Commenting Guidelines

    • The HSLF invites comments—pro and con. Keep them clean. Keep them lively. Adhere to our guiding philosophy of non-violence. And please understand, this is not an open post. We publish samplers of comments to keep the conversation going. We correct misspellings and typos when we find them.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Guest Post: Some Veterinarians Barking Up the Wrong Tree

There are 23 million dogs and cats living in poverty in the United States, and their families often don’t have access to basic wellness services like vaccinations and spaying and neutering.  Low-cost clinics and nonprofit organizations are providing a critical public service for these pets and their families, who most likely would otherwise never get to see a veterinarian.

As Nonprofit Quarterly reports, some veterinarians and other trade groups like dentists are trying to crack down on nonprofits within their respective fields. This fight is playing out in Alabama and other state legislatures around the country, and today I’d like to turn the blog over to my colleague Dr. Michael Blackwell, whose guest column on AL.com makes the point that a rising tide lifts all boats in the veterinary profession.  

He is the former dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, and chief veterinarian of the U.S. Public Health Service. Here’s Dr. Blackwell's take on the issue: 

Vet-with-dog_hslf_blog_270x240
The HSUS

Imagine trying to shut down a homeless shelter because it gives people a free bed for the night, undercutting business at the Best Western; or claiming that a person who donates free blankets is unfairly stealing away the linen market from Dillard's. Is a soup kitchen driving down sales at Applebee's? What about a doctor who volunteers at a free clinic for the poor—how dare he deprive the HMOs and insurance companies of those customers?

As absurd as it sounds, that's the argument some veterinarians are making in their zeal to shut down nonprofit and low-cost veterinary clinics for struggling pet owners. Unhappy with economic realities, some veterinarians are casting blame on the good-hearted souls within their own profession who work with animal welfare groups to make sure poor and financially strapped families have access to care for their pets.

By blaming nonprofits, veterinarians are barking up the wrong tree. They are seeking even more government regulation of one of the most highly regulated industries. In fact, what the veterinary profession needs is not more government interference, but more tolerance for free-market principles.

Rather than competing with established veterinarians, nonprofit organizations and low-cost services are reaching a new audience of pet owners and introducing them to veterinary services for the first time, expanding the overall universe of veterinary customers and responsible pet owners.

One program providing free spay and neuter and veterinary wellness services for families in poverty-stricken communities nationwide found that 83 percent of patients had never before seen a veterinarian. When these families see a veterinarian for the first time and have a positive experience, they may become lifetime veterinary customers.

A 2011 study by Bayer found six primary reasons for the decline in visits to private veterinary practices:

1. Pet owners are still feeling the impact of the recent recession, even while most veterinarians increased their fees during that period.

2. The number of veterinarians practicing companion animal medicine increased dramatically from 1996 through 2006, far outpacing the growth in cat and dog ownership.

3. Many consumers rely on Internet advice rather than a visit to the veterinarian.

4. The majority of cat owners do not take their cats to the veterinarian because they think it's unnecessary or too difficult.

5. Many pet owners still believe that regular medical check-ups are not needed and many consumers cite "sticker shock," thinking veterinary costs too high.

What wasn't on the list? The existence of nonprofit and low-cost veterinary service providers. These entities are providing a public service, helping to reduce the surplus of unwanted and homeless animals through spay and neuter programs, reducing the number of pets surrendered to shelters and euthanized, and reducing public health threats through rabies vaccinations, parasite control, and other wellness services.

Their work is reducing the burden on municipal agencies and taxpayers. Veterinarians working in non-profit clinics are still veterinarians and are subject to the same licensing, credentialing and oversight standards as any other practicing professional in the field. It's also worth noting that doctors who work with the poor or provide vaccines in developing nations are celebrated, not scorned.

Veterinarians who use their skill, talent and expertise to perform a public service that benefits society should be valued in the same way.

Lawmakers should reject the scare tactics by veterinarians who want to over regulate their own industry and push out veterinarians that are providing good services in the public's interest. It's time to pass legislation formally recognizing that veterinarians should be able to work for nonprofit organizations that help animals, just like they can already work for laboratories, farms, and other enterprises.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Politicians Crying Wolf

With fragmented populations numbering just 5,000 or so wolves in the lower 48 states—and so many of the survivors having lost family members as a consequence of traps and guns—these iconic canids face more threats to their survival than ever.

Last week in Washington, some members of Congress—led by Reps. John Kline, R-Minn., Reid Ribble, R-Wis., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.—predictably introduced bills to strip wolves of federal protections. The legislators trotted out the same old false claim about wolves being “overpopulated”—a species on the endangered list that occupies less than 5 percent of its historic range.

Wolf_blog_270x240_alamy
Alamy
Wolves face more threats to their survival than ever.

Meanwhile in Lansing, State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, pushed through a non-binding resolution in the Michigan legislature urging Congress to act, falsely claiming that wolves “increasingly endanger people and domestic animals” in Michigan. This from the same legislator who previously had to apologize on the Senate floor for telling a tall tale about wolves stalking children outside a daycare center, which never happened.

It seems these anti-wolf politicians will say and do just about anything to get their way, facts be damned. Of all of the large predators in the world, wolves appear to be among the least dangerous, with no known attacks by a healthy wolf on a person in the lower 48 states. Yet, a small subset of people in the United States still fear and loath these animals, more because of myth than fact or science. A number of lawmakers have rushed to be their mouthpieces.

The federal government delisted wolves in the Great Lakes in 2012, and in just three years of state management more than 1,500 wolves have been killed under irresponsible trophy hunting and commercial trapping programs through cruel and unsporting methods such as steel-jawed leghold traps, baiting, and hounding.

In Wisconsin, 20 percent of the population has been wiped out in just three hunting seasons, including the loss of 17 entire family units. The carnage would have been substantial in Michigan, but for our efforts in the state to suppress the kill in 2013 and to block it entirely last year.

What the states had been doing—in authorizing the killing of large numbers of wolves, mostly at random—was actually worsening the problem, not solving it. A peer-reviewed study from researchers at Washington State University demonstrated that random trophy killing and even killing of depredating wolves may not have the intended population control effect. In fact, it may even spur more wolf breeding.

Why would some politicians lament a failed management tool that never even worked in the first place, and try to legislate a return to this wildlife pogrom that is, at best, a psychological salve for the anti-wolf zealots?

Wolves provide enormous ecological benefits, like keeping deer and elk in balance. They remove sick and weak animals, preventing slow starvation, and limiting deer-auto collisions and deer depredation on crops. By controlling prey herds, wolves act as a sort of barrier to Chronic Wasting Disease and other infections that could cost the states millions of dollars to eradicate and in lost hunting license sales.

Wolves provide other economic benefits, too. Many small businesses now rely on wolf-watching tourism to support their rural communities and local economies. A 2006 study of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming found that the wolf presence in the Yellowstone ecosystem created a $35.5 million annual revenue stream. In the Great Lakes region, the International Wolf Center, an educational facility in Ely, Minnesota, brings in as much as $3 million annually and creates up to 66 jobs.

These are the types of benefits lawmakers should want for their states and the ones they should encourage and applaud. And while wolves kill some sheep and cattle, these problems can be dealt with selectively in a targeted way, rather than a wholesale slaughter that targets wolves not bothering anyone in the forest.

The HSUS and 21 other conservation and animal protection groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downlist wolves from endangered to threatened status in the lower 48 states—a proposal that balances federal oversight and protections for wolves with more flexibility to manage wolf conflicts, including the depredation of livestock.

A threatened listing would allow more management without ceding control entirely to state agencies that have consistently demonstrated an overreaching and cruel hand in dealing with wolves. This proposal is a rational, middle-ground approach that balances wolf protection with the practical realities of dealing with the occasional problem wolf, and it provides a reasonable pathway forward on what has been a controversial issue.

Congress and the Obama administration should embrace this compromise solution and reject the extreme efforts of some anti-wolf politicians to eliminate all federal protections for wolves by legislative fiat.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

All Aboard: Pets on Trains is Just the Ticket

Cassie was moving from New York City to Spring Lake, North Carolina, and she was devastated by the idea of giving up her five-year-old cat, Boots, who had been her beloved companion since he was a kitten. She was traveling to her new home by Amtrak, which still doesn’t allow pets, and Cassie couldn’t afford to fly Boots separately on an airplane.

