Pork Producers Win Appeal in CAFO Disclosure Case

September 28, 2016

Usually, you can find a feedlot full of cattle or pigs merely by following your nose. In addition to nuisance smells, confined animal feeding operations (aka CAFOs) can present serious air and water pollution problems. They are weakly regulated. Now a federal appeals court says information on who owns those feedlots can be kept secret.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released such information to some environmental groups back in 2014, as part of a settlement in a pre-existing dispute. Agricultural groups, namely the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council, objected. At issue was whether EPA correctly determined that the information was not exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (under exemption 6, which protects personal privacy).

But the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision filed September 9, 2016, ruled that EPA should have applied the FOIA exemption. Groups involved include Food & Water Watch, Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Earthjustice, although the formal defendant in the case was EPA. The court stopped short of ordering the groups to return the information, which is already in the public domain. It sent the case back to the originating U.S. District Court for crafting of a remedy.

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