Judge Rules That Feedlot Phone-Book Can Be Secret

April 8, 2009

Federal District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled March 31, 2009, that the Agriculture Department may keep secret the locations and phone numbers of feedlots — however much the public may complain about their smell and the pollution emanating from them.

The Ag Department under President Bush had denied a FOIA request by Mary Zanoni, a New York journalist, lawyer, and farmer, for the "National Premises Information Repository (NPIR)," a database containing basic "phone book" information about animal feeding operations included in the National Animal Identification System. Zanoni went to court appealing USDA's denial of her request. Judge Sullivan's March 31 ruling was essentially a summary judgment denying Zanoni's appeal.

While the legal issues are highly complex, a key part of Sullivan's ruling was that the USDA was allowed to convert the NPIR to a system of records under the federal Privacy Act, thus protecting it from disclosure.