As blog readers here know, I made a FOIA request to the DOA personally, back on May 25th.
I asked for very simple data: What are the real numbers of USDA inspected cattle and hogs being processed at MMM&S?
This is a question that high school and college students might ask, or a reporter, or someone doing their homework before deciding to make an investment in livestock here in Alaska. It is back ground, legwork information that would either prove, or disprove, that the sector was growing as fast as it appears to be from the outside looking in. (After all, raising for yourself is one thing, but raising for market is another matter entirely)
Naturally, I had to do a little research to determine which data would be relevant and accurate. I did not ask for, nor want, any personal identifiers of any kind. But what records would be available to fulfill this request? In a few short minutes online, I discovered the correct descriptor.
Here is a copy and paste of the original FOIA request, submitted May 25th, 2017:
Good morning Lora-
I am requesting copies of all USDA pen cards generated for Mt. McKinley Meat & Sausage for the period between May 20th, 2016, through May 15th, 2017.
Scans via return email are acceptable, in the interest of time and cost savings to the State, during this period of fiscal crisis.
Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.
To which the response came:
Greetings: I have received your FOIA records request DAG17-027 and will begin the request on May 26, 2017 with an anticipated response back to you on June 9, 2017.
Thank you for your inquiry.
And another email arrived on May 31st:
Good morning, TJ
After returning to your public records request, it is unclear what documents you are seeking. Please clarify what you mean by “USDA pen cards generated for Mt. McKinley Meat & Sausage.” The time limits for response quoted to you in the last email will not begin to run again until we received your clarification.
To which I responded:
Lora, my apologies if my request was unclear.
These are the charts/sheets generated for each USDA inspection performed at Mt. McKinley Meat & Sausage. They do not list owner or anything of a personal nature...it is simply age, sex, breed, ear tag and/or brand of the cattle (or hogs) slaughtered that day.
The USDA requires them, and it is my understanding that the state would naturally have copies due to tracing responsibility (if it should be required for health reasons) The USDA calls them "pen cards" but of course, you may know them by another term I am unfamiliar with. As custodian of the records for MMM&S and all it's activities, I am positive the Division does keep these important documents.
Again, the period would be from May 20th, 2016, through May 17th, 2017
Thank you once again-
And then, the final response on this request:
Greetings Ms. Heider:
Attached is a response letter and denial regulations regarding your public records request dated May 31, 2017.
The links above close the FOIA, and provide the information to remedy the decision if a person chooses to continue forward.
However, my research proved that the DOA must have them, although the issue may have been their understanding of my request. I sent the following on June 7th:
In the interest of clarity, I have started a new email chain regarding my original FOIA request, dated May 25th, 2017. I am hereby amending this to a new request at this time.
In reviewing the FSIS regulations to ascertain whether or not the Division of Agriculture would retain the relevant documents I described, I found this:
"The establishment is required to have an adequate system for the identification of animals presented for slaughter (307.2(a)). There is not a uniform method of presenting animals for ante-mortem inspection, but the establishment needs to do so in a manner that will allow IPP to document that ante-mortem inspection has been performed. The most commonly used way for establishments to meet this regulatory requirement is by using establishment identification cards, referred to as "pen cards" or "drive sheets”. Although the pen cards themselves are non-regulatory in nature, they must be presented to the inspector before ante-mortem inspection is performed. The pen card or drive sheet should contain space to record the date and time of inspection, pen or lot number, number and slaughter class of animals presented, and IPP signature or initials. In most instances, the establishment will record the information directly on the card for you. However, you should check to see that the information is correct.
The regulations also require that establishments identify the carcass and parts with the animal from which they come (9 CFR 310.2 (a)), and that the establishment maintain records of the buyer and seller of livestock (9 CFR 320.1(b)(1)(iv)). Tags are typically used to maintain the identity of the carcass and its parts. Pen cards may be used to maintain a record of the buyer and seller of the livestock."
To reiterate, I have not asked for specific owner information. I request copies of the tags (or pen cards as described above) of those cattle and hogs processed for the period from May 15th, 2016, through May 17th, 2017.
As the Division of Agriculture is now the custodian of the commercial business records of the MMM&S facility, as conducted for the State of Alaska, these records are federally mandated and are in the Divisions' possession.
Thank you for your attention-
And there the matter rested, with one follow up email on Friday to check to make sure the request was received.
Yesterday, the final response on this second FOIA arrived in my inbox, where the DOA decided to contact the feds on my behalf:
Yes, this very long entry has a few points.
The first takeaway is this: The DOA seemingly does not keep federally mandated records. The DOA only keeps "pen cards" for a few days, not the required minimum three years. This is a monstrous public health issue, and warrants a thorough investigation.
Why? Because *if* there were disease or other health problem arising from meats processed there, there is no way for public health officials to trace its origin! The record keeping there is atrocious, and I have seen screenshots of the nearly illegible handwritten lists that they produce. Not entered into an easily searched database with a corresponding file for identification.
Now while you are thinking through the serious implications of that, let me close by stating the mantra:
They do it this way, because it's always been done this way.