Farm Bureau: Ruling supports confidentiality of farm information

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PARK RIDGE, Ill. – Personal and sensitive information about farmers and ranchers and their agricultural operations will remain confidential as the result of a successful lawsuit brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

A U.S. District Court Judge last month ruled in the case “John Doe, et al vs. USDA” that the Agriculture Department does not have the right to release personal and confidential information about farmers and ranchers who cooperate in a USDA predator control program.

That ruling came in spite of legal efforts by an animal rights group to win access to the confidential information.

USDA’s Wildlife Service has cooperated with farmers and ranchers to control predators, and as a result the department’s employees had been subjected to “physical assaults, bomb threats and death threats,” according to facts outlined in the lawsuit.

Farm Bureau’s concern extended to the welfare of individual farm families participating in the program if information about them was made public.

“This case supports the confidential status of the personal information that farmers and ranchers maintain about the management of their operations,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “It also protects farm and ranch families from any personal retribution resulting from the release of this type of confidential information.”

Texas Farm Bureau joined AFBF in the suit against USDA. The case was filed after the Agriculture Department decided it had to make public, at the insistence of an animal rights organization, confidential information about farms and ranches where specific predator control methods were being used.

Farm Bureau claimed that any disclosure of personal producer information to the animal rights group violated terms of the Freedom Of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Judge Walter S. Smith, Jr. of the U.S. District Court in Waco, Texas, agreed and granted Farm Bureau’s request for a permanent injunction.

“There is no question but that the information contained in the records sought…would constitute personally identifying data that would not be disclosable if it were obtained from an individual,” Judge Smith wrote.

“…Does the requested information shed any greater light on the operations of the (government programs and agencies)? The answer is, no.”

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