Increasing Government Transparency to Improve Humane Slaughter Enforcement

Photo courtesy of Mercy for Animals

AWI and Farm Sanctuary sued the US Department of Agriculture in 2018 for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for department records related to the treatment of animals in US slaughter plants. The lawsuit was based on a 2016 amendment to FOIA that requires federal agencies to proactively post online any records that are subject to frequent requests.

The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of New York and asked the USDA to proactively post records relating to the enforcement of two laws dating to the 1950s—the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA). Such records expose inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter plants across the country, including incidents of workers throwing chickens and improperly stunning pigs and cattle, and transporters abandoning trucks full of animals for hours in hot weather. AWI and other animal advocacy groups review hundreds of these records annually to monitor USDA enforcement and produce reports, create action alerts, file rulemaking petitions, initiate lawsuits, and make policy recommendations based on findings.

The USDA, AWI, and Farm Sanctuary settled this case on January 3, 2022. As part of the settlement, the USDA agreed to proactively post these records on its website.

Before this settlement, advocacy organizations had to delay action until the USDA responded to FOIA requests. It often took months or even years to receive the information. Such delayed disclosure of records hindered efforts to identify patterns of animal suffering, and it restrained organizations from calling attention to problems to prevent similar instances from occurring in the future.

Under the settlement, the USDA must post the enforcement records quarterly. These records are essential to AWI’s work to improve treatment of animals at slaughter facilities, and  we are thrilled at the outcome of this lawsuit.

Click here to read more about humane slaughter.

Case Name: Animal Welfare Institute v. US Department of Agriculture

Nature of Case: The Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary brought claims against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to proactively disclose records as required by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). AWI alleged that because these records have been requested dozens of times, the agency is required by FOIA to post the records online without requiring individual requests

Court: US District Court, Western District of New York

Year Filed: 2018

Plaintiffs: Animal Welfare Institute and Farm Sanctuary

Defendants: US Department of Agriculture and Food Safety and Inspection Service

Status: Settled January 3, 2022 

Relevant Documents

Selected Case Media