BEEF Daily

EPA Gets Slammed For Releasing Personal Data On Farm Families


Sen. John Thune (R-SD) speaks out against EPA releasing personal information of farmers and ranchers to environmental groups.

In the land of the free, what’s your business apparently is also the government’s business. But once this private information is gathered, it’s assumed that the U.S. government will protect the confidentiality of its citizens; apparently that’s not so.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released private information about individual feedlots, including names, addresses, phone numbers, and even information on the deceased. This data wasn’t given to just anybody; it was released to environmental groups including Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pew Charitable Trust.

These groups charged that this information should be made public, and the EPA turned over data on an estimated 80,000 farmers and ranchers, under a Freedom of Information Act request. While it’s uncertain how these groups plan to use this information, they believe that because farmers and ranchers manage waterways, they should have access to their personal information.

If farmers and ranchers weren’t already wary of the EPA -- based on its extreme regulatory bent (remember when they tried to regulate dust?) -- producers sure have a reason now to be downright distrusting and hostile to this agency. First, they try to regulate us out of business, then they try to sell us out.

While farmers and ranchers don’t have anything to hide, the spirit of the cowboy is one of independence – making a living on the land and the animals he tends to. He wants the freedom to work hard, make a living, raise a family and do so without government interference.

But now, extremists groups and bureaucrats sitting at dusty desks in Washington, D.C., think they know better regarding the cowboy’s job. The results are the intended, and sometimes unintended, consequences of regulations that are either based on knee-jerk emotional reactions to skewed media reports, or created with malice with the intent of putting agriculturalists out of business.

Call me dramatic, but the EPA’s release of personal data was a serious breach to our nation’s food security and an awful invasion of hard-working U.S. citizens’ privacy.

Initially, it was chalked up to hearsay as to whether EPA actually did release the information, but now the agency has admitted it, pledging to try to get the information back. But it’s too little, too late, and the backlash has begun.

According to Fox News, “Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who originally complained about the release, slammed the EPA for trying to retroactively recover the sensitive data.  

"It is inexcusable for the EPA to release the personal information of American families and then call for it back, knowing full well that the erroneously released information will never be fully returned," he says. "While EPA acknowledged that it erred is a first step, more must be done to protect the personal information of our farmers and ranchers now and in the future. I will continue to demand answers from the EPA on how this information was collected and why it is still being distributed to extreme environmental groups to the detriment of our farm and ranch families.

“The EPA has threatened the health and safety of agriculture producers and their families and has damaged the security of our food system,” Thune adds.

“There is a growing gap of trust between America’s farm and ranch families and the EPA. Much of this lack of trust is due to EPA’s aggressive regulatory agenda.” J.D. Alexander, a Nebraska cattle farmer and former president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), says the information EPA released includes his family’s home address. “The only thing it doesn’t do is chauffeur these extremists to my house,” he says.

Thune sent a letter to EPA requesting the agency answer several questions, including whether EPA officials violated the federal Privacy Act of 1974. Regardless of what happens, that data will never be restored. It’s too late. I’m sure the EPA will get a slap on the hand and go back to their business of bullying farmers and ranchers, America’s land stewards.

What do you think about this violation? Am I reacting too strongly? Do you feel this was an inappropriate use of our personal information? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 22

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

THANK YOU for stating the facts

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

so much for my next ag cencus

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013


TexasRancher (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

Amanda, I think you hit the nail on the head on this one.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

I agree totally with your article. I am proud of our Senator John Thune for helping us farmers.

John R. Dykers, Jr. (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

You are quite right to be miffed! At least EPA admitted error. And the bird is out of the cage and won't go back in. Forget that part; just learn the lesson!
As we agriculturalists become more a tiny minority, the better we understand the tyranny of the majority as a danger of democracy. We can increasingly identiy with other minorities and appreciate the protections of our constitutional republic. And we must accept our requirement to communicate with and educate our fellow citizens who are so distanced from their food source that they only see Walmart and not the farm.
New Hope Farm, Siler City, NC Purebred Charolais and CharLean Beef.

shaun evertson (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

No, you're not reacting too strongly.

As a nation we're at a crossroads. Our founding documents are a contract and national charter, the foundations of which are the fundamental equality of the citizens, their personal liberty, and a sharply limited government. I am not fundamentally more or less human than any other person. I'm at liberty to do what I will to pursue my own life aims and goals so long as I don't infringe on the liberty of others who are doing the same. I am a sovereign citizen, and the government works for me and equally for my fellow citizens. Neither I, nor my fellows, work for the government.

The political left, which holds a strong base in all political parties, holds that those founding documents and principles mean nothing in this enlightened age; that of ourselves we are nothing but unimportant cogs in the machine. To those people, government is sovereign. We belong to the government. We didn't build that, the government did.

That is so fundamental a conflict that the two sides simply cannot coexist. If you belong to the government, and in the last election slightly more than half of the voters were persuaded that they do, then those who do not belong to the government are the enemy. The enemy does not deserve the same fundamental rights. Those who belong to the government see no conflict in stripping fundamental human rights from the enemy. THEIR rights are safe and protected by the wonderful government, which IS of course, the United States.

So you see, those who see founding principles and documents an impediment to their prosperity are perfectly okay with the government attacking its enemies. Besides, once those enemies are destroyed, everyone who belongs to the government gets some of their stuff. It's a win-win.

Look back in history. It's always worked before. We're about to embark on a dark age. And there's no America waiting in the wings to save us from the forces of tyranny as we saved the world in the 20th century.

been there done that (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

Worked as a gov't. analyst for a few years. I know how easy it is to lose sight of the big picture when your dealing with minusia. About the only thing that gets one's attention is cutting budgets and personnel. EPA would be a good place to save a few trillion dollars.

