A U.S. District Court judge Friday issued a protective order against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stopping it from sharing ag producers' information to environmental groups while the National Pork Producers and American Farm Bureau appeal a Jan. 27 decision dismissing a lawsuit on the issue.
The lawsuit stems from the EPA's 2013 release of producers' information to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earth Justice and the Pew Charitable Trusts, which requested the information through the Freedom of Information Act.
By dismissing the ag group's suit, AFBF said the court ruled that farmers are not harmed when the government compiles and releases personal information, so long as individual bits of that information are somehow publicly accessible, such as through an Internet search or on a Facebook page.
According to NPPC, in some instances, the data contained farmers' home addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and personal medical information, as well as similar information for their employees, spouses and children. AFBF and NPPC filed an appeal of the courts Jan. 27 decision on Jan. 29.
The protection order issued last Friday ensures the safety of that information while the appeal process is ongoing, NPPC suggested.
"We're thrilled that the court recognized the importance of protecting this information and the need to prevent its release until the conclusion of the appeal," said NPPC President Dr. Howard Hill, an Iowa veterinarian. "We are confident in our position. The idea that a farmer having a Facebook page, something 71% of Americans with online access have, amounts to a waiver of his or her right to privacy strikes us being at odds with common sense and the clear direction of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Releasing farmers' personal information constitutes an irreparable harm that is not outweighed by any public interest, because the public strongly favors the protection of private information," Hill added.
AFBF President Bob Stallman supported the protection order and said AFBF disagrees with first court decision.
"We disagree that the Internet age has diminished the individual's right to protect personal information. Now, more than ever, citizens need their government to help protect their information—not gather it, tie a bow on it, and send it out to anyone who asks."