Cassieedited
Matt Wildman/for The HSUS
Cassie and Boots

Fortunately, The Humane Society of the United States arranged a flight for Boots to Raleigh-Durham, and a volunteer rented a car to drive the cat 75 miles to Cassie’s new home. But many families, especially in regions of the country where train travel is the most affordable or most convenient option, are not as lucky.

You can take your dog or cat on an airplane, and stay with your pet in many hotels. But why can’t a companion animal travel with your family on a passenger train?

There’s a move in Congress to change that, and U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., are working to get pets on board.

Yesterday they reintroduced the Pets on Trains Act, H.R. 674, which would require Amtrak, the national rail operator, to implement a pet policy to allow passengers to travel with domesticated cats and dogs on certain trains.

They pushed the issue in the last session of Congress, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., sponsoring a companion bill. Under the legislation, Amtrak would be required to develop a policy for people to travel with their pets, and to designate, where feasible, at least one car of each passenger train in which a ticketed passenger may transport a dog or cat.

There would be reasonable requirements for pet owners who want to take advantage of this policy, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier, traveling less than 750 miles, and paying a fee that covers the cost of administering the policy.

The bill gives Amtrak the flexibility to develop the details of the policy to best fit the service and their customers. And it could be a profit generator for the train operator, as Americans are spending more every year on their pets and may want to take their best friend along on vacation or business travel.

Last year, in response to the awareness created by the bill, Amtrak launched a pilot program in Illinois to test the idea of allowing pets on passenger trains. As Rep. Denham said, “This legislation builds on the success of that pilot program and would help families nationwide save money and time in traveling with their pets while bringing in much-needed revenue for Amtrak.”

Rep. Denham is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, and Rep. Cohen is a member of that subcommittee, which oversees Amtrak’s operations. Congress should take up and pass this common-sense legislation, which won’t cost the federal government or Amtrak any additional funds, but will help millions of American pet owners and strengthen the human-animal bond.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Did Your Members of Congress Make the Grade?

There’s a new Congress in town, but it includes many veteran members who are back at work on the Hill, too. We want you to know how those members performed on important animal protection issues in the last session, so you can either encourage them to keep up the good work, or let them know you want them to do better for animals this time around. 

Cardinal_winter_blog_milani
Kathy Milani/for The HSUS

Animals need every voice they can get this year. And yours matters so much. That’s why today we’re publishing the final version of the 2014 Humane Scorecard, which covers the full two years of the 113th Congress.

Think of the Humane Scorecard as a handy tool to see where your federal legislators stand on our movement’s key policy issues.

It demonstrates the level of support animal protection ideas hold in various regions of the country and with the two major political parties. It also helps us evaluate where we’ve been effective, and where we need to focus our energies in the months and years ahead.

Most directly, this scorecard rates legislators based on their cosponsorships of bipartisan bills on soring of show horses, primates as pets, horse slaughter, the treatment of egg-laying hens, and animal fighting spectators; their votes on legislation such as the Farm Bill and the Sportsmen’s Act with provisions that affect animal welfare; their support for funding the enforcement of animal welfare laws; and their leadership on animal protection issues.

We recognize the limitations of trying to judge legislators based on a few votes, cosponsorships and joint letters, and no instrument of this type is ever going to be perfect. Legislators sometimes must miss votes for unavoidable reasons such as illness or a death in the family.

Advocates should also consider such unrecorded matters as performance on committees, positions of congressional leadership, and constituent service. But our movement must strive for some objective yardstick to evaluate performance on our issues.

This past year we gave special weight to several votes on the Farm Bill because it’s a major policy vehicle that only comes up every five or six years. We advocated against the bill when it included the dangerous and overreaching King amendment, which threatened to nullify hundreds of state and local laws on food safety, animal welfare and agriculture.

We advocated for final passage of the bill after the King amendment had been nixed, and because it retained the ban on attendance at animal fights. We note that lawmakers had many reasons for voting as they did on this large package, but we felt it was important to score these votes with reference to our priority issues.

We hope the Humane Scorecard will be useful to you all year. If you’re a member of HSLF (I hope you are!), please enjoy the complimentary printed copy you’ll receive in the mail as one of your membership benefits. And please help to spread the word about the important things we are doing.

Here are some of the highlights from the 113th Congress:

  • A bipartisan group of 37 Senators and 108 Representatives covering 40 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia led as prime sponsors of pro-animal legislation and/or scored a perfect 100 percent—more than one-third of the Senate and nearly one-quarter of the House.
  • The average Senate score was a 45, with Senate Democrats averaging 64, Senate Republicans averaging 22, and Senate Independents averaging 69.
  • The average House score was a 47, with House Democrats averaging 79, and House Republicans averaging 21. 
  • Twelve Senators scored 100 or 100+. 
  • Four Senators scored zero.
  • Forty-eight Representatives scored 100 or 100+.
  • Seven Representatives scored zero.
  • The New England region led the pack with an average House score of 92 and an average Senate score of 80, followed by the Mid-Atlantic region with a House score of 68 and a Senate score of 61, and the West with a House score of 60 and a Senate score of 59.
  • The Rocky Mountains and the Southeast were at the bottom, each with an average House score of 31, and Senate scores of 26 and 30, respectively.
  • California, New Jersey, and Vermont had an average Senate score of 100.
  • In no state did both Senators score 0, though in Arizona, North Dakota, Texas, and Utah both senators received scores of 12 or below. 
  • New Hampshire and Rhode Island had a House average of 100, and Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont had House averages above 80.
  • No state had an average House score of zero, although North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming had average House scores in the single digits.

Special thanks goes to the following Senators and Representatives who took the pro-animal position on every scored item and earned extra credit for leading on one or more animal issues:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
  • Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
  • Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.)
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)
  • Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)
  • Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.)
  • Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.)

For all the details, please check out (and hold onto) the Humane Scorecard. Use it to talk to your lawmakers about their grades for last year. If they scored high, thank them for their support of animal protection. If they didn’t, let them know you’re watching and you hope they’ll try to do better in 2015.

And if your legislator wasn’t reelected, let the new folks in office know that you and other constituents care about treating animals humanely, that you want to see common-sense policies enacted to protect animals, and that you’ll be keeping them informed throughout the year so they can do well on the next Humane Scorecard right out of the gate. 

We need your help, and theirs, to advance a mainstream agenda for animal protection in the 114th Congress, taking on horse soring, poaching and wildlife trafficking, animal testing for cosmetics, the trade in dangerous exotic pets, and other cruelties.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The 113th Congress in Review for Animals

Editor's note: This post was originally published at 7:34 p.m. on Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As the gavel comes down on the 113th Congress (which spanned January 2013 to December 2014), and the new 114th Congress begins its work today, it’s a good time to take stock of what was achieved and what lies ahead for animals in the New Year. The 113th may be remembered for its relative lack of productivity and growing polarization. In terms of general lawmaking, it appears this Congress enacted fewer laws, by a wide margin, than any other since at least 1947, the date to which the House clerk’s records go back.

Cat-for-blog
The HSUS

Despite two years of gridlock, some major setbacks and disappointments, Congress produced a number of important results for animals.

The successes in the areas of animal fighting, chimpanzee sanctuaries, horse slaughter, wildlife trafficking, fending off the King amendment, and more demonstrate that even when little else is getting done, animal protection can bridge partisan divides in Congress.

In part, this is because the public demand for a more humane future for animals is strong enough to generate real results in Washington.

Together, we can and must keep the momentum going—and gear up for the new session of Congress, where we will once again advance a mainstream and common-sense agenda to close the gaps in the legal framework and protect animals from cruelty, suffering, and abuse.

POSITIVE STEPS

Animal Fighting:
The final Farm Bill signed into law in February 2014 (P.L. 113-79) includes a provision to strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an organized animal fight.

