Legislation introduced to prevent EPA release of producer information

Mar 14, 2014

In February and April of 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released names, addresses, geographic coordinates, and even phone numbers and email addresses of over 80,000 producers in 29 states, prompting several lawmakers to propose legislation that would prevent further releases.

According to EPA, it lacks statutory authority to protect livestock producers’ personal information and a request from three environmental groups through a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) was granted.

United States Reps. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Lee Terry (R-NE), Mike McIntyre (D- NC) and Jim Costa (D-CA) recently introduced the Farmer Identity Protection Act to prohibit the EPA from disclosing the private and confidential information of livestock and poultry producers to the public.

According to Crawford, the two EPA releases of private information violate the privacy rights of producers and raise security concerns.

“Not only did these unprecedented actions violate individual privacy rights, they represent a possible bio-security threat to our nation’s food supply,” Crawford said.

EPA obtained the information through State Environmental Quality agencies and released it through the FOIA requests. EPA admitted it did not review the data to determine if any of the information was confidential business or personal information protected by federal privacy laws.

Crawford said an overwhelming majority of the released farm information pertains to families, who may now face threats to their homes and businesses.

“Uncontrolled access to this accumulation of personal and geospatial data can allow private information to end up in the wrong hands,” Crawford said. “Producers agree that these types of actions pose risks, which may include targeted harassment and even bio-terrorism.”

Livestock and poultry groups recently wrote a letter to Congress supporting the act. These groups included American Farm Bureau Federation, National Pork Producers Council, Dairylea Cooperative, Inc., National Turkey Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, St. Albans Cooperative Creamer, Inc., National Chicken Council, and Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc.

“There is no justification for the blatant disregard of our privacy,” said NCBA President Bob McCan. “To turn this type of information over to anyone who has a computer is not just reckless, but it poses serious agro-terrorism threats.”

The Farmer Identity Protection Act would unequivocally provide EPA with the ability to prevent such farm-specific releases from happening in the future, allowing the agency to provide information to outside parties only in aggregate without individual identifying information, or with the producer’s consent.

“Once this information is released, you cannot take it back,” said McCan. “With EPA planning to release more information as soon as it is able, Congress must step in and provide relief to livestock producers. We applaud the representatives that have introduced this bill to help protect the health and safety of cattle producers and their families.”

Both the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have expressed concerns regarding potential risks when EPA pursued— and later abandoned—a rulemaking requiring livestock producers to report personal information directly to its agency.

H.R. 4157 is the companion bill to S. 1343 introduced in the Senate by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R- IA) and Joe Donnelly (D- IN) in July 2013. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor