Farm Bureau sues EPA over alleged confidentiality breach

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the release of personal information on tens of thousands of individual farmers and ranchers back in early 2013.

 

Danielle Quist is the Senior Counsel for Public Policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. She said the EPA received a request from environmental groups under the Freedom of Information Act regarding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO’s.  The EPA defines Animal Feeding Operations as agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed.

Quist said the EPA recently asked states to provide information on the CAFO’s in their borders, and talked about the information they compiled from 29 of the 50 states:

Are beef cattle farmers and ranchers safe from animal activism? (Photo by Chad Smith)

Are beef cattle farmers and ranchers safe from animal activism? (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

According to FoxNews.com, the FOIA request came from three environmental activist groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Charitable Trust, and EarthJustice.   Quist said, “Without looking at what was contained in the requests, released all the information.”  The Farm Bureau says that’s where the problem arises.

 

Quist said “we found that states had given the EPA things like personal home phone numbers, personal email addresses, and even the GPS location of where each house was precisely located on these farms.  EPA literally put a bow on it, turned around, and handed the information to these environmental organizations.”

 

“We’re not talking about the number of animals on a farm, or the type of manure storage facility on the farm, which we have no problem with people knowing.  We’re talking about personal information.”

 

Quist said EPA’s position is “this information is available in the public domain, and they’re under no obligation to redact any of it.  Farm Bureau’s position is “if the home and the business are co-located, that is a home address, and there is case law in Minnesota, where the suit was filed, to support this.  Supreme Court decisions, for decades, have said that’s all personal information.” She said “the Supreme Court has said even though you run a business from home, that’s still all private information.”

 

Farm Bureau is concerned about the potential for mischief at these operations.  “You’ve got generations of family members that live on the site of these operations,” said Quist.  “We’re not trying to protect farmers with separate business locations and information, we’re trying to protect the farmers that live on site with a spouse and children, and we want their information to be kept private.”

Olmsted County Farm Bureau in Eyota, Mn (Photo by Chad Smith)

Olmsted County Farm Bureau in Eyota, Mn (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

According to the nationalreview.com, agro-terrorism is a new term that burst into the national spotlight back in the early hours of January 8, 2012.  A fire broke out at Harris Farms in the San Joaquin Valley of California, destroying 14 trailer trucks and causing more than 2 million dollars in damage.  An anonymous news release from the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility, describing how the attack took place, and concluded threateningly: “until next time.”

The Animal Liberation Front is a worldwide organization as you can see in this video.  The American Farm Bureau doesn’t want this kind of activism in America:

 

Bob Stallman, the President of the American Farm Bureau, told Agri-Pulse.com “EPA is in effect holding up a loudspeaker and broadcasting where private citizens live and where their children play.”

Are farms public businesses or private homes?  (Photo by Chad Smith)

Are farms public businesses or private homes? (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

Quist expects the case to “be in motions for summary judgment by this summer,” and is hoping for a final ruling by the end of 2014.  “This is a case everyone should be paying attention too.  If the EPA gets away with breaching confidentiality, which government agency will be next?”

 

America’s livestock industry fights back against misinformation

Animal rights groups around the nation have gone on attack against livestock production facilities all over the country, and livestock farmers have begun to fight back through social media and direct interaction with consumers.

 

One of the more recent videos put out to the public by the group Mercy for Animals is available on YouTube.  It’s graphic and very offensive in nature:

 

Emily Meredith is the Communications Director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and she says what you’re seeing in videos like this isn’t the whole picture.

 

Emily Meredith, Communications Director for the Animal Ag Alliance

Emily Meredith, Communications Director for the Animal Ag Alliance

She said the Animal Ag Alliance is a “non-profit, broad based coalition of everyone in the animal ag food chain.”  The chain includes “farmers, ranchers, producer organizations, and veterinarians.”  She said the goal of the organization is to speak “with a unified voice, to the media and public about top of mind issues, which includes animal rights.”

 

The Alliance feels the real motivation for these videos are more bottom line oriented.  Meredith said “they’re trying to use these videos to fundraise.  They’re also trying to scare the American consumer into believing that their meat and eggs are not being produced humanely, which drives their vegan agenda.”

 

 

Dal Grooms is a spokeswoman for the Iowa Cattleman’s Association, and spoke to Fox News.  She said these activists aren’t in it for the animals benefit.  “Who cares more about the livestock?  The farmers who own it and make sure it’s healthy, or people that kind of stop in for a bit, and then move on to their next victim?  They’re trying to put livestock farmers out of business, and they’re trying to raise money too.”

Livestock farmers are battling back against misinformation

Livestock farmers are battling back against misinformation (Photo by Chad Smith)

 

Meredith said the food production chain has checks and balances in place to ensure that animals are treated humanely.  “There are animal welfare programs in place in each sector of the livestock industry, and buyers want to insure that farmers are following these guidelines.  If farmers are abusing animals, they’re not going to stay in business long because no one will buy product from them.”

Livestock of all kinds have come under scrutiny of undercover videos (photo by Chad Smith)

Livestock of all kinds have come under scrutiny of undercover videos (photo by Chad Smith)

 

According to msn.com, “the meat and poultry industries have begun to push back against animal activists by trying to get bills passed against shooting undercover video in production facilities.”  Humane Society of the USA California Director Jennifer Fearing said, “I wish the cattlemen actually wanted to stop the cruelty instead of the documenting of cruelty.”  Meredith said there’s more to it than that:

 

 

Meredith said farmers haven’t been vigilant in following sound hiring practices when they look for help around the farm. “They’re farmers, not private investigators,” she said. “A lot of these families haven’t been following up and checking references, so they end up hiring someone who’s seeking to destroy their way of life.”

 

The hog industry has borne the brunt of recent undercover videos (photo courtesy of www.national post.com)

The hog industry has borne the brunt of recent undercover videos (photo courtesy of www.national post.com)

“At the Alliance, we’ve encouraged farmers to do your diligence.  Check references.  Make people apply for work in writing, don’t just hire on a handshake,” said Meredith.  “A lot of farmers now make employees sign agreements that if they see abuse, they’ll report it immediately to the owner or to the authorities.

 

Meredith said there are signs that can help a farmer determine if a worker is there for hidden purposes.  “This person will be in areas they’re not supposed to be in.  They’ll be on the farm after hours in some way.  There may be complaints from other workers that they aren’t following proper procedures,” she said.  “In most cases, when the farmer starts asking questions, that activist is gone.”