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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Poultry Slaughter Rule Still in (Fowl) Play

There’s some potential good news for birds, consumers and workers: although the rule is not final yet, there are indications that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has pulled back on its plan to increase line speeds at poultry slaughter plants.

More than eight billion chickens and turkeys are raised in the United States for food each year, but they are excluded from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Photo by Compassion Over Killing

As I wrote last month, the agency had proposed allowing poultry companies to slaughter 175 chickens per minute, up from the current maximum speed of 140 per minute. The faster moving lines would undoubtedly have meant more inadequately stunned birds entering scalding-hot tanks of water while still conscious, more fecal matter contamination as stressed birds defecate in the water and spread pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter, and more grueling labor conditions for workers, many of whom already exhibit symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

After objections from members of Congress, worker safety, food safety, and animal protection groups, the USDA was right to rethink a dramatic acceleration of already fast-moving shackled birds on slaughter lines, and we hope this change is part of the final rule. As Politico reported, “The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will not divulge the details of the final modernized poultry inspection rule it sent Thursday to the White House Office of Management and Budget. In a statement, the USDA said only that it made changes to its previously released proposed rule to address ‘worker safety’ issues.” 

It’s a step in the right direction, although the USDA’s proposed poultry slaughter rule is still problematic. It would eliminate 800 federal inspectors by transferring their responsibilities to the poultry industry. At a time when there are more and more salmonella outbreaks and chicken recalls, we need to improve our federal inspection system—not dismantle it through deregulation. 

And it underscores a gaping hole in our nation’s animal protection laws: More than eight billion chickens and turkeys are raised in the United States for food each year—that’s about a million birds every hour of every day—and the USDA excludes them from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. By the agency’s interpretation, the federal law requiring that animals be rendered insensible to pain before they’re killed for food is not even applicable to more than 90 percent of farm animals used in agriculture production. It’s this arbitrary gap in the law that enables birds to be hung upside down, shocked into paralysis, have their throats cut, then drown in hot water—often while still conscious. They’re sentient creatures whose capacity to suffer pain is every bit as developed as our own. 

Roberto Ferdman of The Washington Post’s Wonkblog noted that poultry is expected to become the world’s most popular meat over the next few years, as chicken consumption increases and pork consumption declines. Although per capita poultry consumption has dropped in the United States in recent years—from 104.6 pounds in 2006 to 99.1 pounds in 2014—a growing percentage of U.S. poultry is exported to foreign markets. Our federal agencies must keep up with changes in the marketplace, and our laws intended to protect animals from inhumane slaughter practices must be relevant for those animals in the real world. When the USDA talks about modernizing poultry slaughter inspections, a real modernization would be to give chickens and turkeys the same legal protections already afforded to cows and pigs. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Unsporting Bill Shot Down

The Senate today shot down a motion to move forward on S. 2363, the dangerous if innocuous sounding “Sportsmen’s Act,” which has been portrayed as feel-good legislation but could have serious and far-reaching consequences for wildlife, public spaces, and human health and safety. The bill needed 60 votes to advance, but only received 41 in favor, and 56 opposed—a result of some Democrats opposing the bill because of its extreme provisions and Republicans uniting in opposition because they could not offer amendments on gun rights and other topics.

A bald eagle at Mystic Lake in Massachusetts. Photo by John Harrison

Sportsmen, of course, are already allowed to pursue their activities on the vast majority of federal public lands, including national forests, BLM lands, and most national wildlife refuges, with only national parks and some national monuments generally closed to hunting. That’s not to mention the millions of acres of state and private lands also available. But as things now stand, resource managers have the flexibility to look at the big picture and determine when it makes sense to allow hunting and fur trapping—and when it doesn’t. They consider local concerns such as whether endangered or threatened species are present, and balance the interests of hunters and trappers with other public land users and recreationalists.