Dog-for-blog
iStock

The language of the freestanding animal fighting spectator bill (S. 666/H.R. 366, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jim Moran, D-Va.) was part of the Senate Farm Bill from the beginning, as introduced in the Agriculture Committee, thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

For the House, related language was approved as an amendment offered by Rep. McGovern during committee markup with a strong bipartisan vote of 28-17. It had already won approval in 2012 by the House Agriculture Committee and twice by the full Senate, but final action on the Farm Bill stalled that year. This legislation was supported by nearly 300 national, state and local law enforcement agencies (covering all 50 states), including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and is the fourth upgrade to the federal animal fighting statute since 2002.

Forty-nine states already had penalties for animal fighting spectators, but the provision was needed to sync up the federal and state laws since many of these animal fighting raids are multistate and multijurisdictional. Closing this gap in the legal framework will help law enforcement crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting, including those who finance the activity with admission fees and gambling wagers, provide cover to animal fighters during raids, and expose children to the violence and bloodletting.

Chimpanzee Sanctuary:
In late 2013, Congress passed a bill (P.L. 113-55) to help hundreds of chimpanzees warehoused in barren laboratory cages and facilitate their retirement to natural sanctuaries. Earlier that year, the National Institutes of Health announced its plans to retire about 90 percent of government-owned chimps from laboratories to sanctuary—where they can live the rest of their lives in peace—and to significantly scale back funding for chimpanzee research.

But there was a hitch that had to be overcome: the law Congress enacted in 2000, establishing the national chimpanzee sanctuary system, imposed a cumulative ceiling on the funding that NIH could devote to it. NIH was due to reach that limit in mid-November 2013, which not only jeopardized the retirement of chimps in labs slated for transfer to sanctuary, but also funding for the continued care of chimps already living at Chimp Haven in Louisiana.

This would be terrible for the animals and also for taxpayers, since retirement to sanctuary is less costly than warehousing chimps in labs. Fortunately, there was bipartisan support in Congress to solve this problem. On November 14—just under the wire before the cap was reached—the Senate gave final approval to a legislative fix passed by the House a few days earlier, and it was signed into law the day before Thanksgiving. P.L. 113-55 amends the 2000 CHIMP Act to allow NIH the flexibility to continue using its existing funds for sanctuary care.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., led this effort. Horse Slaughter: For fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Congress reinstated a vital “defund” provision that had been in place from 2007 to 2011 barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspections at horse slaughter plants, effectively making it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption in this country.

The agency itself requested this provision for the first time in the president’s recommended budget for FY14 and then renewed the request for FY15. The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills followed suit, with successful amendments offered by Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and the late Bill Young, R-Fla., and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., during committee markup in both chambers.

The omnibus spending package signed into law in mid-December 2014 (P.L. 113-235) will sustain this protection for horses until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2015. It is urgently needed, as some companies have been poised to open horse slaughter plants in the United States. It makes no sense for the federal government to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to oversee new horse slaughter plants at a time when Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility.

Horses suffer in long-distance transport and in the slaughter process. Rounded up from random sources, they have also been given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are not intended for and are actually prohibited from being introduced into the human food supply. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise.

Its agents don’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Combined with the recent announcement from the European Commission that it will ban the import of horsemeat from Mexico, maintaining the defund provision is a major one-two punch against the North American horse slaughter industry.

We will seek to renew the defund provision and press the new Congress to enact a permanent and comprehensive ban via legislation like the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S. 541/H.R. 1094, sponsored by Sens. Landrieu and Graham and Reps. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.).

Ivory and Wildlife Trafficking:
The National Defense Authorization Act for FY15, also enacted in mid-December 2014 (P.L. 113-360), contains a Senate provision offered as an amendment by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., adding authority for the Department of Defense to partner with civilian law enforcement on joint task forces to combat wildlife trafficking.

The FY15 omnibus spending bill dedicates $55 million to combat wildlife trafficking, with at least $10 million of that directed to programs to protect rhinos from being poached for their horns, and it prevents the United States from assisting certain countries and military groups if they are found to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking.

Harmful language that had been part of the House Interior Appropriations bill—to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from cracking down on the illicit trade in elephant ivory—was kept out of the final omnibus package, thanks to the efforts of many legislators including Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

And the Senate committee reports accompanying the appropriations bills for the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security included language sought by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., highlighting the seriousness of this problem and directing those agencies to report back on their actions to address it. We hope these provisions will provide some relief for many imperiled species by curbing the illegal trade in wildlife parts that has become a source of cash to finance terrorist networks and transnational organized crime.

More than 30,000 African elephants are killed each year by poachers who typically hack the animals’ faces off, since that’s the easiest way to run off with the ivory. This vicious cruelty is destroying elephant populations.

Wild Horses:
The FY15 omnibus includes language championed by Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and Ranking Member Jim Moran, D-Va., in the House and Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., in the Senate to encourage the Bureau of Land Management to consider new, more humane methods of wild horse population management, including $1 million for a related study, so that the agency can move beyond its current inhumane and costly system of round-ups and long-term penning.It also contains language prohibiting the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros for human consumption.

Animal Welfare Enforcement:
For both fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Congress again came through with needed funding for the USDA’s enforcement and implementation of key animal welfare laws—the Animal Welfare Act (which requires minimum standards of care for animals at breeding facilities, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other regulated facilities), Horse Protection Act (regarding “soring” of Tennessee walking horses), Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as for programs to address the needs of animals in disasters and to incentivize veterinarians to practice in rural and inner-city areas and to apply for USDA inspection positions.

The omnibus package just signed into law preserves funding for each of these programs without any cuts, despite intense competition for budget dollars. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., marshaled the bipartisan support of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives on joint letters calling for these funds, and the subcommittee leadership—Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Ranking Member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif.—responded to their colleagues’ appeals.

Alternatives to Animal Testing:
The committee reports accompanying the FY14 and FY15 House Interior Appropriations bills contain language provided by Chairman Calvert that encourages continued development of non-animal alternatives for chemical testing.

Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act:
Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 113-143, signed into law in August 2014) introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Angus King, I-Maine, to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow veterinarians to transport, administer, and dispense medications outside of their registered locations.

This will ensure that veterinarians can provide proper care to animal patients in rural or remote areas, including pets in disasters, cruelty cases, mobile spay and neuter clinics, animal sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and more.

Endangered Species Conservation:
Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 113-165, signed into law in September 2014) led by Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Tom Udall, D-N.M., that will provide funding for endangered species without using taxpayer dollars through the “Tiger Stamp.”

Since its inception, the Tiger Stamp has raised $2,567,000.00 for the Multinational Conservation Species Fund, which benefits the African Elephant Conservation Fund, the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund, the Great Ape Conservation Fund, the Marine Turtle Conservation Fund, the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, and other international wildlife conservation funds authorized by Congress.

DEFENDING AGAINST HARMFUL MEASURES

King Amendment:

The final Farm Bill nixed the destructive provision that had been folded into the House bill during committee, with minimal debate, at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642.The King amendment aimed to gut state laws protecting farm animals.

By negating most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products, it could have preempted laws addressing intensive confinement on farms and a host of other animal protection concerns such as puppy mills, sale of horse meat, and shark finning, as well as laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes.

Pig-for-blog
iStock

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., led the charge in the Senate to keep this out of the final bill. Opponents were denied the opportunity to have a floor vote on an amendment led by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., to strike it during House floor debate.

Hundreds of public officials and organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, and religious concerns opposed the measure.

This included nearly 200 Senators and Representatives who cosigned letters led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Schrader, and Gary Peters, D-Mich., the National Conference of State Legislatures, the County Executives of America, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Mississippi and Arkansas attorneys general, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Safe Food Coalition, professors from 13 law schools, and editorials in a number of papers such as USA Today, the Des Moines Register, and the Washington Post.

This strong and unified opposition successfully fended off this controversial attack on states’ rights, food safety, and animal welfare.

Sportsmen’s Act:
This sweetheart deal for millionaire trophy hunters and special interests was defeated in the Senate on a procedural vote.

