A federal judge approved a settlement agreement between the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, limiting EPA’s release of information on livestock farmers. Under the agreement, the agency only may provide under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request the city, county, zip code and Clean Water Act permit status of a concentrated animal feeding operation. The agreement also requires EPA to conduct training on FOIA, personal information and the federal Privacy Act.
The settlement stems from the February 2013 release by EPA’s Office of Water to several activist groups, which filed a FOIA request, of extensive private and personal information the agency collected on farmers in 29 states. (EPA gathered the information despite being forced in 2012 to drop a proposed data reporting rule for large farms because of concerns about the privacy and biosecurity of family farms.)
“We’re pleased with this agreement, which will protect the personal and private information, including cell phone numbers and health information, of America’s farmers and ranchers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “EPA’s 2013 release to activist groups of sensitive materials on more than 100,000 farmers and ranchers was an outrageous abuse of its power and trust. This settlement helps ensure that won’t happen again.”
Following the 2013 release and after objections from NPPC, the Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups, EPA requested that the activist organizations return the data, but the agency subsequently was prepared to release additional farm information it collected from seven other states. NPPC and the Farm Bureau also objected to the additional release, and in July 2014 filed suit against EPA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
That court in late 2015 dismissed the lawsuit, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis reinstated it, and last September it ruled that EPA “abused its discretion in deciding that the information at issue was not exempt from mandatory disclosure under Exemption 6 [personal privacy interests] of FOIA.”
“NPPC will continue vigorously defend the rights and privacy of its producers against outrageous and unethical government actions,” Maschhoff said.