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March 04, 2013
Enviro groups obtain CAFO info

Livestock associations are charging that the EPA has inappropriately succumbed to pressure from environmental groups by releasing what the associations regard as confidential information about concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in 30 states.  The environmental groups used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request the names, locations, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the CAFOs.  The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association allege that the environmental groups will use the information to advance their “extremist agenda.”  Individual operators also worry that once the information is made public, it increases the risk that CAFOs can be targeted by criminal or terrorist actions. 

Data too ‘variable’

The FOIA request was made by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Earthjustice, and the Pew Charitable Trust.  These groups say that their access to the information is necessary to hold both CAFOs and the EPA accountable for water pollution associated with the facilities. 

“Obtaining and scrutinizing the information EPA has collected is critical because data on industrial livestock operations and their pollution footprint have historically been variable, with good information available in some places or for certain kinds of facilities, but no comprehensive inventory has been done on CAFOs nationwide,” said NRDC’s Jon Devine in a blog.

2011 proposal

In fact in a 2011 proposal, the Agency sought to obtain much of the same information recently released.  That rule was later withdrawn because the information the Agency was seeking is already possessed by the states,  the EPA said, and a new rule would merely serve to duplicate efforts by CAFOs and the federal government. 

A different view was presented by the NPPC, which said the Agency was “forced” to drop the proposal because of concerns about privacy and the biosecurity of family farms.  The NPPC alleges that the proposal was part of a sweetheart deal the EPA struck with environmental groups. 

When it withdrew the rule, the EPA stated that it still intended to collect data on CAFOs to ensure that facilities subject to regulation were permitted.  But the industry groups claim that the EPA collected data from state agencies without informing them of their intention to share the information with environmental groups.

Data available elsewhere?

“The location of many livestock operations is already public information, which undermines the industry’s suggestion that providing information to the public about other facilities creates security risks,” states NRDC’s Devine.  “Several state governments already offer data about CAFOs, including their locations, on their websites.  For example, both North Carolina and Missouri have facility information online.  Likewise, aerial imagery that includes industrial livestock operations can be easily found on map-based websites.  Keeping information about additional sites under wraps undermines good-faith efforts to understand the industry and its waste handling practices.”

Still, the NPPC feels “betrayed,” in the words of its president, R.C. Hunt, a North Carolina hog farmer.  NPPC says it is reviewing the files the EPA has released to better understand the scope and content of the data.

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