An animal rights group has lost its bid to force federal regulators to disclose details of alleged overcrowding on egg-laying hens in Texas factory egg farms.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday refused to compel the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to product inspection reports on conditions in factory egg farms about hen populations and living conditions to protect the farms from trade secrets that might cause competitive underbidding.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued in 2011 seeking to force the FDA to produce details of conditions inside the giant industrial barns under the Freedom of Information Act.
Although the FDA produced details of inspections of 11 chicken egg-production facilities and one quail egg-production farm, it withheld information on nearly 300 pages. The FDA refused to release total hen population, number of hen houses, floors per house, cage rows per house, number of cade tiers per house and number of birds per cage for each farm, the opinion states.
The ALDF argued the conditions on factory farms have a direct bearing on food safety. It contends the high population density and allegedly unsanitary conditions lead to diseases like Salmonella and bird flu.
The FDA justified the withholding of the information as trade secret and commercial information that was confidential. The FDA argued the release of the information would allow competitors to learn a producer’s production rate and to undercut prices and lure customers away.
“Whether or not releasing the requested data would create a likelihood of substantial competitive harm was subject to dispute,” wrote Judge Susan Graber. “The district court did not clearly err in finding that disclosure of the information was likely to cause commercial undercutting,” she concluded.
She was joined by Judges Kim Wardlaw and Mary Murguia.
Case: ALDF v. FDA, No. 13-17131