W.E. (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

I think your heart is with farmers and ranchers, Amanda, but just looking at the Google Maps of some of the larger feedlots will tell anyone that this is not stewardship. Real stewardship would put those steers back out on the land where their manure and urine would go to replenish the fertility of the places where they were born, renewing well-managed grasses through grazing and resting. As a long-time grazier who once sent steers to feedlots, I have been there, done that, and know that our present vertical production model is much better than shipping our weanlings away to be fed grain along with tens of thousands of others. It took losing a fifth of our steers to acidosis one year to teach us that hard lesson and make us change our paradigm.

Mathena (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

What do you think they do with the manure at feedlots? It just disappears into thin air?
Acidosis is from over feeding a hot ration so that was pretty much your fault, and doesn't mean that feedlotting cattle is a bad thing because you don't know how to feed. Feeding like this is actually more efficient than grass grown cattle. From all you can get from a acre of corn you can feed more cattle than a acre of grass, and you can put their manure, that you say just disappears, back on the corn field and cut down on fert. cost.

As for the people that actually fill out these census forms from the government. I suggest just signing your name on the front and send it back. It's a private company and it's no business of the government what you do!

W.E. (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

Those steers were sent to a feedlot on retained ownership to be fed for a breed-labeled beef product. We had no say over what or how our steers were fed. We don't do that anymore. And nobody ships manure from Kansas feedlots back to the fields in the southeast where those calves were born. Down here most of the corn is grown using anhydrous ammonia, which burns up organic matter; on too many farms continuous row-cropping eventually leads to terrible soil erosion. Corn can be grown without artificial nitrogen on land where steers have been raised using management-intensive grazing , especially if on an old stand of mixed alfalfa or red clover and grasses. The levels of organic matter are much better, and the system is self-sustaining using long rotations of grazing with short rotations of row-crops. The forms claim to be mandatory, but most of the information is already on the USDA records or IRS forms already. Why do they need to burden people who work hard out in the weather with all that duplicate paperwork? So that people who sit at computers can be paid for producing nothing of value.

on Apr 16, 2013

This is the reason why we refused to give information other than how many acres we own on the farm census. We all need to read documents we are sent by the government. According to the census the information requested is voluntary and confidential. But when the census worker showed up to get the papers and realized we had read the document and all we were required to give was acreage he started threatening all sorts of bad things that would happen to us. The government has no right to demand that you give personal, financial, farm debt, income etc. The confidentiality issue was a big factor for us...

Steve (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

Just think...our taxpayer dollars hard at work paying for staff and salaries of the Gov't EPA administration. Maybe they should be asked if they would like their income tax returns be made public with their SS#, address, and dependents listed.

I have no problem with the information given anonymously like the 10 year Census does with data but no names address attached. I think it's time to have the EPA go through the "ringer" like the FBI and CIA had to a few years ago following the 9-11 attacks!

on Apr 16, 2013

I think maybe I've filled out my last United States census of Agriculture, my last Economic Census,
and quite possibly my last 1040 form.

Our "response is required by law" so the Federal Government can sell us out to those who wish to destroy our livelihood, invade our privacy, and as we've seen in the past: do us harm.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

I think we just need to shut down the EPA. The farmers and ranchers of America are much better stewards of the environment than a bunch of city slickers in Washington. All the EPA does is harm our nation's economy and support activists who aim to harm those that produce the world's food and support American jobs. Washington needs to cut the budget anyway, so start with the EPA.

Doc (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

The EPA should be dissolved along with the Department of homeland security. They're government overreach and they don't work.

anoynomous (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

ohmgirl said we are only required to give acreage. I filled mine out but have not sent it in. Amanda, could you write an article quickly as to what is required. I am looking at the form again and do not see where it says only acreage is required to be given. ohmgirl, could you respond again as to where you got the acreage only requirement information? I looked at the form and instructions again and am not finding it.

on Apr 16, 2013

We sent ours in and filled it out front to back. If I had known that I was only required to list acres, that's all I would have done. Since I don't have the forms anymore, I'm not sure on that one, but I would be interested to learn more.

That being said, I do often use the Census information and find it quite interesting, particularly the numbers of young farmers and women. It is interesting information, but it's unfortunate that we have to fear where that information will end up.

on Apr 17, 2013

On the very first page it states that answers are voluntary and confidential. It also states any question that makes you uncomfortable you do not have to answer. Ours has already been collected so I can't tell you if it was the first or second small font paragraph. We also called and complained about the census worker because he tried to browbeat my mother- in- law who is 83 and in ill health. You are required by law to submit it but the new census worker who came to our ranch said the only questions we had to answer was acreage and production. Anything else was voluntary. Kind of like the regular census...all you have to answer is how many live in your home. We also contacted our Senator Doug LaMalfa about the harassment by the census worker.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

I would say that most of German people felt as we do from 1932 to 1945 when you no who had taken over there country!!!

Extension (not verified)
on Apr 17, 2013

I work in Extension and still maintain a link to my cow-calf upbringing. I use the data collected from USDA and other agencies often in my work. While I can undersand everyone's concerns given this breech of trust, I do sincerely hope that information continues to be provided. The lack of accurate statistics could end up biting the industry in the bottom. For example, if less producers provide this information, then the industry is under-represented nationally and soon no one will care about the livelihood of you or your neighbors because 'on paper' you don't exist. Again I undertand the frustration but these numbers are important.

Anonymous (not verified)
on May 7, 2013

Thanks Amanda and ohmgirl. Extension, I share your concerns but am not filling it out anymore. I agree it is valuable information for many of the right reasons.

Unfortunately so many no longer fill it out due to the privacy issue that I do not have faith in its accuracy anymore.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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