Thursday, February 26, 2009

Farm Bill provision allows USDA to deny requests for information about individual farms

The Department of Agriculture is interpreting a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill in a way that allows it to deny requests for information about individual farms. The Society of Environmental Journalists says in its "TipSheet" that the interpretation "might mean, for example, that environmental reporters might not be able to get a list of local feedlots and their locations — even when those feedlots might be polluting local streams."

Section 1619 of the bill says that "any officer or employee of the Department of Agriculture, or any contractor or cooperator of the Department, shall not disclose — (A) information provided by an agricultural producer or owner of agricultural land concerning the agricultural operation, farming or conservation practices, or the land itself, in order to participate in programs of the Department."

The provision was explained as a response to Multi Ag Media vs. USDA, a court case which required the USDA to turn over its databases of farmers to a farm marketing company, but the SEJ says recent memos and policy decision indicate it is being used to avoid the Freedom of Information Act: "When the nonprofit Boise public-interest law group Advocates for the West FOIA'd a range of information on the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentive Program, USDA did not supply the information (although it offered to negotiate). Much of the information not supplied was NOT provided by program participators." (Read more)

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