An increasing tactic of animal rights organizations (AR) is to mine public records in the hopes of finding ammunition to use against universities, pharmaceutical companies, contract research organizations and associated vendors.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has used data from public records to launch a database of universities, grading them “bad” to “worse,” even if they do not currently house animals involved in research.
Although the filing of many public documents is mandatory, there are steps researchers can take to minimize the impact of these adverse tactics.
The statistics are illuminating, revealing that many ARs are well funded and laser focused on filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act and similar state laws. The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have seen sharp upticks in recent years in FOIA requests from these groups:
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- National Anti-Vivisection Society
- Stop Animal Exploitation Now
- New England Anti-Vivisection Society
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
The mission statements of these ARs is to end the use of animals in research. Their tactics for accomplishing this mission include public relations campaigns and litigation, as well as undercover operations in which activists infiltrate research facilities, posing as employees, with the hopes of gathering or creating evidence, especially in the form of video.
This places ARs squarely at odds with many researchers in academia, nonprofits and a wide range of industries, particularly pharmaceuticals. For researchers, animals remain the only way to ensure certain drugs and devices are safe and efficacious for use in humans, but they endeavor to reduce, replace and refine the use of animals, as ethically and legally required.
Public records are increasingly used by ARs as a starting point for waging battles with researchers. SAEN and others file complaints with the USDA and other agencies requesting violations or fines to be assessed and elimination of animal studies. Some also target individual researchers, universities, specific programs, contract research organizations and vendors related to all and attempt to bully them into ceasing operations.
What protective measures can you take?
All documents and information provided to any governmental agency should be designated as confidential and proprietary as applicable. This information should be routinely handled in the same manner to ensure adequate protection. Trade secret information and other information that, if publicly released, would result in competitive harm should be redacted before disclosure to a requesting entity, in addition to personal data. Confidentiality agreements between vendors, licensees and the like should also be kept up to date.
Security efforts should also extend to your standard operating procedures, including physical security of your facility and protectable information, hiring practices, employee training and policies that restrict access to protectable information and animals.
Staff should be required to report any animal-handling or care-related concerns immediately and respond promptly to correct any deviations from proper care. Planning for response to intrusions from AR should also be included in the organization’s disaster planning.