S. 2363 would flip the burden and turn the current process on its head. Public lands would be “open unless closed” to hunting and fur trapping, regardless of whether they’re compatible with other land uses or threatened or endangered species, and closing lands would require a burdensome bureaucratic process. On top of that, the bill would force land managers to prioritize hunting and trapping above other outdoor activities, effectively excluding a large proportion of the American public from enjoying our national spaces, including in designated “wilderness areas.” Rather than local control, it would be a federal fiat from Washington that the default is to allow sport hunting and the use of painful and indiscriminate steel-jawed leghold traps.

The harmful legislation would also stop scientists at the EPA from restricting the use of lead ammunition, which is a known toxin that kills millions of wild animals from more than 130 species each year, including bald eagles, California condors, and other threatened and endangered species. These bullets keep on killing long after they’ve left the chamber, with animals poisoned by eating the lead fragments directly, preying on contaminated animals, or feeding on gut piles left behind by hunters.

President George H.W. Bush’s administration banned the use of lead for all waterfowl hunting in 1991, and non-lead ammunition such as copper, steel, and bismuth are readily available and affordable. That sensible policy has prevented the poisoning deaths of millions of birds, and it’s been part of the march of progress toward getting toxic lead out of the environment. There’s no compelling reason for Congress to thumb its nose at science and innovation, and forbid EPA or any other responsible agency, with appropriate authority and expertise, from even examining this issue.

a polar bear in the wild

Finally, this bill is a sweetheart deal for millionaire big-game hunters. Far from benefiting our nation’s rank-and-file sportsmen, this is a special order delivery for only 41 wealthy big game hunters who dropped up to $50,000 each for guided polar bear hunts in the Arctic. These trophy hunters, who compete to see their names in the Safari Club record books for killing the rarest species around the world, have been lobbying Congress to allow them to bring the heads and hides of threatened polar bears into this country from Canada in defiance of current law. 

This would be the latest in a series of import allowances that Congress has approved—each time making the argument that it’s only a few animals and the polar bears are already dead and have no conservation value—but the cumulative impacts of these waivers time and time again lead to more reckless trophy killing. Do we want Congress to set this kind of precedent, encouraging trophy hunters to kill rare animals as they are about to be listed as endangered or threatened species and then to get relief from Congress to make a special dispensation for them?

Thank you to all the animal advocates who contacted your Senators and asked them to oppose this extreme and reckless “Sportsmen’s Act.” Those calls made a difference—a game-changing difference for millions of animals. Wild animals and the environment have dodged a bullet now that this terrible package of anti-conservation policies has stalled in the Senate.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Constricting the Trade in Deadly Snakes

Nearly every week, there are news reports of human encounters with non-native large constrictor snakes, such as boa constrictors and reticulated pythons, in residential neighborhoods. These large, powerful animals already have become an invasive species in parts of Florida, Puerto Rico, Aruba and Cozumel. With clutch sizes of up to 124 eggs, they reproduce rapidly, and without substantial action to prevent such an outcome, they could establish breeding populations in large portions of the southern tier of the United States, from Florida to Texas to Arizona to Hawaii.

Burmese Python
Burmese python found in the wild in Florida. Credit: Alamy

These invasions might have been triggered when owners dumped them outdoors. Too often people purchase pet snakes when the animals are young and manageable; but there are very few options for placement once the snakes grow too dangerous to handle. Not a single invasive reptile species has ever been eradicated through management efforts, and taxpayers will continue to see our government spend millions of dollars to try and control the snakes already thriving in the environment. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a proposal under consideration to ban the trade of nine large constrictor snake species that the U.S. Geological Survey identified as posing a significant risk to the environment. But after pressure from reptile dealers, the Obama administration moved ahead with a half-measure in 2012 and banned the trade in just four of the nine species: Indian pythons (including Burmese pythons), northern and southern African pythons and yellow anacondas. The White House’s rule addressed just 30 percent of the problem and left 70 percent of imported large constrictor snakes unchecked—including reticulated pythons and boa constrictors, which represent more than two-thirds of the large constrictor snakes in the U.S. pet trade.

