IN an effort to keep livestock and poultry farmers from having their personal private information made public, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.) introduced legislation that gives the Environmental Protection Agency the statutory authority to protect the information.
The Farmer Identity Protection Act would unequivocally provide EPA with the ability to prevent the release of such farm-specific information in the future, allowing the agency to provide information to outside parties only in aggregate without individually identifying the source of the information or else with the producer's consent.
The legislation does not prevent EPA from collecting information about where farmers' operations are located. Nor does it prevent EPA from disclosing information in aggregate.
The issue stems from EPA's release of data it collected on operators of concentrated animal feeding operations after several environmental groups had made Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the information.
Several senators wrote to EPA June 4 with concerns about the agency's release of producers' personal information. The response from EPA outlined the rationale for how it handled the release, which Grassley and Donnelly found unsatisfactory. They had filed a similar amendment to the farm bill, but Senate leadership did not bring it up for consideration.
"This is just another in a pattern of egregious overreach by the federal bureaucracy," Grassley said. "I heard from a lot of Iowans who were concerned with the EPA actions, and I doubt they'll stop now, but at least we can try and make sure this particular instance doesn't happen again. The EPA already has a lot of relationship building to do in rural America, and its behavior here didn't win the agency any favors."
Donnelly added, "It is unacceptable that earlier this year, the EPA released the personal contact information of over 80,000 livestock and poultry owners from across the nation. ... This blatant violation of privacy must not happen again, which is why I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this commonsense legislation."
National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. past president J.D. Alexander welcomed the legislation, saying, "In this instance, EPA went too far, jeopardizing the health and safety of cattle producers and their families. As a producer whose information was blatantly given to the recognized enemies of the U.S. beef industry, it comes as a relief to have this legislation introduced. Congress is going to have to be the one to fix this problem created by the incestuous relationship between environmentalists and EPA."
Earlier this month, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and National Pork Producers Council filed a federal lawsuit and temporary restraining order against EPA to halt the release of additional personal information of farmers and ranchers (Feedstuffs, July 15).
A spokeswoman for AFBF said EPA has agreed to delay responding to the pending FOIA requests (and any future requests that seek the same information) until the court rules on the merits of the AFBF lawsuit. Now, the case will move forward as any litigation would, she added.