UPDATE 1-USDA defends giving reporters early access to crop data

Mon Oct 22, 2012 5:56pm EDT
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By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO Oct 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday defended its practice of giving journalists early access to market-moving crop reports after facing questions about the security of the data.

Officials said at an annual meeting for users of USDA data that they were comfortable with the practice because reporters cannot publish information from crop reports until they are available to the general public.

Reporters, including those from Thomson Reuters and other newswires, view sensitive monthly crop reports in a secure room at USDA's headquarters in Washington, D.C. and pre-write articles for distribution to readers as soon as the data is publicly available.

Reporters surrender electronic devices before entering the so-called "lock up" and do not have access to the Internet to publish information until it is posted on the USDA's website.

Reporters "help us disseminate the information," said Gerald Bange, chairman of USDA's World Agricultural Outlook Board, in an interview on the sidelines of the meeting in Chicago.

"To our knowledge, nobody is pre-releasing anything from lock-up," he said. "It's a rigidly controlled process."