We have a working theory in our house: sometimes those outrageous, non-sensical things you hear about are actually not really meant to succeed. Here is a case in point: a recent article in the New Republic (What Big Food Doesn’t Want You To Know) and cross tweeted by Mark Bittman was published using the premise that large food producers are misusing public funds to pressure Congress to their advantage. What stunned me was that food board receiving funding for their very existence, had convinced Congress to exempt these same groups from the FOIA by including such language in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill. In other words, these groups, using government funds, would be able to operate in secrecy. Outrageous? I thought so.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is not only a good thing, it is a necessary thing when there is a corporate culture of hiding information that might affect a person’s well-being. As in Listeria outbreaks. Or E-coli. Or corporate mergers that make competition something that occurs in name only.
So when the food industry groups want to make such groups exempt from the FOIA, my first reaction is “that can’t be legal” followed by “that is outrageous”. In other words, throw the idea against the wall and see if it sticks. I hope this one does not.
Now I have a personal story to tell here too. Once I had a student who had a severe illness which prevented her from physically attending school. As part of the student’s IEP, I would allow my mathematics lessons to be videotaped; I would not have a problem doing so once the privacy of my other students was ensured. As part of the process, I was required to sign a permission document which the school department lawyer diligently drafted, however, when I read that document my jaw dropped. Why? Because buried in the language of giving permission to tape lessons – which I had sort of assumed meant I wasn’t going to pursue copyright – was language stating that I would give up all of my collective bargaining rights.
Wait. What? Do away with all of those collective bargaining rights while giving permission to record a lesson? I don’t think so – I liked the protections my union negotiated contract afforded me. Things like not being fired at will. Or a working environment that was reasonable. In the end, after I refused to sign a document that required such a thing, and the school department’s lawyer revised the document.
There’s something dishonorable about both of these two instances, isn’t there? And without paying close attention, most of the time, such occurrences escape public notice. Throw it against the wall and see if a) anyone is paying attention and b) what one can get away with.