(NaturalNews) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in hot water following the agency's impetuous release of sensitive information on roughly 80,000 American farmers and cattle ranchers, according to new reports. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by a trio of environmental groups, the EPA admittedly released more data than was actually required by the filing, which has since generated a firestorm of outrage by many who fear the information could land in the wrong hands.
The controversy began when the environmental groups Earth Justice, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Pew Charitable Trust collectively filed a FOIA request seeking information primarily on large-scale livestock and poultry farmers. The EPA complied with this request, but reportedly failed to review the data it compiled to ensure that it was appropriate and in line with state and federal laws. As a result, the agency ended up releasing all sorts of additional personal information about farmers and ranchers including names, email addresses, phone numbers, and personal addresses.
The release apparently caught many in the agricultural community off guard, and the situation quickly escalated with several farmer advocacy groups and politicians calling the EPA out for allegedly violating personal privacy rights and potentially endangering the lives and livelihoods of thousands of American farmers. One senator from South Dakota, for instance, recently issued a scathing indictment of what he sees as the EPA's flagrant recklessness in the entire matter.
"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," said Sen. Thune in a statement to FoxNews.com.
"While EPA acknowledging 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," he added.
EPA says it was just following protocol
In its defense, the EPA claims it has a responsibility to release information in accordance with FOIA requests, but admits that it may have released too much of it in this case. According to FoxNews.com, the data released by the EPA specifically pertained to so-called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or large-scale factory farms, in 29 states. However, the agency did end up complying with privacy concerns raised by certain environmental groups by redacting sections of information released to 10 of the 29 states.
The EPA also insists that most of the data it released is already publicly available through state databases, and that there is no legitimate cause for concern. But Sen. Thune and others feel differently about the situation.
"The EPA has threatened the health and safety of agriculture producers and their families and has damaged the security of our food system," added Sen. Thune. "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."