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Farm groups urge EPA to maintain confidentiality of CAFO information.

Information about individual farms collected and stored by the Environmental Protection Agency should be kept confidential to avoid invading the privacy of producers, the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council said in a recent court filing.

The two groups are asking a Minnesota federal court to bar EPA from releasing further information about livestock farms that are determined to meet the definition of a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.

The two argue that the information, ranging from email addresses to acreage figures and animal numbers, should be protected under the personal information exemption in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In addition, the filing claims that the public will gain no insight into EPA's regulation of CAFOs through the release of farmers' personal information.

"The raw, data-filled spreadsheets at issue here, consisting primarily of personal information belonging to tens of thousands of farmers, provide no insight into EPA's operations or activities," AFBF told the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. "There is nothing in these farmers' names, location or contact information, or in the size of their farms, that says anything about EPA's enforcement of the Clean Water Act, or whether the farmers are violating the Clean Water Act."

The two organizations filed a joint memorandum of law in support of their motion seeking summary judgment against EPA in a lawsuit that aims to prevent the agency from re-releasing the names, home addresses, global positioning system coordinates and personal contact information of CAFO operators and owners in 29 states and releasing such information in six other states in response to FOIA requests by environmental groups.

The farm and livestock groups say the agency's release of CAFO information is illegal under FOIA Exemption 6. That provision says, "Personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" are exempt from mandatory disclosure.

The filing also notes that the farmers whose information is released will not be able to control the disclosure and use of their name, names of their family members and employees, their telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and the exact location of their residences. Moreover, the groups said the release puts the farmers at risk of harassment, trespass, sabotage or other damaging activities by activist or terrorist groups and individuals--risks the groups say the EPA itself acknowledged when it withdrew its CAFO reporting rule in 2012.

AFBF and NPPC also contend that an individual's interest in controlling the dissemination of information regarding personal matters doesn't dissolve simply because that information may be available to the public in some form.

EPA has argued consistently that the information it released earlier to environmental groups already is in state databases.

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Publication:The Food & Fiber Letter
Date:Aug 25, 2014
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