Agricultural organizations seeking to block the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing personal information of livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were dealt a blow this week when the federal district court in Minnesota dismissed the lawsuit.
The court concluded that no federally permitted livestock or poultry farmer is injured by such disclosure because the Clean Water Act mandates disclosure of information concerning permit issuance. For livestock and poultry farmers without a Clean Water Act permit, the court concluded that so long as the farmer’s personal information can be found somewhere on the Internet, EPA’s distribution of that same information does not result in any injury to the farmer. The court noted that a farmer with a public Facebook page used to promote the farm, or whose information could be found via search engine or any state regulatory website in any form, has no right to sue to stop the federal government from compiling and distributing that information.
Plaintiffs in the suit were the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council, which now have 60 days to appeal the decision. “Farmers, ranchers and citizens in general should be concerned about the court’s disregard for individual privacy,” said AFBF president Bob Stallman. “This court seems to believe that the Internet age has eliminated the individual’s interest in controlling the distribution of his or her personal information. We strongly disagree.”
Prior to the AFBF suit, EPA had already released personal information of farmers and ranchers from 29 states. AFBF filed suit to block further disclosures regarding farmers and ranchers in Minnesota, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma and Washington.