The Sportsmen’s Act would have carved out the latest in a series of loopholes in the law for wealthy hunters to import sport-hunted trophies of threatened polar bears (encouraging the killing of rare species around the world), opened sensitive federal lands to sport hunting and trapping, and stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect wildlife, habitat, and people from lead poisoning through exposure to toxic ammunition despite the ready availability of non-toxic alternatives (unfortunately Congress subsequently enacted a harmful provision on lead ammunition in the omnibus).

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, played a key role in opposing this legislation, as did Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who sought an amendment to strike the polar bear provision but was denied the opportunity to offer it on the House floor. Otters: Language sought by commercial fisheries and the Department of Defense, to provide an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act that would allow them to harm sea otters off the southern California coast, was kept out of the final National Defense Authorization Act.

Ivory/Wildlife Trafficking:
As noted above, Congress rejected a harmful rider—based on the so-called “Lawful Ivory Protection Act,” S. 2587/H.R. 5052 by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Reps. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Jeff Miller, R-Fla.—that would have prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from restricting the devastating trade in elephant ivory.

This crisis cannot be resolved without our country adopting strong policy reforms, since the United States is considered the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

SETBACKS

Of course, along with the successes, there were some major setbacks, with Congress caving in to extreme segments of the trophy hunting and factory farming lobbies, and working to block common-sense reforms.

The omnibus package recently enacted includes terrible provisions seeking to block the EPA from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition, to interfere with Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse, and to discourage the USDA from trying to reform the corrupt beef check-off program that finances agribusiness lobbying against animal welfare improvements.

That same massive spending bill also blocked the EPA from requiring reporting or the issuance of Clean Air Act operating permits for greenhouse gas emissions from animal agricultural sources—an act that the Los Angeles Times panned in an editorial. We must redouble our efforts to correct these problems in the new Congress.

And some crucial measures were left unfinished. A prime example is the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, introduced by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., to end the cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds. With the overwhelming bipartisan support of 308 House cosponsors and 60 Senate cosponsors and endorsements by an extraordinarily broad coalition of veterinary, horse industry, animal welfare, and other groups, the PAST Act was more than ripe for final action.

It was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee but blocked from Senate and House floor consideration by a few legislators doing the bidding of the horse sorers, who don’t want Congress upsetting the status quo that has been so profitable for them. There’s no excuse for not passing the PAST Act. It must be addressed as a priority in the new year.

Congressional leaders also failed to allow votes on other critical reforms, such as the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments (H.R. 1731/S. 820, introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.), which would codify an agreement between animal welfare groups and the egg industry to improve the treatment of laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for egg farmers nationwide.

Despite having the support of all major stakeholders, including veterinarians, consumers, and the industry actually impacted by the reform, lawmakers allowed petty caterwauling by the pork and beef lobbies to prevent egg producers from controlling their own destiny.

OTHER ANIMAL PROTECTION MEASURES IN THE 113th CONGRESS

Many more issues were tackled during the previous two years.

Some of these efforts raised awareness about important animal issues and spurred agency actions to address them, and some are unfinished business that we expect to be reintroduced in the 114th Congress. They include:

Pets:

  • Puppy Mills: Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Sam Farr, D-Calif., the late Bill Young, R-Fla., and Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced H.R. 847/S. 395 to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act regulations by requiring that large-scale commercial dog breeders who sell 50 or more puppies per year directly to consumers via the Internet or other means be licensed and inspected, as breeders who sell to pet stores already are; and to require that breeding dogs at commercial facilities be allowed to exercise daily.

    The broad bipartisan support for this legislation helped spur the USDA to finalize regulations in September 2013 to extend federal oversight to thousands of puppy mills that do business online. Sens. Durbin and Vitter and Reps. Gerlach and Farr also urged the agency to finalize its long-awaited regulations to implement the 2008 ban on puppy imports, and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., led a letter to USDA cosigned by 37 representatives urging action; the agency followed through on August 14, 2014.

  • Pets on Trains: Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced H.R. 2066/S. 1710 to require Amtrak to propose a pet policy that allows passengers to travel with cats and dogs on certain Amtrak trains.

    Their legislation prompted Amtrak to undertake a pilot project allowing travelers to bring their pets on certain routes from Chicago. In its press release, Amtrak’s president said, “Amtrak is supportive of accommodating pets on trains, and through direct collaboration with the Illinois Department of Transportation and a working group led by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of California, we are optimistic a plan can be reached to address the needs and concerns of all our passengers."

  • Safe Airline Transport: Sen. Robert Menendez, D.-N.J., helped encourage the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand the definition of “animal” in the agency’s regulations requiring airlines to report incidents involving animal loss, injury, or death, so consumers can compare the safety records of different carriers. On July 2, 2014, DOT decided to broaden the reach of the reporting requirement to cover more airlines and to cover cats and dogs regardless of whether they are already identified as someone’s pet—so the requirement now applies to commercial shipments of animals by breeders, research facilities, and other commercial entities.

  • Domestic Violence: Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., introduced H.R. 5267, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to expand federal domestic violence protections to include safeguards for the pets of abuse victims on a national level and to provide grant money for domestic violence shelters to better accommodate families with pets. Many abusers will harm or threaten the beloved dog or cat of a spouse or partner as a way of exerting control over that person, and as many as one-third of domestic violence victims delay their departure from an abusive relationship for up to two years out of fear that their pets will be harmed if they leave.
  • Veterans Dog Training Therapy: Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., introduced H.R. 183 to create a pilot program for training dogs, including shelter dogs, as a form of therapy to help treat combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-deployment mental health conditions. 

  • Wounded Warrior Service Dogs: Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 2847 to require the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to jointly establish a K-9 Companion Corps Program that will award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations to assist them in the planning, designing, establishing, and operating of programs that provide assistance dogs to covered military members and veterans. 

  • Disaster Preparedness: Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., introduced H.R. 4524 to ensure that entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (including commercial breeding facilities, research laboratories, zoos, and circuses) have contingency plans in place, and all their employees are trained on emergency procedures, to safely evacuate and care for animals in an emergency or disaster situation. In December 2012, USDA had published a final rule requiring regulated entities to take additional steps to prepare for potential disaster situations, both natural and manmade, but in July 2013, just before the rule was to go into effect, the agency put its implementation on hold indefinitely. 

  • Euthanasia Methods at Shelters: Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Lou Barletta, R-Pa., introduced H. Res. 208/H. Res. 433, respectively, to voice opposition to the use of inhumane and dangerous gas chambers to euthanize shelter animals and express support for state laws that require the use of more humane euthanasia methods.

Equine:

  • Horse Racing: Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., introduced S. 973/H.R. 2012 to ensure the integrity and safety of horse races that are the subject of interstate off-track wagers. Their legislation would ban doping of racehorses and give the U.S. 

    Horse-for-blog
    The HSUS

    Anti-Doping Agency, an independent body that has helped root out doping in other professional sports, the authority to oversee and enforce the new rules.Rather than having different rules with respect to medicating of horses in every state where tracks operate, there would be a consistent national policy.

    A powerful New York Times exposé examined 150,000 horse races from 2009 to 2011, reporting that minimal oversight, inconsistent regulations, and rampant doping of horses has led to a stunning “average of 24 horse deaths on racetracks around the country every week.”

    This is tragic for the horses and also often the jockeys, who can suffer serious injuries, paralysis, or death from being thrown. 
  • Transport: Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., introduced S. 1459 to prohibit and establish penalties for the transport of horses in interstate transportation in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another (except a vehicle operated exclusively on rail or rails). 

  • Horse Therapy: Reps. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced H.R. 1705 to expand the Department of Defense managed health care program for military beneficiaries to include coverage of rehabilitative therapeutic exercises that utilize horses.

  • Corolla Wild Horses: Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced H.R. 126 to direct the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement to provide for management of the free-roaming wild horses in and around the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. The bill passed the House by voice vote in June 2013, but did not get a vote in the Senate.

Farm Animals: 

  • Non-Therapeutic Use of Antibiotics: Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 1150/S. 1256 to phase out the routine non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals—a common practice to promote growth and compensate for overcrowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions on factory farms—in order to maintain the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating sick people and animals. 

    Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Feinstein, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Slaughter introduced S. 895/H.R. 820 to require the Food and Drug Administration to improve both the collection and public reporting of information on how antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs are used in food animal production. Rep. Slaughter and Sen. Feinstein also secured helpful committee report language accompanying the Agriculture Appropriations bills for FY14 and FY15 encouraging steps by FDA to address this problem.

    And additional legislators—Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.—joined Rep. Slaughter and Sens. Feinstein and Gillibrand on various letters to FDA urging specific actions on this topic.

  • Poultry Slaughter: Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Jim Moran, D-Va., Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., led a group letter cosigned by 68 Representatives to USDA calling on the agency to withdraw a proposed rule that it claimed would “modernize” poultry slaughter practices but would actually jeopardize food safety, animal welfare, and worker safety.

    Fortunately, the final rule issued in July 2014 ditched one particularly troubling element of the original proposal—allowing increased line speeds at poultry slaughter plants that already process birds at an exceedingly fast pace not conducive to humane treatment or worker safety—but other problems remained, including the removal of hundreds of federal inspectors in an unwarranted shift to industry self-regulation.

  • Downer Calves: Reps. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., led a joint letter cosigned by 72 Representatives and Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., led a letter cosigned by a dozen Senators calling on USDA to prioritize and expedite a long-awaited rulemaking to close a loophole in federal regulations that allows downer calves—those too sick, injured, or weak to stand on their own—to be slaughtered for food (whereas adult downer cattle must be euthanized humanely).

    The loophole encourages abuse as workers drag, kick and prod the calves in an attempt to get them to stand for inspection. In March 2013, the USDA granted a 2009 HSUS legal petition to close this loophole, and in May 2014 following the congressional letters, it signaled a further step forward, though the agency has yet to issue the proposed rule.

Animals in Research:

  • Alternatives Development in Research and Testing: Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, included report language for the FY14 Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to prioritize federal funding for non-animal methods in the BRAIN initiative and through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

    And as noted above, Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., included report language for the FY14 and FY15 House Interior Appropriations bills encouraging continued development of non-animal alternatives to chemical testing. The late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., also included provisions in S. 1009 calling for a reduction in animal testing.

  • Alternatives to Live Animal Use in Military Training: Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced the Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act, H.R. 3172/S. 1550 to require the Secretary of Defense to employ alternative methods that are more effective and humane than live animal use for training members of the Armed Forces in the treatment of severe injuries.

    Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., also reached out to the Air Force regarding the use of live goats for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school training. Though some unnecessary and inhumane practices continue, the Department of Defense recently announced its plans to halt the use of animals in a variety of medical training programs.

  • Class B Dealers: Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., introduced the Pet Safety and Protection Act, H.R. 2224, to prohibit the use in research of dogs and cats obtained through Class B dealers from random sources such as pet theft and free-to-good home ads. In an important breakthrough on this long-standing issue, the National Institutes of Health announced it would no longer fund research involving dogs from random source Class B dealers as of October 1, 2014, following a similar announcement for cats in 2012. 

  • Humane Cosmetics: Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., introduced H.R. 4148 to phase out cosmetics testing on live animals in the U.S. as well as the sale of any cosmetics in interstate commerce if the final product or any component was developed or manufactured using animal testing. India and the European Union—home to a combined 1.7 billion residents—already have such policies, and the U.S. can help the global cosmetics industry continue moving toward non-animal alternatives that are safer and more effective.

  • Primates: Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., pressed the Department of Defense to facilitate the retirement of the chimpanzees housed at the Alamogordo Primate Facility on Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., sent a letter to NIH expressing concern about taxpayer-funded projects involving maternal deprivation and other highly stressful psychological experiments on baby monkeys at an NIH laboratory.

  • Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, led a joint letter cosigned by 10 Senators, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Langevin, Jim Moran, D-Va., Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and Dina Titus, D-Nev., sent individual letters to NIH requesting implementation of the recommendations of an advisory group convened by the agency to report on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research.

    Sens.Cantwell and Collins also sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services supporting the agency’s proposal to list all chimpanzees, both wild and captive, as endangered. Doing away with the “split listing” that distinguishes chimpanzees in the pet and entertainment trade and in biomedical research from those in the wild will significantly enhance conservation efforts for this imperiled species.

Wildlife:

  • Shark Finning: Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and Sam Farr, D-Calif., introduced H. Res. 285 to raise awareness of the dangers of shark finning and express the view of Congress that, in order to even the playing field for U.S. fishermen and prevent the overfishing of sharks on a global scale, the U.S. should end the importation of shark fins from foreign fisheries that practice shark finning.

    These lawmakers, with Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., mobilized letters cosigned by more than 70 representatives and senators calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service to reverse its interpretation of the Shark Conservation Act that may preempt state laws barring the trade in shark fin products.

    The Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also pressed the agency to rethink its position. NMFS has responded by replacing its blanket preemption with a state-by-state analysis of the laws in question and, to date, it has not found any of the state shark fin bans to be preempted.

    Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, introduced H.R. 5308 to prohibit foreign assistance to countries that do not prohibit shark finning in the territorial waters of the country or the importation, sale, possession, or consumption of shark fins obtained as a result of shark finning. 
  • Captive Marine Mammals: Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., successfully offered a floor amendment to the FY15 Agriculture Appropriations bill directing the USDA to study the effects of captivity on marine mammals and finalize a much-needed upgrade of its Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and cetaceans—a reform that has been languishing for nearly 20 years—so these rules will better address the animals’ physical and behavioral needs. Unfortunately, since the House did not complete action on this bill, the amendment was not incorporated in the final omnibus spending package, but we hope the agency will heed its message. 
  • Captive Primates: Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced H.R. 2856/S. 1463 to prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade. This would extend to dangerous primates such as chimpanzees, who can be easily purchased over the Internet and from out-of-state dealers, the protections afforded by Congress to big cats in the Captive Wildlife Safety Act of 2003. 
  • Primate Imports for Sanctuary: Reps. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced H.R. 3556 to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a rule allowing the importation of primates for the purpose of placement of abused, injured, or abandoned primates in certified animal sanctuaries.

  • Big Cats and Public Safety: Reps. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced H.R. 1998/S. 1381 to better address the exotic pet trade by limiting the breeding of lions, tigers, and other big cats to accredited zoos, and preventing unqualified individuals and facilities from possessing these dangerous predators, who suffer from being kept in abusive and unsafe conditions and threaten public safety. 

  • Wildlife Services: Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., called on the USDA Office of Inspector General to conduct an audit of the agency’s Wildlife Services lethal predator control program, including its use of poisoning and aerial gunning. The results of this OIG audit, which could lead to important recommendations to reform the outdated and mismanaged Wildlife Services program, are expected in 2015.

    Also, Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 2074 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to submit to Congress, and make available to the public on the Internet, a report on the animals killed under the Wildlife Services program. 

  • Dangerous Constrictor Snakes: Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jim Moran, D-Va., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., and Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., sent letters urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move swiftly to add five species of dangerous constrictor snakes to the list of injurious species whose trade is banned under the Lacey Act. 

    All five species were identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing a medium or high risk of establishing breeding populations in the United States, jeopardizing native wildlife and pets, as well as human health and safety. Together, these five species including boa constrictors make up 70 percent of the large constrictor snakes in the U.S. pet trade. Thankfully, the agency has proposed finishing the job of adding them to the list. 
  • African Lions: Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., led a letter cosigned by 44 Representatives to the Department of Interior in support of a petition by a coalition of wildlife protection and conservation organizations calling for the African lion to be listed as an endangered subspecies.

    Lion-for-blog
    The HSUS



    In October 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing African lions as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and is currently accepting public comments on the proposal. 

  • Wolves: Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., sent a letter to the Department of Interior voicing support for the agency’s withholding publication of a proposed rule to remove ESA protection from gray wolves in the lower 48 states (except in the Southwest), and urging the Department to cancel the scientifically flawed delisting proposal.

