House panel votes to keep SNAP retailer data secret

The U.S. appeals court ruling on May 8 that would allow the release of SNAP sales data may not be the end of a South Dakota newspaper’s seven-year battle for access to the information. The House Appropriations Committee voted on Wednesday to keep the data confidential, with Rep. Don Newhouse predicting irreparable harm to grocers if it were released.

By voice vote, the committee adopted Newhouse’s amendment to add an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act for SNAP sales made at specific stores. The Washington State Republican said the sales totals should be protected as proprietary information.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper had argued that the information — yearly sales totals — was a public record generated by a government program and ought to be available to the public. “As I’ve said before, at its heart, this is about fundamental rights. Taxpayers need to know where their money is spent,” news director Cory Myers said last week. The appellate court ruled that releasing the information would do no competitive harm to the retailers.

Members of the Appropriations Committee discussed the issue briefly before adding Newhouse’s amendment to the $145 billion USDA-FDA funding bill for fiscal 2019, which begins on Oct. 1. Funding for the current year is $146 billion. The House could vote on the FY19 bill in the next few weeks.

During their meeting, Appropriations Committee members also approved an amendment to include genetically engineered salmon under GMO food-labeling rules being written by the USDA, rejected a ban on horse slaughter, and stood by a provision for USDA regulation of lab-grown meat.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Washington Democrat, referred to the GMO salmon as “Frankenfish,” and said the USDA rules would have allowed “these fish to be labeled with a tiny QR code” that would obscure their origin. Iowa Republican Rep. David Young, sponsor of the salmon amendment, said it would ensure a uniform set of labels. “There’s nothing fishy about it,” said Young.

To read the Appropriations Committee news release on the bill, or for links to the text of the bill, a summary of the bill, or the committee report accompanying the bill, click here.