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Missouri bill would restrict public access to animal-tracking data

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 | 7:29 p.m. CDT; updated 8:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 1, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Under a bill discussed Tuesday, animal tracking data and information about the farmers and ranchers who raise the livestock would be excluded from Missouri Sunshine Law and Freedom of Information Act requests.

Rep. Jay Houghton, R-Martinsburg, sponsored the bill, which he said would protect farmers, ranchers and cattlemen from government agencies' disclosure of personal information, such as their names and addresses.

The federal law that collects such data is the Animal Disease Traceability Program. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, the program’s purpose is to track animals so the government can have a quick response to any animal disease incident.

Houghton said the bill would protect against terrorist acts against ranchers by animal rights activists. While he acknowledged that he knew of no instances that have occurred in Missouri, he said a single attack on Missouri farmers was too much.

"I am concerned about the wrong people getting our private information with the intent of damaging our reputation or committing an act of terrorism," Houghton said in the hearing Tuesday before the House agriculture committee.

He said this type of terrorism has happened elsewhere. Houghton cited a terrorist attack on the Harris Ranch in California in 2012, which destroyed 14 cattle trucks.

However, the Harris Ranch information is easily accessible on its website, as it is an inn and restaurant, as well as a beef producer.

Mike Sherry, president of the Missouri Sunshine Coalition, said this bill would prohibit access to public information for something that seems unlikely.

"The terrorism angle seems to be fairly far-fetched, and there’s a public interest among the community," he said. "This is a public health issue. They have as much right as the government to know what is potentially contaminating their food."

Jean Maneke, the lawyer for the Missouri Sunshine Coalition, said that if this bill were to pass, it would be unconstitutional because it is an attempt to nullify a federal law.

The bill would prevent state agencies from divulging information on animals to people who request it, but because federal law supersedes state law, Maneke said, it would not prevent the EPA or other federal agencies from responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

"The state cannot dictate how a federal agency will respond under federal law," she said.

Houghton said he wasn’t worried about people challenging the constitutionality of the law in the court.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill at the hearing.


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