Court rules against environmental groups in farm data lawsuit

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2015 - A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a coalition of consumer, environmental, and animal rights groups that could have made it easier for those groups to get information on livestock operations and their owners.

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The lawsuit was brought in 2013 by the Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch, Humane Society of the United States, Center for Food Safety, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement over the Environmental Protection Agency's decision not to finalize the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Reporting Rule. According to the National Pork Producers Council, EPA's proposed rule would have required information such as location of a CAFO's production area, CWA permit status, the number and type of animals confined and the number of acres available for land application of manure. EPA withdrew the proposal in July of 2012.

The groups contended that the EPA's decision not to finalize the rule ran contrary to its obligations under the Clean Water Act, but in his ruling, Judge Randolph Moss said that “no statute mandates that the EPA require that all CAFOs self-report.” Some contend that these groups wanted the EPA to collect this information so it could be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. NPPC and the American Farm Bureau Federation are currently engaged in a lawsuit with EPA over the release of farmer data.

In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Danielle Quist, senior counsel for public policy with AFBF, said the court “made the right decision.”

“The environmental groups want to get this information, it's just a matter of how they go about doing it,” Quist said. “The environmental groups wanted a regulation because it puts an enforceable requirement on farms to report the information.”

In a statement, NPPC President Ron Prestage said he hopes this will help deter future lawsuits against producers.

“Let's hope this puts an end to these groups, including HSUS, trying to get information on farmers so they can file nuisance suits and otherwise harass people who are providing safe, wholesome products to domestic and international consumers,” Prestage said.

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