This very industry that pushed for the weakening of the federal rule is the same one that peddles high-maintenance dangerous predators to unqualified people at flea markets, swap meets, and over the Internet. Constrictor snakes have killed 15 people in the United States, including seven children. And they have wiped out as many as 99 percent of some small and medium-sized mammals in one area that was surveyed in the Everglades. Banning just nine of the most dangerous species would have little effect on businesses, since there are hundreds of less risky snake and reptile species available to pet purchasers.  It’s the height of irresponsibility.

Thankfully, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now proposing to finish the job it left incomplete two years ago, and ban the import and interstate transport of the remaining five species of large constrictor snakes—the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, Beni anaconda and boa constrictor. When you consider the danger to humans, the damage to the environment and the suffering that the snakes themselves endure in the trade, the case for a trade ban for all nine of these giant snakes is clear-cut. Several newspapers have weighed in over the last week urging the Obama administration to get the job done, and here’s what they had to say:

It’s time for the administration to complete the list….As federal officials have delayed action, a disturbing story line has become all too common: Boa constrictors, Burmese pythons and African rock pythons living and breeding in the wild, subsequently damaging the Everglades ecosystem by eating native wildlife, and invading residential neighborhoods and killing pets—and children.—Palm Beach Post, July 2, 2014

The risk to people and native wildlife is simply too great to allow these destructive and potentially dangerous snakes as pets. While snake sellers might take a financial hit, the possible damage to Florida's environment is much more significant.—Gainesville Sun, July 5, 2014

This foolishness of importing such dangerous species has to stop.—Tallahassee Democrat, July 2, 2014, and Fort Myers News-Press, July 5, 2014

You can add your voice, and ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize this important rule, and keep these dangerous snakes from preying on children and pets, wreaking havoc on the environment, and suffering in an inhumane trade. The agency is accepting public comments until July 24.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Vet Care on the Move

The House today approved a bill to allow veterinarians to transport and dispense important drugs for veterinary care in remote situations outside of their registered location, ensuring that animals will not be denied critical medical services at farms, sanctuaries, spay and neuter clinics, animal cruelty and fighting crime scenes, and emergency shelters during natural disasters. H.R. 1528, the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, sponsored by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla.—the only two veterinarians serving in Congress—passed the House by voice vote. An identical bill, S. 1171, sponsored by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Angus King, I-Maine, was unanimously approved by the Senate in January.  Although the House and Senate have both acted, one of the bills will need to go through both chambers for this legislation to be enacted into law.

The animal protection community, among others, relies on mobile and ambulatory veterinarians to provide a broad range of life-saving services in the field, with much of this work conducted in unusual and unpredictable locations. For those who provide such services, farm visits, mobile spay and neuter and vaccination clinics, disaster response, animal sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers in rural areas, and animal cruelty investigations may all necessitate travel to remote and underserved communities. These critical services are often provided in places where cost, transportation, language barrier, and lack of veterinary care essentially make them “animal care deserts.” These private sector programs also reduce the costs to municipalities for animal care, control, and sheltering.

Vet Arkansas Puppy Mill Raid
Veterinarian Kim Miller examining patient during a Feb. 2014 Arkansas puppy mill rescue. Credit: Chuck Cook for The HSUS

Additionally, mobile veterinarians provide important in-home veterinary services such as hospice care and euthanasia for animal companions. Other veterinarians need to use controlled substances in order to remove or relocate wild animals such as mountain lions, to rescue trapped, injured or endangered wildlife, or in research or disease control and abatement settings. Having access to veterinary medical drugs is key for these mobile practitioners. Animals found with broken bones or painful injuries often require immediate sedation and pain relief prior to transport. The large animal veterinarian or spay and neuter provider, for example, must observe an animal’s weight, the extent of that animal's pain, and the severity of that animal's condition before determining the type of drug and quantity necessary. Having the ability to carry adequate supplies, and to properly treat animals in the field, is essential for veterinarians committed to saving lives and providing humane, quality care.

