Senate Passes Farm Bill With Softened Secrecy Language

January 2, 2008

The Senate passed a five-year Farm Bill Dec. 14, 2007, that softened a provision imposing draconian penalties for publication of information from a federal database for tracking food animals. But the compromise language only put off for 180 days (or about six months) the day of reckoning and left the Agriculture Department, instead of Congress, holding a very hot political potato during a time when the 2008 election will be reaching its crescendo.

Language that originally came out of the Senate Agriculture Committee could have put newspaper reporters or publishers in jail for up to 10 years for telling the public the location of feedlots. These can usually be found with an average citizen's nose. The Society of Environmental Journalists and other journalism groups opposed that provision.

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is intended to help large agricultural corporations sell meat in foreign countries, which require animal-tracking to control contamination of meat by germs or disease. Current U.S. law does not require disclosure of information about contaminated meat to the public, and the livestock industry is working actively to get federal rules prohibiting such disclosure.

The Senate-passed Farm Bill must still be reconciled in conference with one passed by the House, which has no provision on NAIS secrecy.

The language in the Senate bill (Section 10305 of HR 2419 ), passed 79-14, reads as follows:"Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall promulgate regulations consistent with the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552, et seq., regarding the disclosure of information submitted by farmers and ranchers who participate in the National Animal Identification System. The regulations promulgated, which shall be subject to a public comment period before finalizing, should address the protection of trade secrets and other proprietary and/or confidential business information that farmers and ranchers disclose in the course of participation in National Animal Identification System."