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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Load of Bull...

From an agricultural critic friend of mine comes word of an under-the-radar federal FOIA exemption in the making:

Today the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee released its preliminary drafts of the Chairman's mark for all titles of the Senate's 2007 Farm Bill; the Committee markup of the bill is set for tomorrow, October 24, 2007, at 9:30 A.M.

The draft of the livestock title contains a FOIA exemption for information in the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). This proposed exemption flies in the face of all
reasonable standards of open access to government. Since 2005, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA has been collecting what the USDA itself calls "phone book" information on farms and other premises that hold livestock in the United States. USDA/APHIS is presently maintaining this information in a database called the National Premises Information Repository in Fort Collins, Colorado. For each livestock location, the
information consists of nothing more than basic contact information, i.e., the name of a contact person, an address, a telephone number, and in some cases an email address, and the species of livestock kept at that location.

Yet at the behest of industrial farming interests, the Senate Agriculture Committee sees fit to propose that this "phone book" information should receive a new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. Even more alarming, the proposed exemption purports to override all state freedom of information laws that might pertain to similar records.

The pertinent section of the draft bill is set forth below in its entirety:

Sec. 10305. Protection of Information in the Animal Identification System.

The Animal Health Protection Act (7 U.S.C. 8301 et seq.) is amended --

(1) by redesignating sections 10416 through 10418 as sections 10417 through
10419, respectively; and
(2) by inserting after section 10415 the following:

Sec. 10416. Disclosure of Information Under a National Animal
Identification System.

(a) Definition of National Animal Identification System. -- In this
section, the term 'national animal identification system' means a system for
identifying or tracing animals that is established by the Secretary.

(b) Protection from Disclosure. --

(1) In general.--Information obtained through a national animal
identification system shall not be disclosed except as provided in this

(2) Use. -- Use of information described in paragraph (1) by any individual
or entity except as otherwise provided in this section shall be considered a
violation of this Act.

(3) Waiver of Privilege of Protection. -- The provision of information to a
national animal identification system under this section or the disclosure
of information pursuant to this section shall not constitute a waiver of any
applicable privilege or protection under Federal law, including protection
of trade secrets.

(c) Limited Release of Information. -- The Secretary may disclose
information obtained through a national animal identification system if --

(1) the Secretary determines that livestock may be threatened by a disease
or pest;

(2) the release of the information is related to an action the Secretary
may take under this subtitle; and

(3) the Secretary determines that the disclosure of the information to a
government entity or person is necessary to assist the Secretary in carrying
out this subtitle or a national animal identification system.

(d) Required Disclosure of Information. -- The Secretary shall disclose
information obtained through a national animal identification system
regarding particular animals to --

(1) the person that owns or controls the animals, if the person requests
the information in writing;

(2) the State Department of Agriculture for the purpose of the protection
of animal health;

(3) the Attorney General for the purpose of law enforcement;

(4) the Secretary of Homeland Security for the purpose of homeland security;

(5) the Secretary of Health and Human Services for the purpose of protecting public health;

(6) an entity pursuant to an order of a court of competent jurisdiction; and

(7) the government of a foreign country if disclosure of the information is necessary to trace animals that pose a disease or pest threat to livestock or a danger to human health, as determined by the Secretary.

(e) Disclosure under State or Local Law. -- Any information relating to animal identification that a State or local government obtains from the Secretary shall not be made available by the State or local government pursuant to any State or local law requiring disclosure of information or records to the public.

(f) Reporting requirement. -- To disclose information under this section, the Secretary shall --

(1) certify that the disclosure was necessary under this section; and

(2) submit to the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives
and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Senate a
copy of the certification.

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