Ag Boards Think They Should Be Exempt From the Freedom of Information Act

In a move that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, the agricultural industry is trying to further shroud its practices in secrecy.

Some of the largest agricultural producers and lobbyists in the U.S., including United Egg Producers, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Pork Producers Council, have asked Congress to exempt communications with boards overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

This move comes after documents, released in response to an FOIA request, revealed that the USDA-backed American Egg Board conspired to pull Hampton Creek’s plant-based Just Mayo from grocery store shelves. After emails documenting this collusion were made public, the CEO of American Egg Board resigned.

FOIA plays a critical role in our democracy. It promotes transparency in the workings of our government by allowing individual citizens, journalists, and other entities to obtain vital information about what our taxpayer dollars fund. Access to this information is our right.

Factory farms have already gained unprecedented protections from accountability; for example, they often avoid criminal animal cruelty laws due to “common farming exemptions,” which excuse many forms of institutionalized cruelty. Factory farms may also escape accountability under ag-gag and “right to farm” laws. Ag-gag laws are anti-whistleblower laws that criminalize filming animal abuse at factory farms while “right to farm” laws prohibit enactment of new, better laws designed to protect farmed animals.

Now, by seeking an exemption from FOIA, the agricultural industry is trying even harder to keep the public from knowing about its activities. Factory farms certainly have a lot to hide if they go to such great lengths to keep their practices in the dark.

An FOIA exemption for the factory farming lobby would place animals, food safety, the environment, and workers’ rights at grave risk. Instead of embracing transparency and taking steps to improve its practices, the agricultural industry is trying to pull the cloak over the public’s eyes. Hopefully, Congress will see through this ploy and reject the industry’s bid for unwarranted protection.
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