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Farmer privacy breach brings suit against EPAFarmer privacy breach brings suit against EPA

January 21, 2014

4 Min Read

When Animal Liberation Front terrorists set fire to 14 trailers at Harris Ranch Beef Co., in Coalinga, Calif., they knew a few drivers might be sleeping in the cabs. The ALF coordinated details of the farm attack perfectly: preparation, surveillance and execution. On Jan. 8, 2012, they hit Harris Ranch at 4 a.m., causing over $2 million in damage as “containers of an accelerant were placed beneath a row of 14 trucks with four digital timers used to light four of the containers and kerosene-soaked rope carrying the fire to the other 10.”

There were no drivers inside the trucks that morning — but there’s no way the ALF would have been certain of that. It was a chilling act and certainly one of the biggest agroterrorism attacks in U.S. history. ALF gloated over the attack in a release, ending it with “… until next time.”


For more, see Domestic terror attack on cattle feeding operation chilling


Instead of California’s San Joaquin Valley, that “next time” could be anywhere across American agriculture.

Roughly a year after the Harris Ranch attack, and despite growing alarm over the vulnerability of American agriculture (Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.) the EPA released private farmer data to three environmental groups after a Freedom of Information Act request. The scope of EPA-released material was immense, covering 29 states and over 80,000 farming operations.

The Natural Defense Council, Earthjustice and the Pew Charitable Trusts had filed the FOIA request to obtain agriculture information about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). However, the mass of material released by the EPA contained “… names of owners, addresses, global-positioning-system coordinates, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and, in some instances, notes on medical conditions and inheritances.” From National Review: “In the last decade, the EPA has mounted a largely unsuccessful effort to increase permitting requirements for feedlots. But environmental groups were able to work out a settlement with the agency in 2010, compelling it to begin collecting CAFO data.


For the complete story, see Jillian Kay Melchior’s The EPA’s Privacy Problem


“In the fall of 2012, Earthjustice, the NRDC, and the Pew Charitable Trusts filed a public-records request for the information collected — “before any of the CAFO data collected by the EPA was made public,” according to a recent report from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. That timeline, the report continues, “raises the possibility that EPA may have been collecting data on the groups’ behalf.” In early 2013, the EPA released to the three groups wholly unredacted data about farms and ranches in 29 states.”

More breaches

After being hit with a barrage of criticism, EPA has pushed the stunning claim that all personal information released has been “returned.” Despite no heads rolling and no concise explanation offered, EPA believed the matter was closed.


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“However, an August 2013 newsletter from Food & Water Watch stated that the FOIA documents had been “shared with several organizations, including Food & Water Watch. On April 4, 2013, the EPA took the uncharacteristic move of asking for the original set of documents back due to pressure from the livestock industry and Congress, offering a limited subset of the documents as a replacement. Food & Water Watch declined to return the original documents to EPA.” It’s unclear how widely the unredacted records were distributed, or who has retained them.”

EPA’s farmer privacy issues, far from settled, are headed to court with the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation trying to stop more data breaches by suing the EPA.

The release of private farmer data, particularly when the threat of agroterror is a genuine concern, is a matter of grave consequence. In 2013, R.C. Hunt, then NPPC president, summed up the debacle: “What’s ironic is that, in the name of transparency, EPA released information in secret and violated the privacy rights of farmers across the country.”


For more, see Jillian Kay Melchior’s The EPA’s Privacy Problem


Follow me on Twitter: @CBennett71 or email me: [email protected]


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