Disappointingly, the Drug Enforcement Administration has been telling veterinarians they are in violation of the law if they transport drugs for remote practice. If veterinarians fear prosecution for carrying out their medical responsibilities, it will result in a decrease in quality animal care in the field, and have a chilling effect on the veterinary profession. If a law enforcement agency breaks up a dogfighting ring or a puppy mill, or if an organization sets up an emergency shelter in the wake of a natural disaster, it may not be able to have veterinarians on site to care for the animals. If owners can’t call on a licensed vet to use drugs to euthanize a sick animal, they may resort to less humane methods such as gunshot or blunt trauma.

The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act will clarify the law and ensure the ability of mobile veterinarians to provide the most effective pain management, anesthetic, and sedation while practicing in the field. It’s a common-sense fix to this problem, with broad and bipartisan support, and Congress is right to act to rein in this overreach by the DEA. The HSUS, HSLF, and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association are grateful to Reps. Schrader and Yoho and Sens. Moran and King for leading this effort to facilitate proper veterinary care for animals in the field, and urge the Congress to give swift and final approval to this important policy reform.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Flying the Friendlier Skies

After Congress adopted some provisions of the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act in 2000, sponsored by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and then-Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., airlines were required to produce reports of all incidents involving animal loss, injury or death, so consumers can compare the safety records of different carriers, and also to improve animal care training for baggage handlers. The reports began to shine a light on the number of companion animals who died in or went missing from cargo holds on commercial flights each year.

It’s now clearer than ever that air travel can be dangerous for pets, with excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation, and rough handling often to blame in cases where there are awful outcomes. The reports indicate that animals in carriers have been dropped and run over by forklifts. They’ve been put on the wrong flights, abandoned in cargo areas, or lost forever after escaping from airports. Flights are particularly dangerous for animals with “pushed in” faces, such as bulldogs, pugs, and Persian cats, because their short nasal passages leave them especially vulnerable to oxygen deprivation and heat stroke.                                

While the mandated reports were a step in the right direction, the rules didn’t go far enough. Only 15 airlines were required to provide annual reports to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and many other carriers were exempt. The reports only applied to a narrow group of companion animals, such as pets traveling with their owners, but did not include dogs and cats shipped on airlines for commercial sale by breeders or puppy mills or for use in experimentation.

Photo: iStock

That changed yesterday, when the DOT announced a final rule expanding the reporting requirements. Beginning in January, the rule will apply to all carriers that use planes seating 60 or more passengers, so that many more airlines will be required to provide data to the public. Importantly, all dogs and cats will now be covered by the reporting requirements, regardless of whether they are traveling with a passenger or being shipped for commercial sale to a new owner. With the increasing number of puppy mills selling dogs over the Internet to consumers all over the country, the suffering of these animals in long-distance transport will no longer be shielded from public view. 

Air travel will never be perfectly safe for pets, especially when they are shipped like luggage. It’s usually better to drive with your pet or leave him or her at home, and if flying is the only option, choose the passenger cabin, not the cargo hold. It’s one more reason we are pushing the Pets on Trains Act, H.R. 2066 by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and S. 1710 by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., which will direct Amtrak to establish a policy for allowing pets to travel with their owners in certain passenger cars. Amtrak has started a pilot project to allow pets on trains in Illinois, and this legislation provides the potential for another future alternative to risky flights.

In the meantime, with the new DOT reporting requirements, consumers will have more complete information to assess the risks of air travel for their pets, and can more accurately judge which airlines have the better safety records on pet care. It’s a positive step toward more transparency and accountability for airlines, and another tool to expose the worst abuses of the puppy mill industry.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Taking Action on Animal Testing at Home and Abroad

Today the Taking Action for Animals conference wraps up in Washington, D.C., where more than 1,250 animal protection advocates gathered to hone their skills, celebrate the progress made in our cause, lobby their congressional offices on animal welfare legislation, and learn more about how to bring advocacy tools back to their own communities. But today there is also exciting news on the international front about the critical “Be Cruelty-Free” campaign to end animal testing for cosmetics globally.

