The Freedom of Information Act is widely viewed as a successful piece of legislation that helps increase government transparency. But if Missouri State Rep. Jay Houghton (R) has his way, residents of his state will soon have significantly less access to the financial and health records of Missouri’s meat and agriculture businesses.
Houghton is the author of Missouri House Bill 2094. Under Houghton’s bill, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking information about animal and environmental health records from food providers in the state would legally be denied.
Specifically, HB 2094 would block access to data collected under the Animal Traceability Program (ATP). The ATP was enacted for the specific purpose of tracking down the spread and origins of diseases in livestock and agriculture crops.
What would it look like if Houghton’s bill passed? Let’s do a hypothetical scenario.
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Say an outbreak of mad cow disease was found on a Missouri farm. Immediately, the USDA and Missouri Department of Agriculture would begin trying to track down where the disease came from and how it spread. Currently, any journalist in the country would be allowed to file a FOIA request to gain access to the data collected on the disease’s spread. All of the available data could then be reported to the public, ensuring people learned the full story about the outbreak affecting their communities and food.
Houghton’s bill would make this reporting impossible. All of the information would be sealed, and both the government and the responsible farmers would have full freedom to disclose as much – or little – information about the outbreak as they like. Not very comforting.
Houghton’s desire to hide this kind of information from the public isn’t surprising. After all, on his non-legislative days he works as a manager at McCar Farms hog facility. He also worked for Monsanto in the past.
This looks like a classic example of a politician using his public office to protect his private interests – a scenario you are undoubtedly familiar with by now.