Some of the largest food producers in the US have successfully petitioned Congress to propose a change to the Freedom of Information Act that would shield their communications with boards overseen by the US Department of Agriculture from the scrutiny of the public, the Guardian has learned.
The move follows a series of stories that showed the government-backed egg promoter, the American Egg Board, had attempted to stifle competition from Silicon Valley food startup Hampton Creek, in direct conflict with its mandate.
Several agricultural lobbyists including United Egg Producers, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council have now sent a letter to the congressional subcommittee overseeing appropriations for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking to be exempted from Foia requests to their own respective promotional boards.
The letter to the subcommittee reads, in part:
We support inclusion of language in the Committee report urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to recognize that the research and promotion programs are funded solely with producer dollars, and therefore are not agencies of the Federal government or subject to the Freedom of Information Act (Foia).
The language added to the bill reads thusly:
The Committee notes that the commodity Research and Promotion boards that the agency oversees are not agencies of the federal government, nor are Research and Promotion programs funded with federal funds. The funding used to operate and carry out the activities of the various Research and Promotion programs is provided by producers and industry stakeholders, and employees of the boards are not federal employees. Therefore, the Committee urges USDA to recognize that such boards are not subject to the provisions of 5 U.S.C. Section 552.
The bill has not yet been passed.
The government-backed food marketing groups are called “checkoff” programs, dedicated to promoting individual commodities and backed by a levy on farmers. Their most recognizable presence is in the form of marketing slogans such as “The incredible, edible egg” or “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner”.
*Article originally appeared at Organic Consumers.