China Vshine
"Be Cruelty-Free" activists in China/VShine-HSI

After decades of Chinese government policy requiring that every new cosmetic product be tested on animals, the tireless work of our colleagues at Humane Society International has led to the repeal of this regulation for most Chinese-made beauty products. This landmark change was brought about by the Chinese government’s sensitivity to growing public awareness of the inhumane and unnecessary use of animals in cosmetics testing, and demand for the same cruelty-free consumer choices that we in the U.S. have come to take for granted.

So where does our country stand in the cruelty-free trend now sweeping the globe? We’ve fallen behind the European Union, India, Israel, and Norway, which have banned all animal testing of cosmetics, and in all but one case, also the import and sale of newly animal tested beauty products. And now other developing beauty product markets, such as Australia, Brazil, China, and Taiwan, are also positioning themselves to overtake the United States on cosmetics regulation.

The U.S. can’t lag behind on this issue, and that’s why one of the bills animal advocates are pushing on Capitol Hill this week is H.R. 4148, the Humane Cosmetics Act, sponsored by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.— the recipient on Saturday evening of The Humane Society of the United States’ Lifetime Achievement Award for his career-long commitment to animal welfare policymaking — and Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. This bill would prohibit animal testing for cosmetics manufactured or sold in the U.S., ending painful tests that rabbits, mice, rats, and guinea pigs endure to assess the safety of cosmetics.

Humane and safe cosmetics can be made using the thousands of existing ingredients, and several non-animal safety tests are already available for new ingredients. These non-animal alternatives can be cheaper, faster, and more relevant to humans, and therefore more reliable at predicting safety. Help make animal testing of cosmetics in the U.S. a thing of the past—just like in the other parts of the world where cosmetics animal testing has already been phased out. Please take action and ask your members of Congress to pass the Humane Cosmetics Act.

P.S.—Tied in with the TAFA conference this weekend, The HSUS hosted a 60th anniversary gala, attended by more than 500 people, to celebrate our public policy and enforcement work. After we brought out a puppy rescued by our HSI team last week from the dog meat festival in Yulin, China, the crowd pledged more than $100,000 to establish an HSI office in Vietnam, which has a central role in the dog meat trade in southeast Asia. This office will concentrate on expanding the reach of our public policy work and banning the dog meat trade in the nations where it’s still legal.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Missouri’s Right-to-Harm Amendment

The August 5th primary election in Missouri will ask voters there whether to approve Amendment 1, which seeks to enshrine the “right to farm” in the state constitution. It’s being pushed by the same politicians and special interests who tried to overturn a voter-approved ballot initiative in 2010 to crack down on puppy mills. They want to prevent the state’s voters from protecting dogs subjected to cruel treatment in Missouri's puppy mills or from helping animals suffering the cruelties of intensive confinement agriculture. No on 1 Logo

The opposition to Amendment 1 is being led by family farmers in the state, and a broad coalition of groups that see through this charade, including humane societies, environmental groups, food safety advocates, faith-based groups, and others. They argue that this isn't Missouri's right to farm, but China's right to farm. Amendment 1 will guarantee foreign corporations the right to own Missouri farm land and do as they see fit without any check and balance from the people or the legislature, effectively letting China and other foreign countries and companies control what happens in Missouri’s towns and counties.

