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Citizens Move to Intervene in Farm Bureau Case that Seeks to Keep Polluting Factory Farm Data Secret
Groups Seek to Protect the Rights of People to Safeguard their Communities
WASHINGTON - September 5 - A coalition of consumer rights, community, and environmental organizations filed a motion today with a federal court in Minnesota seeking to intervene in a case recently filed by the American Farm Bureau Federation (FB) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The industry groups went to court in July 2013 seeking to prevent EPA from releasing data related to factory farms and their pollution to the American public under the nation’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The case is based on the industry’s far-fetched claim that factory farm business information – such as business names and addresses – is private information that should be shielded from public view, unlike in virtually all other business sectors.
“The Farm Bureau, National Pork Producers Council, and other industry lobby groups have managed for years to keep the highly polluting practices of factory farms under wraps,” stated Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Now, they want a federal court to promote this secrecy by ordering EPA to withhold even basic information – the identities and contact information of owners and operators of these facilities – from the hands of the American people.”
Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are asking the court to allow them to intervene in the case so that they can protect the rights of citizens to safeguard their waterways and communities from the many detrimental impacts of the factory farm industry represented by FB and NPPC. The groups are being represented by attorneys from the Government Accountability Project.
Industry sued EPA following the Agency’s recent release of factory farm data in response to a pair of FOIA requests filed by environmental organizations. The groups sought information about EPA’s July 2012 decision to abandon a proposed information-gathering rule for factory farms, also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. EPA withdrew the proposed “308” rule in its entirety due to industry pressure, though the rule would have enabled the Agency to finally begin to catalogue these facilities and their ongoing threats to our waterways. EPA instead opted to collect existing state and federal records, despite recent government reports that confirm state data is “inconsistent and inaccurate and does not provide EPA with the reliable data it needs…” and that “no federal agency collects accurate and consistent data on the number, size, and location of CAFOs.” At present, EPA can only guess at the number of CAFOs in the country.
Although it successfully pressured EPA to abandon its rule, industry opposed the Agency’s sharing of public records related to its actions. EPA responded to this request in April by recalling all of the FOIA data that it released to the environmental groups and replacing it with a new set of data after redacting the names of CAFO facilities “that include individual names.” The industry groups now want to establish an EPA policy of withholding such information.
The environmental groups submitted FOIAs for records related to EPA’s withdrawn rule because for years EPA has failed to adequately regulate water pollution from CAFOs, despite the Agency’s acknowledgment that “[a]gricultural operations, including CAFOs, now account for a significant share of the remaining water pollution problems in the United States.”
Factory farms are industrial facilities that confine thousands of animals in limited land areas for meat, dairy and egg production. EPA estimates there are around 20,000 CAFOs in the U.S., producing three times as much waste as humans. The United States Department of Agriculture puts the number at somewhere around 47,000. While human waste must be treated, EPA does not require factory farms to meet any waste treatment requirements despite the fact that these wastes contain pathogens, heavy metals, antibiotics and hormones.
“While industry describes this case as a fight to protect ‘personal information’ from the prying eyes of environmentalists, the fact is that these highly polluting animal factories are corporate operations that are destroying waterways and communities wherever they operate,” stated Tarah Heinzen, attorney with Environmental Integrity Project. “You can’t simply decide to live where you operate an agribusiness, and then claim that you shouldn’t be subject to the same level of transparency as every other industry because you happen to sleep there too.”
“This is about corporate accountability and transparency,” said Iowa CCI Board President Lori Nelson of Bayard Iowa, whose rural homestead is surrounded by 5,000 corporate hogs. Nelson filed a personal declaration of standing in the court intervention. You can read Lori’s story here. “Factory farms are one of the most polluting industries in the country and the idea that giant, multinational corporations shouldn’t have to tell the public where these facilities are located, how big they are, how many gallons of toxic manure they produce each year, and how many acres of land they have to apply on defies basic, common-sense. What does corporate ag have to hide?”
A series of emails and letters between various EPA and industry officials throughout the spring of 2013 demonstrate even more EPA efforts to appease industry groups opposed to information gathering. For example, EPA itself notified industry of the environmental groups’ FOIAs under “a commitment [ ] to be open and transparent” with the industry. EPA produced copies of the documents for each industry group even though they had not requested the documents under FOIA as citizens must; in at least one case EPA hand-delivered a disc of the documents to the Farm Bureau’s office in DC. FB and NPPC sued EPA despite the Agency’s solicitude.
Food & Water Watch: Rich Bindell, 202-683-2457; firstname.lastname@example.org
Government Accountability Project: Sarah Damian; 202-457-0034 ext. 130; email@example.com
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement: David Goodner, 515-282-0484; firstname.lastname@example.org