Farm Bill Poses Threat to Right to Know

On November 6, more than 40 organizations joined in urging members of the conference committee on the Farm Bill not to include language that cuts off public access to a broad swatch of information about agricultural and livestock operations.

As we've discussed previously, there was a successful effort to keep language out of the Senate's version of the bill that would have prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from releasing basic information about any owner, operator, or employee of a livestock operation. Unfortunately, however, the House version of the Farm Bill includes a provision that is even more expansive — cutting off access to information about agricultural operations as well as livestock operations. The House version of the Bill is the basis for the conference, now occurring, to resolve differences between the Senate and the House versions.

As the letter points out, people who live near agricultural and livestock operations – particularly people who live near concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – need access to information about these operations in order to ensure their health and safety. The law already requires federal agencies, when responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information about these operations, to protect personal privacy, including email addresses, phone numbers, and other similar information of non-government individuals. Indeed, after determining that it improperly released personal information related to CAFOs earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked requesters who had received the information to return it to the agency. The requesters complied.

Beyond being unnecessary to protect personal privacy, language included in the House-passed version of the Farm Bill is exceedingly broad and vague. Because it does not define the terms “owners” or “operators,” it would extend FOIA’s personal privacy protections to corporate farms. In FEC vs. ATT, the Supreme Court found that Congress never intended to extend the FOIA’s personal privacy protections to corporations, and Congress must not do so now.

Download our fact sheet about this language and another provision in the Farm Bill that further reduces access to information that helps the public understand agricultural issues here.