By Dan Robitzski, via The Scientist
On Tuesday (April 5), the Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic filed a suit against the United States Department of Agriculture for, it says, evading “its statutory obligation to conduct full annual inspections of research facilities as required under the Animal Welfare Act.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the animal welfare organizations Rise for Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, centers around the USDA’s decision to change how it handles inspecting research facilities that house animals for scientific study. Instead of conducting a full annual inspection itself, the agency decided to hire a third-party organization called the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International in February 2019, according to internal documents obtained through the Harvard team’s FOIA requests that were described in the suit and in an interview with The Scientist. But the USDA never publicly announced the change, which involved conducting only partial inspections of AAALAC-accredited facilities. Previous reporting on that documentation suggests the USDA made the decision in order to ease the workload of its inspectors, but the lawsuit suggests that the agency is effectively shirking its responsibilities under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) while still claiming to perform robust inspections of research sites.