EPA releases producer information to activist groups

This week the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) was notified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the agency had been collecting information from states on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This information was requested by extremist groups, including Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and granted to them.

“When we reviewed the information submitted by the states and released by EPA, we were alarmed at the detail of the information provided on hard working family farmers and ranchers, family operations including my own,” said NCBA Past President J.D. Alexander, a cattle feeder from Pilger, Neb. “It is beyond comprehension to me that with threats to my family from harassment atop bio-security concerns, that EPA would gather this information only to release it to these groups. This information details my family’s home address and geographic coordinates; the only thing it doesn’t do is chauffeur these extremists to my house. For some operations, even telephone numbers and deceased relatives are listed.”

In January 2012, EPA proposed the Clean Water Act Section 308 CAFO Reporting rule to collect information from CAFOs and make it publicly available and readily searchable through their website. Cattlemen and women along with the Department of Homeland Security expressed concerns that this was not only a serious overreach of EPA’s authority and would create a road map for activists to harass individual families, but that the proposal would aid and abet terrorism and provide a very real threat to the nation’s food security. EPA later withdrew the 308 rule on these grounds, but NCBA has learned that the agency still intends to use this gathered data to create a national searchable database of livestock operations. EPA’s current action proves that our nation says it is concerned with national security, but does not care about personal small business security, said Alexander.

“Cattle producers won this issue with EPA’s decision to withdraw the rule and with the withdrawal we had hoped precautions would be taken by the agency to protect such information. Instead of protecting this information, EPA was compiling it in a nice package for these groups, all on the federal dole,” Alexander said. “Moreover, EPA knew, or had reason to know, this information would be readily accessible to all groups wishing to harm agriculture, through a simple and quick FOIA request. My question is, with government overspending and rumors from United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack threatening to shut down meat inspection to control spending, why is EPA using valuable government resources to do the dirty work of extremists, activists and terrorists?”

The information released by EPA covers CAFOs in more than 30 states, including many family farmers and ranchers who feed less than 1,000 head and are not subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act.

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  1. It is incredible that you are referring to the Pew Charitable Trust (PCT)as an activist group. I totally support family agriculture in Ohio and shop at the local farmers market frequently. I also contribute to the PTC, among many charitable organizations. As someone who attends church, volunteers in the community and supports farmers, I resent the implication that somehow I am a terrorist. No one can deny that some CAFOs have a huge impact on communities – I know, I drive by one every day. While I agree that there may be some over reach here, you have certainly disinfranchised me from your cause. Good work!

    • First, thanks for reading. The article certainly did not intentionally insinuate that you are a terrorist. There really are legitimate concerns with this issue. There have been numerous occasions in recent years of extremists with ties to the listed organizations (though maybe not Pew specifically) that have harmed people, animals and personal property in the name of their cause. Now those same people have the names addresses and phone numbers of the farms that they hate. No matter what you think about CAFOs, I am guessing that the potential this opens for violence and harassment (terrorism) is as disagreeable to to you as it is to me.
      One of the key concerns with Pew from an agricultural standpoint is their very lopsided report about antibiotics use in livestock a couple of years ago. While the information used to create the Pew report was scientifically based and factual (at least generally speaking) it is now notoriously known in many circles as being intentionally lopsided to favor a political agenda. I have spoken with high level researchers on both sides of this issue and all agree that the Pew report is very skewed at best. The report only cites the research that supports an anti-antibiotic use in livestock agenda and conveniently left out a vast amount of other research that was contrary to their point. Antibiotics in livestock is an extremely complex issue with very valid, scientifically based principles for the good of humans and the food supply. Are there challenges? Yes there are. But, by presenting their very lopsided take on the issue, Pew fed the political fire on this topic and misled people, which only succeeds in undermining the success and safety of our food system. Their incentive for doing so — controversial reports like this go great lengths to get people to donate by getting them fired up. The problem with this tactic (which unfortunately takes place on both sides of most issues) is that we all lose…well, everyone except Pew that is.

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