Promote Safety and Transparency: Allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Disclose Agricultural Practices

Corn Field

Target: United States Congress

Goal: Promote safety and transparency in Farm Bill in 2013

It’s time to shed light on our nation’s farming practices. Each year, the federal government doles out billions of dollars in agricultural and farming subsidies. However, according to a recent report by The Center for Progressive Reform (CPR), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not required to disclose the majority of information provided by those farmers who qualify for government funding. This includes important, basic information such as the types of crops produced and animals raised, and farming practices, including fertilizer and pesticide use.

The loophole came into law through an amendment, section 1619, to the 2008 Farm Bill. Section 1619 is an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and prohibits the USDA from releasing information provided by applicants and recipients of its grants. According to the CPR white paper, information exempted from disclosure includes “any item that concerns agricultural operations, farming or conservation practices, or the land itself and geospatial data about agricultural land or operations.”

Agencies that provide technical or financial assistance to grant recipients are exempt from the rule. However, neither the information generated by those agencies nor the information provided by grant recipients can be used for regulatory purposes. As a result, regulatory operations are often delayed or stifled as agencies waste time collecting information that could readily be provided by the USDA.

Section 1619 therefore interferes with the ability of regulatory agencies, states, and watchdog groups to monitor agricultural practices and ensure that subsidies are being correctly distributed and used by farmers. Such inefficient, lax oversight of agricultural pollution poses a health risk to the American public and facilitates fraud and waste. In the interest of government efficiency and public safety, congress should repeal section 1619 in the 2013 Farm Bill. Sign the petition below and urge congress to repeal section 1619 and bring greater transparency to the agricultural industry.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear members of Congress,

Unnecessary secrecy regarding agricultural subsidies and farming practices promotes fraud and waste and is a risk to public safety. Exempting the information that farmers provide to the USDA from the Freedom of Information Act prevents federal and state agencies, along with watchdog groups from effectively doing their job.

The de facto gag order imposed on the USDA by section 1619 of the Farm Bill forces regulators to waste time and money duplicating information that has already been provided to the USDA. It also facilitates fraud by providing a cover of darkness under which large agricultural operations are able to misuse grants or obtain unwarranted government funds. Moreover, it creates both a public safety and environmental hazard by inhibiting regulators’ ability to ensure safe agricultural practices.

Repealing section 1619 in the 2013 Farm Bill would create greater transparency in the agricultural industry. It would therefore promote public health and protect our environment by helping regulators enforce safe agricultural practices, as well as ensure that taxpayers’ money is being appropriately allocated. In the interest of public safety and government efficiency, I urge you to repeal section 1619 of the 2013 Farm Bill.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: tikarasha via Flickr

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61 Signatures

  • Eric von Borstel
  • Hermann Kastner
  • Mal Gaff
  • Marianne Oelman
  • Terrie Phenicie
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