Commodity Groups Slip FOIA Exemption into House Appropriations Bill

May 11, 2016

Lobbying by agricultural commodity groups can sometimes be embarrassing — which is why House Republicans slipped language carving them a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption into the Agriculture Appropriations bill now awaiting passage.

It was FOIA'd emails that revealed the American Egg Board trying to strangle an egg-free mayonnaise startup in its crib in 2015. The Egg Board is one of the commodity-specific "checkoff" boards funded by industry to promote agricultural products. Congress has made industry contributions to the boards mandatory.

After a collection of ag commodity lobby groups wrote a letter earlier this year to the House Appropriations Committee requesting a FOIA exemption, that panel wrote one into the funding bill.

The language is in the report (HR 114-531) accompanying the bill. Report language is not technically mandatory, but coming in a funding bill, it is almost always taken as a directive by agencies.

The House language declares that employees of the marketing boards are "not government employees," and "urges the USDA to recognize" that such boards are exempt from FOIA.

SEJ Publication Types: