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The New Republic has a fascinating story about how US food producers are pressuring the US Congress to shield them from the prying eyes of citizens and journalists who would use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to find out "how industry wields undue, and even illegal, influence over government agencies." Specifically at issue is how some food boards - which get tax dollars in order to promote the consumption of their categories through campaigns - actually use that money to help fund lobbying efforts that sometimes veer into the promotion of protectionist policies.

"In April," the story says, "14 food boards - including the leading producers of beef, milk, pork, potatoes, and eggs - quietly convinced Congress to insert language into this year’s Agricultural Appropriations Bill that would exempt them from all FOIA requests. If the measure passes, America’s biggest food manufacturers will be allowed to spend millions in federal funds every year, while operating in total secrecy.

"The move involves far more than the public’s right to know how its tax dollars are being spent. With less transparency about how food is produced, it will be harder for consumers to make informed choices about what to put on their tables. And if the food industry is allowed to operate in the dark, experts warn, there will be no way to identify and prevent the kinds of practices that lead to outbreaks of food-borne illness."

Ironically, the New Republic points out, the food boards are making the argument that they should not be subject to FOIA requests because they are not government agencies. But "in a case before the Supreme Court in 2005, they argued that they should be allowed to use tax dollars to promote their products because those efforts constitute 'government speech'." The Supreme Court agreed.

Really good piece, and you can read it here.
KC's View:
As a taxpayer, I have to say that I have no idea why the government is spending upwards of $1 billion so that industry groups can get people to eat more pork or beef, or drink more milk, or whatever. These food groups represent private industry ... so let those companies fund the damned things. Be an easy way to cut $1 billion out of the budget ... which is just a rounding error, but it is a start.

But as bothered as I am by that, it does not even begin to match the degree to which I am offended by companies and institutions that want to stop people from seeing how they do business. They are not just protecting their privacy, but pursuing specifically anti-transparency policies.

It is as bad as the companies that promoted laws that would punish people who took videos or pictures of farms that were engaged in animal cruelty, turning the people exposing the bad behavior into the criminals. Or the North Carolina law that, as the New Republic writes, says that "businesses can sue anyone, including an employee, who documents corporate lawbreaking on company property." Or, for that matter, laws that prevent entire industries from being sued when their products are used in the commission of a crime. Or when a political; candidate bars reporters from covering him because he doesn't like the coverage. Or when a government official - paid by the taxpayers - uses a private email server and personal smartphone to prevent the legitimate perusal of her emails by her bosses (which is us).

I am disgusted with the whole damned lot of them.

Government and industry better get used to the idea that they are going to be held to a higher standard of transparency. It may not change things today or tomorrow, but the change is coming.