    When the proposed rule was published, Reps. Grijalva and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., led a letter with 86 cosigners opposing the delisting. After the agency performed an independent peer review of the science used to make the rule, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., led on a letter to DOI with 74 cosigners calling attention to the review’s findings that the proposed rule is not based on the best available science and undermines decades of conservation work to protect the gray wolf.

    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also sent DOI a letter expressing concern with this potential delisting and requesting that a decision not be made without additional independent scientific peer review. • Manatees: Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service calling for continued protections for Florida manatees under the ESA.

  • Circus Animals: Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., introduced H.R. 4525, the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, to amend the Animal Welfare Act to restrict the use of exotic and non-domesticated animals in traveling circuses and exhibitions.

  • Elephant Ivory: Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced H.R. 5454, the Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants in their Range (TUSKER) Act, to provide for trade sanctions against countries involved in illegal ivory trade.

  • Refuge from Cruel Trapping: Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., introduced H.R. 3513 to end the use of body-gripping traps in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

  • Bird-Safe Buildings: Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., introduced H.R. 2078 to require federal agencies to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features into existing public buildings, and to address the impacts of interior and exterior lighting on native bird species. 

  • Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers: Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced H. Res. 651 to recognize the importance of experienced and accredited wildlife rehabilitation centers and their contributions to the humane treatment of animals.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Audit Shows Lax Lab Enforcement

The HSUS and HSLF are at the forefront of legislative reforms concerning animal welfare, but it’s not enough to just pass laws—we must work diligently to ensure they are enforced and that there are consequences for those who don’t follow the rules. For animals in research, enforcement is unfortunately lacking and some laboratories are getting a free pass from even meeting the most basic standards of care.

5.18.13_IMG_2550_168373
The audit says animals in research labs are not always receiving basic humane care and treatment. Photo: The HSUS

An audit released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General concluded that the agency’s enforcement actions under the Animal Welfare Act are weak and do not serve as a deterrent to future violations. The report also pointed to failures on the part of research facilities, concluding that “animals are not always receiving basic humane care and treatment” and that pain and distress are not always minimized when animals are used in experiments.

Weak enforcement of the AWA has been a significant and ongoing problem and, according to the audit, the situation has worsened in recent years. The HSUS and HSLF successfully worked with Congress in 2008, as part of the Farm Bill, to upgrade penalties for violations of the AWA—quadrupling the potential fine from $2,500 to $10,000 per violation (the relevant penalties hadn’t changed in more than 20 years). But we’ve been disappointed in the USDA’s failure to actually utilize these new maximum penalties.

The OIG uncovered that the USDA reduced penalties by 86 percent from the authorized maximum, even in cases that involved animal deaths and other egregious violations. This is in line with what The HSUS has been finding in its own investigations. Not long ago, for example, The HSUS submitted evidence to the OIG of a case in which the USDA assessed a penalty of only $10,000 when 30 monkeys died after being trapped in a hot room where temperature regulation failed and employees ignored alarms signaling the failure. This insignificant fine was not a deterrent for violations as the same company, less than a year later, sent a monkey through a cage washing machine and the animal was scalded to death. The fine for this repeat negligence was only $4,500. 

The USDA can revoke the licenses of puppy mills and roadside zoos, but with research facilities, fines are the only tool available to ensure compliance. If a fine is too low, the violation is seen simply as a business expense or minor nuisance. That’s why it’s so critical that the USDA impose meaningful fines against research facilities for serious animal welfare violations.

Violations related to Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs), which are responsible for review of animal research activities and protocols, were found to be the most common. These include inadequate searches for alternatives to painful procedures, no descriptions of procedures to ensure pain is avoided to the extent possible, and failure to follow approved protocols.

At one Maryland facility, the OIG observed that “researchers dropped chili pepper flakes into the eyes of an animal to induce tearing; the protocol called for carefully placing a few flakes on the cheek below the animal’s eyes.” If animals are going to be used in these experiments, then the IACUCs should at the very least ensure that researchers’ use of animals is in accordance with an approved protocol.

According to the OIG, nearly 45 percent of the research facilities visited also misreported the numbers of animals used, reported animals in the wrong pain category, or could not provide documentation to reconcile their annual report of statistics. The amount of pain and distress reported by research institutions is woefully inadequate, and the USDA should crack down on research facilities for misreporting.  Without accurate reporting, there is no transparency and no accountability.

We are all diligently working to move away from harmful animal use and toward the use of more effective non-animal alternatives to solve human health problems. Until that day comes, however, the public expects that while animals are used for research and testing, our nation’s basic animal care standards should be followed. These OIG findings should be a wake-up call for policymakers, and they should demand that there be consequences for facilities that fail to follow the law. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Highlights for Animals From the 113th Congress

The 113th Congress, spanning January 2013 to December 2014, may be remembered for its relative lack of productivity and growing polarization. In terms of general lawmaking, it appears this Congress enacted fewer laws, by a wide margin, than any other since at least 1947, the date to which the House clerk’s records go back.

Yet despite two years of gridlock, Congress delivered a number of important successes for animals in the past two years. There were some major setbacks and disappointments, too. But the successes in the areas of animal fighting, chimpanzee sanctuaries, horse slaughter, wildlife trafficking, fending off the King amendment, and more demonstrate that even when little else is getting done, animal protection can bridge partisan divides in Congress.

Positive Steps

COSTA_RICA_REHAB_33_249327
Photo: Kent Gilbert/AP Images for The HSUS

Animal Fighting: The final Farm Bill signed into law in February 2014 (P.L. 113-79) includes a provision to strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an organized animal fight. The language of the freestanding animal fighting spectator bill was part of the Senate Farm Bill from the beginning, as introduced in the Agriculture Committee. For the House, related language was approved as an amendment during committee markup with a strong bipartisan vote of 28-17. It had already won approval in 2012 by the House Agriculture Committee and twice by the full Senate, but final action on the Farm Bill stalled that year.This legislation was widely supported by nearly 300 national, state and local law enforcement agencies (covering all 50 states), including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and is the fourth upgrade to the federal animal fighting statute since 2002. Forty-nine states already had penalties for animal fighting spectators, but the provision was needed to sync up the federal and state laws since many of these animal fighting raids are multistate and multijurisdictional. Closing this gap in the legal framework will help law enforcement crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting, including those who finance the activity with admission fees and gambling wagers, provide cover to animal fighters during raids, and expose children to the violence and bloodletting.

Chimpanzee Sanctuary: In late 2013, Congress passed a bill (P.L. 113-55) to help hundreds of chimpanzees warehoused in barren laboratory cages and facilitate their retirement to natural sanctuaries. Earlier that year, the National Institutes of Health announced its plans to retire about 90 percent of government-owned chimps from laboratories to sanctuary—where they can live the rest of their lives in peace—and to significantly scale back funding for chimpanzee research. But there was a hitch that had to be overcome: the law Congress enacted in 2000, establishing the national chimpanzee sanctuary system, imposed a cumulative ceiling on the funding that NIH could devote to it. NIH was due to reach that limit in mid-November 2013, which not only jeopardized the retirement of chimps in labs slated for transfer to sanctuary, but also funding for the continued care of chimps already living at Chimp Haven in Louisiana. This would be terrible for the animals and also for taxpayers, since retirement to sanctuary is less costly than warehousing chimps in labs. Fortunately, there was bipartisan support in Congress to solve this problem. On November 14—just under the wire before the cap was reached—the Senate gave final approval to a legislative fix passed by the House just days earlier. P.L. 113-55 amends the 2000 CHIMP Act to allow NIH the flexibility to continue using its existing funds for sanctuary care. Signed into law the day before Thanksgiving, this humane, cost-effective, common sense outcome gave us all something to cheer about.

SYDNEY_MAR_12_165819
Photo: Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse Slaughter: For fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Congress reinstated a vital “defund” provision that had been in place from 2007 to 2011 barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspections at horse slaughter plants, effectively making it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption in this country.The agency itself requested this provision for the first time in the president’s recommended budget for FY14 and then renewed the request for FY15. The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills followed suit, with successful amendments offered during committee markup in both chambers both years.The omnibus spending package signed into law just last week (P.L. 113-235) will sustain this protection for horses until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2015. It is urgently needed, as some companies have been poised to open horse slaughter plants in the United States. It makes no sense for the federal government to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to oversee new horse slaughter plants at a time when Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility. Horses suffer in long-distance transport and in the slaughter process. Rounded up from random sources, they have also been given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are not intended for and are actually prohibited from being introduced into the human food supply. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. Its agents don’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Combined with the recent announcement from the European Commission that it will ban the import of horsemeat from Mexico, maintaining the defund provision is a major one-two punch against the North American horse slaughter industry.  

