Miss. court says pet food research not public

Published 3:37 pm Friday, August 1, 2008

The Iams Company’s records from seven years of pet food research at Mississippi State University are not public documents, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

In 2006, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued Mississippi State University. It alleged the school violated the Mississippi Public Records Act by denying PETA access to records of dental experiments and other tests on animals conducted since 1999 for Iams.

Iams had argued that the experiments were the company’s intellectual property. Iams said it had made a substantial investment at Mississippi State to develop and protect that property.

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PETA said it didn’t want trade secrets. PETA said it only wanted to know what happened to the animals at Mississippi State.

PETA claimed Mississippi State wanted an advance fee of $40,497 for the documents it requested. When it reduced the number of pages asked for, PETA claims MSU told them that only 19 of the requested pages would be sent and the cost would be $1,000.

The university claimed the remaining pages contained proprietary information, according to court documents.

In a 2006 ruling, Chancery Judge Dorothy Colom said the type and number of animals used in an experiment, whether surgery will be performed, and information related to animals’ pain and discomfort did not qualify as trade secrets.

In a 6-3 ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected PETA’s arguments.

“PETA failed to rebut the evidence presented by MSU and Iams that the data and information requested in the subject records constituted trade secrets and/or confidential commercial and financial information of a proprietary nature developed by MSU under contract with Iams.

“Therefore, this court finds that the data and information requested by PETA is exempted from the provisions of the Mississippi Public Records Act,” Justice Michael Randolph wrote in the majority opinion.

Presiding Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., in a dissent, said PETA could not dispute Iams’ claim of protected trade secrets without seeing the documents. Diaz said Iams and MSU also were allowed to assert that the documents were proprietary information without having to justify the claim.