Law requires government to provide answers, but there are other things ‘they’ can do to stop a pesky consumer advocate from asking questions. The corruption in pet food continues.
It was a simple enough question. Through Freedom of Information Act request, Missouri Department of Agriculture was asked for emails, phone records, and contracts between Mr. Stan Cook (Missouri Department of Agriculture representative and AAFCO President) and Purina Pet Food regarding a speech Mr. Cook gave at a Purina marketing event, held in September 2017. Was Mr. Cook paid a fee to speak at the Purina marketing event? Did Missouri Department of Agriculture benefit financially from Mr. Cook speaking at the Purina marketing event?
Sometimes when you file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request there is a fee that is charged the requester. The fee is supposed to cover research time (should it be a difficult to locate records) and the copying cost of documents. As example, when TruthaboutPetFood.com filed a FOIA request with Missouri Department of Agriculture for the emails and phone records regarding the Mars pet food plant (formerly) located in Joplin, MO – because the documents were several years old (research time) and because many pages were provided, Missouri Department of Agriculture charged us $275.00. We received 880 pages of documents for that $275.00 fee – which considering the amount of documents provided seemed fair.
But the fairness stopped with that FOIA request.
Missouri Department of Agriculture informed me in advance the cost for the Purina FOIA and provided the following invoice…
[pdf-embedder url=”https://truthaboutpetfood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Invoice.pdf” title=”invoice”]
Shocked at the cost for such a simple FOIA request, I emailed Missouri Department of Agriculture asking why such a high fee was involved…
Me: “I’m concerned at the cost of this FOIA request. This is just for records on one employee regarding one event he was hired to speak at. Why all the hours to research this – and at $40 an hour? Can you explain?”
Email response from Missouri: “What you requested required a lot of research time and requesting info from outside sources, which requires staff time to do so. Each staff member that worked on this request, has a specific salary rate that must be charged for their time spent. Unfortunately, these types of requests can be quite extensive.”
My email response back: “Can you assure me that I won’t receive $300 worth of redacted pages?”
Email response from Missouri: “As far as emails and phone records, we do not house those records, they have to be requested. Then searched through to make sure they are what you are requesting. There will only be redactions if there is personal information such as banking info, date of birth, social security numbers, and so on.”
Because I felt that consumers deserved to know if AAFCO President Stan Cook was paid by Purina to speak at a marketing event, I paid Missouri’s $323.18 fee.
And what did we learn for that $323.18 FOIA fee? What did we receive from Missouri Department of Agriculture?
We received 10 and 1/2 pages of fake phone records. (You can scroll through each page of the phone records by hovering your mouse over the document, click the arrow at the bottom of the pdf to view the next page.)
Click Here to view the phone records provided in a separate window.
If you notice, ALL of the phone numbers called (located in third column from the right) end in “0000”. The phone calls requested were specific to conversations between Mr. Stan Cook and Purina. Instead, Missouri Department of Agriculture provided 10 and 1/2 pages of fake phone numbers and charged me $270.47 for this part of the FOIA request.
Not one phone record in the 10 1/2 pages was to the phone number of the Purina employee that contacted Mr. Cook, there was not one phone record to even the same area code (314) provided.
What about emails? What emails were provided?
A whopping 14 emails were provided. (You can scroll through each page of the email records by hovering your mouse over the document, click the arrow at the bottom of the pdf to view the next page.)
[pdf-embedder url=”https://truthaboutpetfood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/FOIA-request.pdf” title=”FOIA request”]
Click Here to view the 14 emails provided in a separate window.
On page one, there is an email from Chris Cowell, Director, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs for Purina Pet Food to Mr. Stan Cook that states “It was good to talk to you this morning.” This email was dated “July 10, 2017” (two months before the Purina marketing event). No phone records were provided by Missouri for this phone call.
The remaining 13 emails are basically nothing. There is absolutely no mention of a fee paid to Mr. Stan Cook or Missouri Department of Agriculture for the speaking engagement.
There are several possibilities to who paid for Mr. Stan Cook to speak at the Purina marketing event…
- Tax payers of Missouri paid Mr. Cook’s travel expenses (expense of Missouri Department of Agriculture); or
- AAFCO paid Mr. Cook’s travel expenses; or
- Purina paid Mr. Cook’s travel expenses and possibly paid Mr. Cook a fee for speaking.
$323 dollars later, we still don’t know which of the above it is.
But we do know that Purina carefully scripted the presentation. From the September 6th email (page 5 of the 14 emails link above), Mr. Chris Cowell of Purina provided Mr. Stan Cook of Missouri Department of Agriculture and Dr. Dan McChesney of FDA the “outline of topics and questions that will be covered” during their segment of the marketing event.
Purina scripted every moment for Mr. Stan Cook and Dr. Dan McChesney, including providing – in advance – the questions they wanted discussed. A couple of the questions…
To all of the panelists (Missouri, FDA, and PFI): “Talk about how pet foods are among the most highly regulated products on the market.”
To FDA: “Tell us how the FDA makes sure the regulations are being met.”
To Missouri: “What is AAFCO’s and the individual state’s role in regulating the industry?”
(We can all safely assume there was no mention that FDA allows pet food to violate federal law through Compliance Policies, and no mention that Missouri Department of Agriculture ignores state feed law with pet food.)
To read the complete script that Purina sent Mr. Stan Cook (provided in the FOIA request) and FDA, Click Here.
In this consumer advocate’s opinion, Missouri Department of Agriculture was most certainly trying to deter me from discovering for pet food consumers what Mr. Cook was paid to speak at the Purina marketing event. To me, it is more than concerning that a government agency would work so hard to keep this information from pet food consumers.
What are your thoughts…
Why did Missouri Department of Agriculture charge TruthaboutPetFood.com such a large fee for basically nothing (fake phone numbers and 14 emails)? Was it to discourage me/us from making further FOIA requests? And/or was it to discourage any inquiry into Mr. Stan Cook’s activity?
For your consideration to these questions, a reminder…AAFCO (of which Mr. Stan Cook is President) kicked me out as consumer advocate advisor based on information provided in a previous FOIA request filed with Missouri. https://truthaboutpetfood.com/aafcos-attempt-to-control-truthaboutpetfood-com/, https://truthaboutpetfood.com/you-scratch-my-back-ill-scratch-yours/
Was this corruption? If so, what can we do together – to battle against the ongoing corruption in the regulation of pet food?
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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