Lobbying by agricultural commodity groups can sometimes be embarrassing — which is why House Republicans slipped language carving them a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption into the Agriculture Appropriations bill now awaiting passage.
It was FOIA'd emails that revealed the American Egg Board trying to strangle an egg-free mayonnaise startup in its crib in 2015. The Egg Board is one of the commodity-specific "checkoff" boards funded by industry to promote agricultural products. Congress has made industry contributions to the boards mandatory.
After a collection of ag commodity lobby groups wrote a letter earlier this year to the House Appropriations Committee requesting a FOIA exemption, that panel wrote one into the funding bill.
The language is in the report (HR 114-531) accompanying the bill. Report language is not technically mandatory, but coming in a funding bill, it is almost always taken as a directive by agencies.
The House language declares that employees of the marketing boards are "not government employees," and "urges the USDA to recognize" that such boards are exempt from FOIA.
- "Why Agricultural Industry Groups Could Soon Be Exempt from FOIA Laws," Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 2016, by Christina Beck.
- "Inside Washington: Ag Groups Seek Exemption from Scrutiny," Associated Press, May 2, 2016, by Candice Choi and Mary Clare Jalonick.
- "Commodity Groups Seek Freedom of Information Exemption for Checkoff Boards," Capital Press, April 28, 2016, by John O’Connell.
- "Largest US Food Producers Ask Congress To Shield Lobbying Activities," Guardian, May 2, 2016, by Sam Thielman.
- "Where's the Beef? You Won't be Able To Find out If Agricultural Groups Get Their Way," Fortune, May 2, 2016, by Beth Kowitt.
- "Under Attack, Commodity Promotion Programs Try To Hide Their Emails," NPR, May 2, 2016, by Dan Charles.