Ivory and Wildlife Trafficking: The National Defense Authorization Act for FY15, also enacted last week (P.L. 113-360), contains a Senate provision adding authority for the Department of Defense to partner with civilian law enforcement on joint task forces to combat wildlife trafficking. The FY15 omnibus spending bill dedicates $55 million to combat wildlife trafficking, with at least $10 million of that directed to programs to protect rhinos from being poached for their horns, and it prevents the United States from assisting certain countries and military groups if they are found to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking. Harmful language that had been part of the House Interior Appropriations bill—to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from cracking down on the illicit trade in elephant ivory—was kept out of the final omnibus package. And the Senate committee reports accompanying the appropriations bills for the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security spoke of the seriousness of this problem and directed those agencies to report back on their actions to address it. We hope these provisions will provide some relief for many imperiled species by curbing the illegal trade in wildlife parts that has become a source of cash to finance terrorist networks and transnational organized crime. More than 30,000 African elephants are killed each year by poachers who typically hack the animals’ faces off, since that’s the easiest way to run off with the ivory. This vicious cruelty is destroying elephant populations.

Wild Horses: The FY15 omnibus includes language to encourage the Bureau of Land Management to consider new, more humane methods of wild horse population management, including $1 million for a related study, so that the agency can move beyond its current inhumane and costly system of round-ups and long-term penning. It also contains language prohibiting the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros for human consumption.

ELEPHANT_PHOTOS_203589Animal Welfare Enforcement: For both fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Congress again came through with needed funding for the USDA’s enforcement and implementation of key animal welfare laws—the Animal Welfare Act (which requires minimum standards of care for animals at breeding facilities, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other regulated facilities), Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as for programs to address the needs of animals in disasters and to incentivize veterinarians to practice in rural and inner-city areas and to apply for USDA inspection positions.The omnibus just signed into law preserves funding for each of these programs without any cuts, as requested by a bipartisan group of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives, despite intense competition for budget dollars.

Alternatives to Animal Testing: The committee report accompanying the FY15 House Interior Appropriations bill contains language encouraging continued development of non-animal alternatives for chemical testing.

Captive Marine Mammals: The FY15 omnibus retains a House-approved floor amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill directing the USDA to study the effects of captivity on marine mammals and finalize a much-needed upgrade of its Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and cetaceans—a reform that has been languishing for nearly 20 years—so these rules will better address the animals’ physical and behavioral needs.

Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act: Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 113-143, signed into law in August) to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow veterinarians to transport, administer, and dispense medications outside of their registered locations. This will ensure that veterinarians can provide proper care to animal patients in rural or remote areas, including pets in disasters, cruelty cases, mobile spay and neuter clinics, animal sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and more.

Defending Against Harmful Measures

12-10-10_OPEN_CAM_045_71525
Photo: Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

King Amendment: The final Farm Bill nixed the destructive provision that had been folded into the House bill during committee, with minimal debate, at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642.The King amendment aimed to gut state laws protecting farm animals. By negating most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products, it could have preempted laws addressing intensive confinement on farms and a host of other animal protection concerns such as puppy mills, sale of horse meat, and shark finning, as well as laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes. Hundreds of public officials and organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, and religious concerns opposed the measure.This included nearly 200 Senators and Representatives, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the County Executives of America, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Mississippi and Arkansas attorneys general, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Safe Food Coalition, professors from 13 law schools, and editorials in a number of papers such as USA Today, the Des Moines Register, and the Washington Post. This strong and unified opposition successfully fended off this controversial attack on states’ rights, food safety, and animal welfare.

ARKHEC_148131
Photo: Alamy

Sportsmen’s Act: This sweetheart deal for millionaire trophy hunters and special interests was defeated in the Senate on a procedural vote. The Sportsmen’s Act would have carved out the latest in a series of loopholes in the law for wealthy hunters to import sport-hunted trophies of threatened polar bears (encouraging the killing of rare species around the world), opened sensitive federal lands to sport hunting and trapping, and stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect wildlife, habitat, and people from lead poisoning through exposure to toxic ammunition despite the ready availability of non-toxic alternatives (unfortunately Congress subsequently enacted a harmful provision on lead ammunition in the omnibus).

Otters: Language sought by commercial fisheries and the Department of Defense, to provide an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act that would allow them to harm sea otters off the southern California coast, was kept out of the final National Defense Authorization Act.

Ivory/Wildlife Trafficking: As noted above, Congress rejected a harmful rider that would have prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from restricting the devastating trade in elephant ivory—a crisis that cannot be resolved without our country adopting strong policy reforms, since the United States is considered the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

Setbacks

Of course, along with the successes, there were some major setbacks, with Congress caving in to extreme segments of the trophy hunting and factory farming lobbies, and working to block common-sense reforms.The omnibus package recently enacted includes terrible provisions seeking to block the EPA from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition, to interfere with Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse, and to discourage the USDA from trying to reform the corrupt beef check-off program that finances agribusiness lobbying against animal welfare improvements.That same massive spending bill also blocked the EPA from requiring reporting or the issuance of Clean Air Act operating permits for greenhouse gas emissions from animal agricultural sources—an act that the Los Angeles Times panned today in an editorial. We must redouble our efforts to correct these problems in the new Congress.

And some crucial measures were left unfinished, such as the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to end the cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses. With the overwhelming bipartisan support of 308 House cosponsors and 60 Senate cosponsors and endorsements by an extraordinarily broad coalition of veterinary, horse industry, animal welfare, and other groups, the PAST Act is ripe for final action. It was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee but blocked from Senate and House floor consideration by a few legislators doing the bidding of the horse sorers, who don’t want Congress upsetting the status quo that has been so profitable for them. There’s no excuse for not passing the PAST Act. It must be addressed as a priority in the upcoming year.

Congressional leaders also failed to allow votes on other critical reforms, such as the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, which would codify an agreement between animal welfare groups and the egg industry to improve the treatment of laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for egg farmers nationwide. Despite having the support of all major stakeholders, including veterinarians, consumers, and the industry actually impacted by the reform, lawmakers allowed petty caterwauling by the pork and beef lobbies to prevent egg producers from controlling their own destiny.

As we look ahead to the new Congress, we take stock of the many challenges still facing animals. But we also take a moment to celebrate the significant victories and draw strength from them, knowing that the public demand for a more humane future can still yield real results in Washington. Together, we can and must keep the momentum going—and gear up for the new session of Congress to convene in January, where we will once again advance a mainstream and common-sense agenda to close the gaps in the legal framework and protect animals from cruelty and abuse.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Top 14 in ’14

As the year winds down to a close, I’m pleased to report that 136 new animal protection laws have been enacted this year at the state and local levels—the largest number of any year in the past decade. That continues the surge in animal protection policymaking by state legislatures, and in total, it makes more than 1,000 new policies in the states since 2005, across a broad range of subjects bearing upon the lives of pets, wildlife, animals in research and testing, and farm animals.

That is tremendous forward progress, closing the gaps in the legal framework for animals, and ushering in new standards in society for how animals are treated. I’d like to recap what I view as the top 14 state victories for animals in 2014.

Felony Cruelty
South Dakota became the 50th state with felony penalties for malicious animal cruelty. In the mid-1980s only four states had such laws, and it has long been a priority goal for The HSUS and HSLF to secure felony cruelty statutes in all 50 states. With South Dakota’s action, every state in the nation now treats animal abuse as more than just a slap on the wrist. The bill also made South Dakota the 41st state with felony cockfighting penalties, leaving only nine states with weak misdemeanor statutes for staged animal combat.

