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Anti-Transparency Provisions Removed From Farm Bill

Chicken Farm

In a victory for communities across the country, the current version of the farm bill, which the House of Representatives passed Wednesday, lacks earlier provisions that would have kept the public in the dark about certain farming operations.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the $956 billion farm bill is costly and problematic. “The retrograde farm bill is so wasteful that ‘reform’ was stripped from the title of the bill,” Ryan Alexander, Taxpayers president, said in a statement. Still, transparency advocates can appreciate that dangerous secrecy provisions were removed.

Two provisions in an earlier version of the nearly 1,000-page bill would have limited the information the government could release about farming operations. One provision would have limited disclosure by the EPA under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), making it difficult to find out about potential pollution. The other would have broadly limited public disclosure, preventing critical information-sharing between local, state, and federal governments and complicating the permitting and taxing. Individuals have privacy protections under the law, but the unnecessary and dangerous provisions would have kept secret information about large-scale corporate farms and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.

The Project On Government Oversight and allies warned Congress not to approve the secrecy provisions.  According to Amy Bennett of OpentheGovernment.org, corporate farms shouldn’t be able to shield information from the public.

“Big agricultural companies have an obligation to release information and people have the right to know where these big farms are located,” Bennett said. “If they share a waterway with the farm the public should be able to know that their water is at risk and they should be able to take that and then use it to get better protections to make sure their families don’t end up drinking contaminated water.”

“We applaud the conferees for agreeing that these dangerous secrecy provisions for potential polluters had no place in the Farm Bill,” said Angela Canterbury. “But we are especially grateful that we can count on certain congressional champions of the public’s right to know. POGO and our partners offer our sincerely thank Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and their dedicated staff.”

The closely-averted environmental and transparency disaster highlights the importance of carefully combing through bills that are hundreds or thousands of pages long since those may contain a few sentences that carry large consequences.

“Because it’s such a large undertaking it becomes a lightning rod for things that people who support transparency and disclosure may not like,” said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative. “And this is not just the farm bill. We see pieces of new laws that undermine transparency and disclosure requirements in other must-pass bills like the defense spending bill. This is normal but it’s a headache for those of us who support transparency.”

The farm bill passed in the House 251 to 166 and the Senate is expected to vote next week.

Image from Compassion in World Farming.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman At the time of publication Avery Kleinman was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Open Government, FOIA, Information Access

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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