The N.C. Farm Act of 2014 goes too far in keeping the practices of giant agri-business operations out of the public’s eye. If Gov. Pat McCrory signs the bill into law, as expected, we join other voices urging the legislature to revisit some of the aspects of the bill during its next session.
Specifically, the bill shields complaints made about farms by the public. If we can’t determine what complaints have been filed about a particular farm and how those complaints are being acted upon, how can the public be sure that safe farming practices are being followed?
The new Farm Act specifically states that complaints of violations will be considered confidental and may be released to the public “only by order of a court of competent jurisdiction.” Complaints won’t become public unless the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources determines that a violation has occurred.
Supporters of that change argue that it will help deter people from making frivolous complaints about farms they don’t want in their neighborhoods. But even some Republican lawmakers are uneasy about the provision.
N.C. Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, noted that there’s already a criminal statue that makes it a misdemeanor for someone to file a false report. What’s the harm in letting people know what claims have been filed, particularly if there’s reason to suspect disease or other potential health threats?
Transparency does more good than harm. Complaints filed by the public should be public.