, and Valley Biosystems of California.
The CDC sent PETA 1,575 pages, but withheld about 144 full pages and parts of many others, citing FOIA exemptions 4 and 6.
Resolving competing motions for summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said Thursdaythat the records CDC provided included “extensive disclosures” of the species’ names. (Emphasis in original.)
This “undercuts CDC’s argument that the names of the species imported by each individual NHP [nonhuman primate] importer constitute valuable commercial information that can be used by competitors to gain an advantage over the importer submitting that information,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. “CDC’s argument is further undercut by plaintiff’s production of evidence demonstrating that in many instances, the names of species imported by NHP are publicly available.”
In addition to granting PETA access to species names, Kollar-Kotelly also said the group is entitled to all the records it seeks on the nonobjecting importers.
PETA called the ruling a win.
The importers “committed serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act, such as repeatedly failing to provide animals with food and water and transporting animals without first becoming registered to do so, which enabled the companies to evade welfare compliance inspections and oversight,” PETA Foundation Counsel John Seber said in a statement.
Thursday’s ruling was not a full win for PETA, however, since the court blocked it from obtaining certain information about the exporters that filed objections. For these seven companies, Kollar-Kotelly said the CDC properly excluded the quantities of animals imported, the descriptions of crates used in shipments, and the names of the exporters and airline carriers that transport the animals.
“The record evidence indicates that in the particular market at issue in this case — the NHP importation market — there are a ‘limited number of licensed importers … and they operate in a very competitive environment,'” Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
Disclosing the names of exporters and airlines “would enable competitors to gain an edge in this competitive market by obtaining valuable business data regarding the affected importer’s ‘supply chains, patterns of importation … and business relationships.'”
PETA’s Seber sai the group is still exploring whether to appeal for the remaining records.
Another provision of the ruling orders the CDC to correct errors in an index it submitted of relevant records.
Agencies use Vaughn indexes, as they are known, to list which FOIA exemptions purportedly apply to each item of information withheld.
Neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor the Department of Justice returned requests for comment Friday.
In May, a Seminole tribe member sought to shut down one of the objectors, Primate Products, claiming it runs an unethical animal-tissue harvesting operation, in Florida state court.
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