Three of the state’s largest newspapers have also weighed in, and are urging Missourians to reject this boondoggle. Here’s what they had to say:

No single industry or occupation deserves constitutional immunity. It’s the legislature’s job to determine the delicate balance among the interests of farmers, consumers and communities. In putting Amendment 1 on the ballot, lawmakers sought to shirk that responsibility. Voters shouldn’t let them get away with it.—Kansas City Star, June 23, 2014

It is the fearful farm faction’s overreaction to the puppy mill reforms. They’re barking at the moon. Because it’s their right. But the rest of the state shouldn’t bark with them.—St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 16, 2014

Although proponents’ literature doesn’t specify, the August amendment is a virtual "No Trespassing" sign aimed at pesky groups concerned with animal welfare, genetically modified food, use of antibiotics in livestock, etc….The undefined "production" and "practices" are an invitation to sue, which essentially will move the debate from the legislative arena, where it belongs, to the judiciary.—Jefferson City News Tribune, June 8, 2014

If you live in Missouri, please spread the word to friends and family, and ask them to vote No on Amendment 1 on August 5th. Don’t let the politicians and special interests get away with this radical and overreaching right-to-harm amendment.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tightening Slaughter Rules for School Lunches

There’s good news for our continuing efforts to fortify enforcement and crack down on inhumane practices at slaughter plants. The Agricultural Marketing Service, the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that buys meat for the National School Lunch Program, just announced that it will strengthen its humane handling audits for the slaughterhouses that supply it with meat.

During these audits, AMS inspectors monitor the compliance of their suppliers with a humane handling checklist. Previously, suppliers could pass the audit despite improperly stunning up to five out of every 100 animals, or allowing one out of every 500 cattle, or one out of every 1,000 pigs, to regain consciousness during the slaughter process. Under the new policy, AMS will have a zero tolerance policy on both points—meaning that a single mis-stunning or case of an animal regaining consciousness will result in an automatic audit failure.

Photo: USDA via Flickr

AMS is also strengthening its cooperation with the Food Safety Inspection Service, the USDA division charged with enforcing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Under AMS’ new guidelines, whenever FSIS cites a slaughter plant for a missed stun or for allowing an animal to regain consciousness following stunning, AMS will immediately audit the plant. AMS auditors will also now inform FSIS of all their audit findings to make it easier for FSIS inspectors to crack down on inhumane slaughter practices. And AMS will inform the public of its audit results, so that there’s an additional level of transparency to hold slaughterhouses accountable. Those audit results are available here.

This is a welcome announcement by USDA and a sign of strong leadership by new AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo and her team. As a main purchaser of meat products for federal programs, AMS has a major role to play in working with its suppliers and helping to shape the marketplace on important animal welfare issues. For example, AMS banned the purchase of beef from downer cows for the National School Lunch Program in 2000, several years before the USDA prohibited the processing of all downer cattle at federally-inspected slaughter plants and required these sick and injured animals to be put out of their misery and kept out of the food supply.  

Of course, we’ve still got work to do to reduce the suffering of animals in slaughter plants across the country. In the short run, we hope that FSIS will soon issue a proposed rule to close the downer calf loophole, which allows slaughter plants to hold veal calves too sick and injured to walk in prolonged suffering. In the longer run, we remain committed to seeing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforced strongly to protect all animals—including the chickens and turkeys who make up 95 percent of the animals slaughtered for food each year. We are pleased to see USDA taking positive steps on animal welfare enforcement, and express our gratitude to the administration.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Taking Stock of Progress in Maryland

Just in time for early voting to begin in the Maryland primary election, we are pleased to release the Maryland Humane Scorecard, a joint project of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and our good friends at Maryland Votes for Animals. We publish this report to inform Marylanders how their state senators and delegates performed on a broad range of animal protection issues over the 2011-2014 legislative session. Maryland citizens who care about animal protection can use this record to find out if their elected lawmakers are representing their views in Annapolis, and to help advance animal protection work in the Free State. Md. Humane Scorecard

The scorecard gives us an opportunity to look back over the last few years and chart the progress of our public policy work on behalf of animals in Annapolis. The last Maryland Humane Scorecard covered the 2007-2010 legislative sessions, and included all of the floor votes on animal issues from those four sessions—11 in the Senate and seven in the House. This year, we scored 15 votes in the Senate and 13 in the House, and there were even more animal protection measures that came up for votes. During the 2014 session alone, five important animal welfare reforms were signed into law.

