The American Farm Bureau Federation last week fought back against activists' tactics regarding its July lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency, calling the groups' characterizations of farms false and inflammatory.
The lawsuit, filed in a Minnesota federal court, seeks to stop the EPA from releasing farmers' and ranchers' personal information. The suit further asks the court to clarify EPA's obligation to keep personal information about citizens private when responding to Freedom of Information Act Requests.
The legal action stems from a Freedom of Information Act request the EPA received and fulfilled earlier this year, which provided names and contact information of several farm operators across several states. The EPA later admitted a mistake and asked groups which requested the information to return it.
In effort to prevent a similar situation, AFBF's lawsuit questions if farmers and ranchers are entitled to the same privacy protections for their homes that private citizens enjoy, regardless of the fact that farmers commonly reside in the same location.
Farm Bureau, and it's co-intervenor the National Pork Producers Council, however, say the groups have a different plan for the question of the case.
"These groups are trying to make this case into a referendum on whether livestock and poultry farmers are adequately regulated under the Clean Water Act," said AFBF President Bob Stallman.
"Their brief is filled with exaggeration and fabrication about how livestock and poultry farmers operate their farms and how they are regulated. Those statements have nothing to do with this case and are purely an effort to vilify family farmers in the court and in the press," Stallman noted.
The groups, Food and Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, suggest the livestock industry's request to clarify EPA's ability to withhold citizens' information is more of a cover-up.
"While industry describes this case as a fight to protect 'personal information' from the prying eyes of environmentalists, the fact is that these highly polluting animal factories are corporate operations that are destroying waterways and communities wherever they operate," said Tarah Heinzen, attorney with Environmental Integrity Project. "You can't simply decide to live where you operate an agribusiness, and then claim that you shouldn't be subject to the same level of transparency as every other industry because you happen to sleep there too."
The groups also suggested that, "While human waste must be treated, EPA does not require factory farms to meet any waste treatment requirements despite the fact that these wastes contain pathogens, heavy metals, antibiotics and hormones."
In a response objecting to the accusations about poultry and livestock farmers, AFBF noted, "Contrary to Proposed Intervenors' claims, livestock and poultry farms—whether they are classified as concentrated animal feeding operations or as smaller animal feeding operations – are subject to a high degree of oversight and regulatory control.
"Proposed Intervenors have filled their legal memorandum with overwrought and inaccurate accusations about how farmers run their livestock and poultry farms," the response continued.
The activist groups, together with the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Integrity Project and Humane Society of the United States have another standing lawsuit, filed in August against the EPA for withdrawing a proposed rule that would have collected "factory farm" information.