U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Mike McIntyre (D-NC) and Jim Costa (D-Cal.) introduced legislation to prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from disclosing the private and confidential information of livestock and poultry producers to the public.
The Farmer Identity Protection Act (H.R. 4157) comes in response to the EPA’s release of livestock and poultry producers’ names and other personal information to three environmental advocacy groups through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last year. The release divulged names, addresses, geographic coordinates and in some cases telephone numbers and email addresses of over 80,000 livestock producers in 29 states.
“There is no justification for the blatant disregard of our privacy,” said NCBA President Bob McCan. “To turn this type of information over to anyone who has a computer is not just reckless, but it poses serious agro-terrorism threats.”
EPA claims it lacks statutory authority to protect livestock producers’ personal information.
The Farmer Identity Protection Act would unequivocally provide the agency with the ability to prevent such farm-specific releases from happening in the future, allowing the agency to provide information to outside parties only in aggregate without individual identifying information, or with the producer’s consent.
“Once this information is released, you cannot take it back,” said McCan. “With EPA planning to release more information as soon as it is able, Congress must step in and provide relief to livestock producers. We applaud the representatives that have introduced this bill to help protect the health and safety of cattle producers and their families.”
H.R. 4157 is the companion bill to S. 1343 introduced in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) in July 2013.
In July 2013, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) sought a court injunction with the federal court in Minnesota to prevent EPA from publicly releasing data related to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) under the FOIA. By seeking the court order stopping EPA’s anticipated FOIA release, AFBF and NPPC hoped to stall disclosures until a court can clarify EPA’s obligation to keep personal information about citizens private.
According to AFBF, EPA attempted to recall some of the records in its initial, replacing it with a new set of data after redacting the names of CAFO facilities “that include individual names,” according to a coalition press release. However, one of the environmental advocacy groups, Food & Water Watch, said it retained and reviewed all original records.
On Sept. 5, Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed a motion seeking to intervene in the case. Members of the coalition asked the court to allow them to intervene to “protect the rights of citizens to safeguard their waterways and communities from the many detrimental impacts of the factory farm industry represented by FB and NPPC.” The groups are being represented by attorneys from the Government Accountability Project.
According to court documents, a trial may not be held until November 2014.