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CSU sued over CORA obstruction in animal mistreatment investigation

CSU+sued+over+CORA+obstruction+in+animal+mistreatment+investigation
Collegian | Caden Proulx

Legal counsel with the Animal Activist Legal Defense Project at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law filed a lawsuit against Colorado State University over failure to comply with the Colorado Open Records Act pertaining to investigating behaviors conducted in a commercial slaughter facility where CSU researched mud scoring.

In 2020, CSU conducted a study — published in the journal “Meat Science” in 2021 — on mud scoring that measured how much mud was on the hides of cows at a slaughterhouse facility. The study was funded by the meat industry, and when Animal Partisan was investigating behavior in the study at the slaughterhouse, their requests for video and photos under CORA laws were denied by the university, prompting the April 10 lawsuit.

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“(AALDP) is dedicated to advocating for animals and also for government transparency,” said Steffen Seitz, a litigation fellow with AALDP at the Sturm College of Law and one of the attorneys working on the case. “I think the public has an overriding interest in knowing what researchers at public universities are doing, especially (if) they’re acting in concert with industry.”

Seitz said that after a public records request was submitted to obtain evidence of what was occurring in the slaughterhouses during the study, a university records custodian told Animal Partisan they couldn’t produce any responsive records.

The university then invoked an exception to CORA, which stated that if there is ongoing research happening, records do not have to be disclosed.

“That seems a little bit fishy to (AALDP) just because the study had already published,” Seitz said. “It didn’t seem like any ongoing work was happening, (and) it didn’t seem like this exception actually applied.”

The next step in the CORA lawsuit proceedings is to confer with the defendant and try to resolve the issue between parties before bringing forth a suit. Seitz said Animal Partisan communicated with CSU and the records custodian several times.

“The university suddenly got back to AALDP and said, ‘Actually, it turns out the records were destroyed,'” Seitz said. “They were on a private Google Drive, and they were deleted without anyone knowing. And that also seems weird because they took (a) long time to look for these records. They said they did a thorough search. They invoked exceptions (with) ongoing research, which implies that they at least talked to the researcher and asked about whether there’s ongoing stuff happening.”

Seitz said the university acknowledged that if the records could be found, the exception to CORA of ongoing research would not apply.

“They work in concert with the meat industry, and they’re worried about, essentially, that that would damage that collaboration in the future,” Seitz said. “They didn’t want any of this stuff to get out, which indicates that they weren’t actually acting in good faith at any point in terms of trying to go by CORA. Instead, what they were doing was anything they could to prevent the disclosure that was required by CORA.”

There are laws called “Ag-Gag legislation” — aka antiwhistleblower legislation — that have passed in Alabama, Montana, North Dakota and Missouri seeking to obstruct evidence of animal cruelty. In the state of Colorado, Ag-Gag legislation is denoted as defeated, according to a graphic by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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“There are studies out there that say when consumers see how animals are being treated — and particularly if they’re being mistreated — they will shy away from those purchases,” said Will Lowrey, legal counsel with Animal Partisan, an animal advocacy group for animal rights working with AALDP. “The agriculture industry (does) not want people to see — or rather to not let people see — what’s happening inside of these facilities. From my perspective, it’s hard for the consumer to see what’s happening in those facilities. So I will look for every opportunity to get a glimpse into what is happening.”

A press release from AALDP stated that CSU claimed that Google had deleted the files from the storage system.

“When research is done, you know, with animals, presumably there’s some benefit that the researcher is seeking to find,” Lowrey said. “I’m always looking to sort of see what that is at the expense of the animal. … It’s difficult to see what happens to animals in agriculture. I will take any chance to try to get that information to see what’s happening and to share it.”

AALDP emphasized that multiple attempts were made to work with the university regarding the CORA obstruction before initiating the lawsuit. A statement provided by the university said, “CSU learned about the lawsuit today. We will review the allegations and respond accordingly.”

“At some point, you know, we may end up getting our day in court for the judicial system to determine whether or not the Colorado Open Records Act was violated or not,” Lowrey said. “I would just emphasize (that) we did try to resolve it amicably. It didn’t quite work out to that. Now it’s kind of up to the courts to figure out where to go from here.”

Reach Allie Seibel at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @allie_seibel_

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About the Contributors
Allie Seibel
Allie Seibel, Editor in Chief
Allie Seibel is the editor in chief of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, a role she loves more and more with each day. Previously the news editor and news director of The Collegian, Seibel has a background in news, but she’s excited to branch out and experience every facet of content this and following years. Seibel is a sophomore journalism and media communications major minoring in business administration and legal studies. She is a student in the Honors Program and is also an honors ambassador and honors peer mentor. She also is a satellite imagery writer for the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University. Seibel is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and loves how The Collegian has gotten her acquainted with Fort Collins and CSU. When she’s not writing, reporting or in class, you can always find her with a book, cross-stitching, planning where to travel to next, trying out a new recipe or listening to Taylor Swift. Seibel is incredibly proud of The Collegian’s past and understands the task of safeguarding its future. She’s committed to The Collegian’s brand as an alt-weekly newspaper and will continue to advance its status as a strong online publication while preserving the integrity and tradition of the print paper. Seibel is excited to begin a multi-year relationship with readers at the helm of the paper and cannot wait to see how the paper continues to grow. Through initiatives like the new science desk and letting each individual desk shine, Seibel is committed to furthering The Collegian and Rocky Mountain Student Media over the next few years.
Caden Proulx
Caden Proulx, Print Director
Caden Proulx is a human development and family studies student at Colorado State University pursuing his passion for graphic design at The Collegian. Originally from Austin, Texas, Caden's journalistic journey began in the high school yearbook department, where his passion for design grew. This led to him to seek out student media when he got to Colorado State University. Starting as a page designer in his first year, Caden found a home at The Collegian. This led him to the position of print director his sophomore year. Despite majoring in HDFS, Caden seamlessly integrates his hobby of graphic design with his academic pursuits. The Collegian has become an integral part of his success at CSU. Now firmly rooted in Colorado, Caden is eager to contribute to the student media landscape, The Collegian and its success. He loves working alongside other excited students who are talented and have a lot to teach and push him to continue to grow as a visual journalist.

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