USDA keeps livestock data open to public

The Agriculture Department has delayed indefinitely its plans to apply privacy protections to a database that contains information about livestock operations and their locations. Livestock producers have registered the information in a new database, the National Premises Information Repository.

The repository will become part of a national database, the National Animal Identification System, for tracking diseased animals that could contaminate the food supply. 

USDA complied with a court order sought by Mary-Louise Zanoni, a freelance journalist. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled June 4 to keep the records available for disclosure. The Justice Department said it is reviewing the court order. Meanwhile, development of the animal ID system will continue, a USDA spokeswoman said.

Meghan Pusey, associate director of communications at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said development of a national database should protect producer privacy and confidential business information.

The court ordered USDA to suspend its July 9 deadline for making the records system subject to Privacy Act safeguards, USDA Secretary Edward Schafer said in a notice published in the Federal Register. The records include entity name, contact person, address, telephone number and operation type, the complaint states. 

An animal ID system would let producers and state animal health officials trace all livestock associated with an animal disease incident within 48 hours, which would limit the spread of the disease and its impact on the economy, USDA said.

Zanoni filed a Freedom of Information Act request in October 2007 to force disclosure of the premises contact information, but the department said some records were not subject to disclosure under FOIA, the complaint states.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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