Protecting farmers’ and ranchers’ right to privacy is a top priority, said the American Farm Bureau Federation, which took legal action last week to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from publicly releasing personal information about thousands of farmers and ranchers and their families.

EPA is expected to respond to several Freedom of Information Act requests, prompting AFBF to file a lawsuit and seek a temporary restraining order before the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

By seeking an immediate court order stopping EPA’s imminent release, AFBF hopes to stall disclosures of farmers’ and ranchers’ names, home addresses, GPS coordinates and personal contact information until a court can clarify EPA’s obligation to keep personal information about citizens private. The National Pork Producers Council joined AFBF in the lawsuit.

“We are sticking up for the tens of thousands of farmers and ranchers whose personal information would end up in the public domain,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “This lawsuit is about the government’s unjustified intrusion into citizens’ private lives.”

Earlier this year the farming and ranching community was shocked that EPA released personal information about thousands of livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers in 29 states in response to FOIA requests from three environmental organizations.

(For an earlier article on that action, see Cattle industry irate over EPA's release of personal information to activist groups).

The massive data release contained tens of thousands of lines in spreadsheets often including home phone numbers, home e-mails, employee contact information, home addresses and in some cases personal notes about the families.