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Judge denies request for animal ID records

Mateusz Perkowski
Capital Press

Article by Capitol Press

An activist's demand to access National Animal Identification System livestock data has been shot down by a federal court.

Attorney and freelance writer Mary-Louise Zanoni of Russell, N.Y., initially filed suit against the USDA in June 2008, demanding that the agency comply with her Freedom of Information Act request to view livestock and premises records collected as part of NAIS.

The lawsuit also asked a federal judge to prevent the USDA from using federal privacy law to shield those records from disclosure.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected the complaint Tuesday, March 31, ruling that the NAIS records in question were exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Sullivan also ruled that Zanoni lacked legal standing to challenge federal privacy law.

Zanoni originally asked to see the records in October 2007 as part of her research for a series of articles about NAIS.

The articles were intended for publication in The Milkweed, a dairy industry publication based in Wisconsin, according to Zanoni's complaint.

In past public comments opposing NAIS, Zanoni has also identified herself as the executive director of Farm for Life, a non-profit group representing small farmers in New York.

The system is intended to help animal health authorities limit the spread of disease in the event of an outbreak among livestock.

Zanoni expected the data to show that USDA registered many livestock producers in the system without their knowledge or against their objections, according to court documents.

Specifically, Zanoni asked for computer disks that included the names and telephone numbers of all livestock operations registered in NAIS.

She also wanted to know the number of livestock producers who had asked to be removed from the system and how many of them were actually removed.

In response to the request, USDA officials conducted a search that uncovered about 14,000 to 17,000 pages of information, but later refused to release them to avoid a "clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," according to court documents.

Zanoni appealed that decision, prompting the USDA to identify another database which contained information about producers who had been removed from NAIS premises registration.

Per court order, those names were turned over to Zanoni after her complaint was filed, but the removal dates were not included.

It's unclear why removed names were not also exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

The attorney representing USDA in the case was not available for comment.

Zanoni refused to comment about the case and referred all questions to her attorney, who has not responded to requests from the Capital Press for comment.

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