A watchdog on agriculture, farm policy and food safety reports that a provision—quietly tucked into the Farm Bill Conference Report (Sec. 1619, "Information Gathering") without public hearings or debate during the conference committee process—nullifies a recent, major federal appeals court decision under the Freedom of Information Act that ordered USDA to make public large amounts of data crucial to monitoring the economic and environmental impacts of multi-billion-dollar farm subsidy and conservation programs. The information to be made secret includes data submitted by subsidy applicants about their ag operations to show that they qualify for the subsidies.

The sneak secrecy insertion in a conference committee report—never part of the actual House or Senate bills—was accomplished despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pledge on taking office to “protect the public’s right to know, strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.”  Small “home farm” advocate Mary-Louise Zanoni comments in an e-mail, “on closer inspection, note that this sec 1619 not only negates (the recent court decision), but generally tries to create a GIANT FOIA exemption for all information submitted by farmers for participation in ALL  USDA programs.”

Last November Californians Aware joined 27 other organizations in a letter asking Senators to drop a different provision in the Senate version of the Farm Bill, intended to “create an unnecessary bar to public disclosure and use or publication of information related to the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).” CalAware learned late last month that at the insistence of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the issue was dropped from the bill.