Cattlemen: Protect farmers’ IDs from extremists
Identity theft is rife, but farmers may have had their personal information handed out on a plate without their consent, possibly putting them at risk. Family farms and ranches across the nation -- some operating with as few as 12 head -- may have had their information released to animal activists last year without even knowing it.
According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released personal information data of beef, swine, and poultry operations in 29 states, totaling more than 80,000 producers. Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust, and the Natural Resources Defense Council received this information from the EPA via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was made aware of this in February 2013, after the EPA collected data about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) for a website, which made this data available to anyone. Data released included operations with less than 1,000 head, some with as few as 12 head of cattle, and “not subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act,” the cattlemen’s association said.
During the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas state convention last June in Bastrop, Kate Maher of the cattlemen’s association addressed this issue.
The EPA abandoned the collection of this information, after the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Department of Homeland Security expressed opposition, due to “a serious overreach of EPA’s authority” that “would create a road map for activists to harass individual families.”
This followed an incident on a ranch in California, in which 14 cattle trucks were burned by an animal rights activist group.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced a bill in Congress last July to protect the private information of farmers and ranchers who have CAFO permits in accordance with the Clean Water Act. Rep. Eric Crawford of Arkansas followed suit in April by introducing a similar bill, known as the Farmer Identity Protection Act, in the House. Thus far, the bills have only been discussed in committees.
Within the Senate version of the bill, Congress found that:
•U.S. farmers and ranchers “supply a vital link in the food supply” and are “listed as a critical infrastructure by the Secretary of Homeland Security.”
•Domestic terrorist attacks have occurred as a result of the data released.
•A majority of U.S. livestock operations are family-owned and -operated.
•“State governments and agencies are the primary authority in almost all states for the protection of water quality under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.”
•The state agencies which maintain livestock operations data also have the authority to address water-quality issues.
•“There is no discernible environmental or scientifically research-related need to create a database” by the EPA.
If the bill is approved and becomes law, the EPA cannot release the name of the owner, operator, or employee of an operation in accordance with the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
In the meantime, the American Farm Bureau Federation, joined by the National Pork Producers Council, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota to stop the EPA from releasing information in six states. Texas is not included in this list. According to a March 14 Farm Bureau news article, the court case is ongoing.
The EPA stands firm in its position that it had no legal obligation under the Freedom of Information Act “to keep most of the information private.”
In response, the Farm Bureau is not against the collection of aggregated data of farm and ranch information for government use. But the group warns releasing this data could lead to “farm equipment theft or even sabotage or criminal mischief, especially for those farms that store fertilizer and chemicals or have large numbers of animals on the farm.”