These bills also enjoyed a much higher percentage of support among lawmakers than in previous years—in fact, more than 50 percent of all members of the Maryland General Assembly received a perfect score, casting humane votes every time they had the opportunity. With their votes, we succeeded in enacting major policies like establishing a statewide program to reduce shelter euthanasia by funding spay/neuter services, banning the sale and possession of shark fins, requiring pet stores to disclose basic information about the puppies they sell, and adopting a breed-neutral dog bite law that overturned the reckless canine profiling in the state that had discriminated against pit bull-type dogs as “inherently dangerous.”

The breadth of bipartisan support for all of these humane measures confirms—yet again—that Maryland citizens and their elected officials oppose animal cruelty in all its forms and are willing to stand up for reasonable policy reforms that codify those values into law. The HSLF and The HSUS advocate for mainstream policies that legislators on both sides of the aisle can sponsor and support, with many of them becoming near-consensus positions among lawmakers.

Of course, this scorecard doesn’t tell the whole story of what happens in Annapolis. Many bills each year never receive votes at all, left to languish in committee or quietly slipped into a drawer. Some lawmakers sit on committees that regularly consider animal protection legislation, and others don’t. To get the most accurate read on your elected officials, you should also find out about their committee work, constituent service, and other issues. But the Maryland Humane Scorecard provides a snapshot of the activity in Annapolis and a basic measuring tool for holding lawmakers accountable on animal issues. If you live in Maryland, please check it out and share with others. And please, get involved in political activity for animals and continue to support this critical work in our movement no matter which state you live in.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Progress for Orcas, but Horses Still at Risk

The House started in on the annual agriculture spending bill yesterday, and began debate on a number of amendments. The appropriations bill already includes a provision, approved by a bipartisan vote in committee, preventing the use of funds to inspect horse slaughter plants in the U.S. for human consumption, and continuing the current prohibition in existing law that blocks domestic horse slaughter plants from opening. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., announced that he will offer multiple amendments to strike or weaken the anti-horse slaughter provision, seeking to clear the way for equine abattoirs on U.S. soil.

Those amendments did not come up yesterday, but will likely come up when discussion of the bill resumes next week. Between now and then, we need every animal advocate and horse lover to contact their U.S. representative at (202) 225-3121, and urge them to vote “No” on the Mullin amendments to allow horse slaughter.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: “killer buyers” purchase young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Americans do not consume horse meat, and our nation’s limited agency resources and inspectors should not be diverted from the important current duties of protecting the food supply for U.S. consumers.

The House did take up one pro-animal amendment yesterday, offered by Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the effects of captivity on marine mammals and carry out a much-needed update of its Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and cetaceans. The amendment passed by voice vote, and sends a strong message to USDA that it must finalize these rules on marine mammal captivity that have been languishing for nearly 20 years.

USDA recognized the need to update the regulations in 1995 and issued partial rules in 2001, but left many of the remaining regulatory provisions unaddressed. During this time, captive marine mammals in U.S. facilities have continued to endure conditions that are often woefully inadequate for the species’ physical and behavioral needs, as established by a substantial body of research. The HSLF and The HSUS have been urging USDA to quickly issue and finalize new rules, and we hope such rules would increase minimum space requirements, establish species-specific ambient temperature ranges, consider the effect of noise on animals, prohibit contact between marine mammals and the public, require appropriate compatible groupings of the same species, and mandate rigorous and complete water quality testing.

Photo Credit: iStock

As countries around the world—including Chile, Costa Rica, India and the United Kingdom—choose to restrict or ban outright the public display of many marine mammal species, it is unconscionable that the U.S. has delayed updating care and maintenance regulations that are now decades behind the science.

It’s an important step forward for captive marine mammals, and one on which we can take positive action.  But we must now redouble our efforts to preserve the anti-horse slaughter language we’ve fought for when the House resumes work on this bill next week.

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