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In his nine-page decision, Judge Ruigh relied on the trade secret exemption to Iowa's Freedom of Information Act to prohibit the university from producing documents requested both by The New York Times and a Seattle attorney who four years ago sought to obtain a 2002 ISU study of BPI's meat production practices to support a lawsuit involving allegedly contaminated hamburgers. The university was prepared to comply with the records request when BPI filed suit to prevent disclosure.
Under Sec. 22.1(3)(a) of the Iowa Open Records law, a public record "includes all records,documents, tape or other information, stored or preserved in any medium, of or belonging to this state, or any county, city, township, school corporation, public subdivision...or any branch department board, bureau. commission, council, or committee of any of the foregoing." The Court concluded that any knowledgeable person employed by a BPI competitor could review the targeted information and thereby acquire confidential data about the company's food processing methods and any new methods in development to BPI's detriment.
The controversy arose before BPI filed its $1.2 billion defamation suit against ABC News in September 2012, over a news story the plaintiff claimed portrayed "pink slime," a lean finely textured beef filler product made from ammonia-sprayed fatty trimmings, as harmful to the public that was not meat (See "TUOL" post 1/21/13).
Tip of the hat to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (www.rcfp.org) for tracking the case.