Last year, The American Egg Board (AEB) was caught in the act trying to sabotage Hampton Creek, a company that markets a plant-based egg-free alternative and a product called “Just Mayo,” an egg-free mayonnaise. According to a report in the Guardian, AEB board members viewed Hampton Creek as a threat to the $5.5-billion-a-year egg industry.
Maybe you've never heard of groups like AEB, the Cattleman’s Beef Board, the National Pork Board, National Dairy Promotion & Research Board and others like them. But you’re probably familiar with their work. They’re responsible for marketing slogans like “The incredible, edible egg,” “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner,” “Pork: the other white meat,” and “Got milk?”
These groups, which operate under the Promotion & Research—or checkoff—program, are funded by farmers and producers who are required to participate. But they’re overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—which is why they are required to turn over documents under FOIA.
Now that AEB has been publicly exposed for violating checkoff program rules, the group, along with some of the largest U.S. food producers and their lobbyists, want Congress to shield them from FOIA requests. With help from their friends in the U.S. House of Representatives, they’ve attached a rider to the House agricultural appropriations bill that would exempt groups like AEB from FOIA requests.
. . . mounting evidence shows that many of our federal agencies are actually working to stifle that freedom by wrongfully withholding information from the public. In June, President Obama signed a bill presumably aimed at strengthening FOIA. But while the law offers a range of new procedural improvements, the provisions do little to actually prevent the continuation of common abuses and excuses we see from agencies reluctant to turn over information about their activities.