Ivory and Rhino Horn

Rhino-for-blog
Paul Hilton/for HSI

New Jersey and New York became the first two states to ban the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horns. The new policies will help to crack down on international wildlife traffickers and dry up the demand for illegal wildlife products in the northeast, which is the largest U.S. market for ivory and a main entry point for smuggled wildlife products.

The action by the states also helps build support for a proposed national policy in the U.S., the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

Exotic Pets
West Virginia became the 45th state to restrict the private ownership of dangerous exotic animals such as big cats, primates, bears, wolves, and large constricting and venomous snakes. The new policy is a major step forward for animal welfare and public safety, and it leaves just five states with virtually no restrictions on reckless individuals who keep dangerous predators in their bedrooms and basements and threaten the safety of the animals as well as the community at large.

Fox Penning
Virginia passed legislation restricting cruel fox pens—staged competitions in which wild-caught foxes are trapped and stocked inside fenced enclosures to be chased down by packs of dogs. Lawmakers reached a compromise to phase out existing pens and prohibit new ones from opening, laying the groundwork for an eventual end to this sick type of animal fighting between dogs and foxes.

Breed Discrimination

Pit-bull-for-blog
Meredith Lee/for The HSUS

After the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that pit bulls were “inherently dangerous,” it ushered in a disgraceful era of canine profiling in which families with pit bull-type dogs were forced to choose between their homes and their beloved pets.

It took two years, but the Maryland legislature finally passed legislation to address the problem, agreeing that public safety is best served by holding dog owners equally liable if their dog injures someone, regardless of the dog’s breed. For their part, South Dakota and Utah prohibited any local government in those states from enacting breed-discriminatory legislation.

Veal Crates
The Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission was established to consider rules on animals in agriculture, and the panel decided to ban veal crates by 2018, making Kentucky the eighth state to end the cruel confinement of veal calves in small crates where they can’t turn around. While this is welcome progress, the commission unfortunately punted on other important issues such as gestation crates for breeding pigs and tail docking of dairy cows.

Greyhound Racing
Colorado banned greyhound racing, which hasn’t been active in the state since 2008, while Arizona passed legislation to require reporting of greyhound injuries at Tucson Greyhound Park, where a dog died in March after bumping an electrified inside rail. Iowa lawmakers passed a compromise bill to end or reduce greyhound racing at certain tracks, eliminate slot machine subsidies for dog racing, and set up a retirement fund for greyhound breeders.

Cockfighting
Louisiana, the last state to ban cockfighting, fortified its 2007 anti-cockfighting statute. The newly revised statute increases the first-offense penalties for cockfighting, tightens the definition of birds used for fighting, and bans the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia, to help law enforcement crack down on this staged animal combat. It’s a sign of the changing times that the last state to have legal cockfights now has one of the strongest anti-cockfighting laws on the books.

Pet Protective Orders
Iowa, New Hampshire, and Virginia strengthened their states’ protections for victims of domestic violence and their beloved family pets. The bills allow pets to be included in protective orders, helping to ensure that abusers do not succeed in controlling, manipulating, or keeping the human victims of their cruelty and violence in dangerous situations by threatening their pets with harm.

Puppy Mills
Minnesota, one of the top puppy mill states, passed long-overdue legislation to regulate large-scale commercial dog and cat breeders, requiring them to be inspected and meet standards of animal care. Virginia passed “Bailey’s Law”—named for a beagle puppy suffering from respiratory and intestinal infections after she was unknowingly purchased from a puppy mill—requiring that pet stores must inform consumers about the sources of their dogs. And Connecticut prohibited pet stores from purchasing dogs or cats from breeders with certain Animal Welfare Act violations.

Shark Finning

Shark-for-blog
Vanessa Mignon

Massachusetts became the ninth state (along with three U.S. territories) to ban the trade in shark fins. These state laws help to dry up consumer demand and crack down on the brutal practice of hacking off the fins of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to die slowly in the ocean—just for a bowl of soup.

Cost of Animal Care
Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont strengthened their animal cruelty statutes by shifting the financial burden of caring for animals lawfully seized from situations of cruelty, abuse, and neglect from county governments and nonprofit shelters to the animals’ owner, saving animals and tax dollars. Instead of leaving local taxpayers and nonprofit organizations to foot the significant cost, the owner, who’s legally responsible for the animals’ care, is held accountable under these revised statutes.

Bestiality
Alabama passed legislation banning the sexual abuse of animals. It was previously one of 14 states with no laws on the books prohibiting bestiality.

Wolf Hunting
The citizens of Michigan voted by wide margins to reject two laws enacted by the legislature to open a hunting season on wolves. The ballot measures stopped the wolf hunt in 2014 pending the outcome of the election, and then voters not only repealed a pro-wolf hunting statute, but also repealed a measure that transfers authority to the Natural Resources Commission to declare hunting seasons on protected species. This was the first statewide vote on wolf hunting in any state since wolves were stripped of their federal protections in six states, and it sends a message to decision makers across the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies about how regular citizens feel about the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Horse Slaughter, Wildlife Trafficking, Other Issues at Stake in Spending Bill

Congressional appropriators unveiled a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill last night, to continue funding the federal government for fiscal year 2015 and avoid a shutdown when the current budget expires tomorrow. There was no shortage of animal issues at stake in the giant package, which resulted from tense negotiations with many policy concerns in play. If the House and Senate pass the omnibus bill this week, there will be a number of good outcomes for horses, elephants, and other creatures, but also some harmful provisions for animal welfare.

Horse Slaughter:The omnibus bill forbids spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on inspections at U.S. horse slaughter plants. The provision—which was approved by both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees as amendments offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.—maintains the ban on domestic horse slaughter for human consumption. Coupled with the news that the European Commission has suspended imports of horsemeat from Mexico (where 87 percent of the horses killed for EU exports come from the United States) due to food safety concerns, there really is no rationale for not banning the horse slaughter trade.

Horse_slaughter_blog
The HSUS
A horse bound for slaughter.

Americans do not want to see scarce tax dollars used to oversee a predatory, inhumane enterprise. The horse slaughter industry doesn’t “euthanize” old horses but precisely the opposite: It buys up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting its intentions, and kills them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. We don’t have dog and cat slaughter plants in the United States catering to small markets overseas, and we shouldn’t have horse slaughter operations for that purpose, either.

Ivory Trade: Fortunately, the omnibus bill jettisoned a reckless provision from the House Interior spending bill seeking to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from any new attempt to limit the illicit trade in elephant ivory. The administration is expected to announce a proposed rule that would institute a near-complete ban on the commercial sale and import of elephant ivory in the U.S. This proposed national policy would build on the actions of the states to dry up the demand for ivory here in our country, arguably the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

Transnational criminal syndicates and Africa-based terrorist groups are using the illegal wildlife trade to finance their nefarious operations. It’s shocking that some short-sighted politicians would jeopardize the fate of the largest land mammal in the world and undermine our own national security to interfere with the administration’s efforts to address this crisis—just so that someone gets an opportunity to sell ivory trinkets.

Wildlife Trafficking: In addition to not blocking efforts to crack down on elephant poaching, the omnibus bill also takes proactive steps to address the illegal wildlife trade. The bill dedicates $55 million to combat wildlife trafficking, with at least $10 million of that directed to programs to protect rhinos from being poached for their horns. It also prevents the U.S. from assisting certain countries and military groups if they have been found to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking.

Conservation and Biodiversity: Other wildlife species also benefit under the provisions of the omnibus. The bill apportions funds for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, migratory bird protection, endangered species preservation, wildlife refuges, domestic wetlands, and international biodiversity conservation efforts. At a time when many wild creatures are being pushed to the brink by habitat loss and other pressures, these programs are critical to maintaining a healthy and vibrant planet for future generations.

Burro_blog_2
Ruthanne Johnson/for The HSUS
The omnibus bill spells good news for burros.

Wild Horses and Burros: The omnibus bill prohibits the Bureau of Land Management from spending funds on the killing of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros, or on the agency’s sale of wild horses and burros to kill buyers. It also allows BLM to enter into multi-year contracts with private entities for the long-term care and maintenance of wild horses and burros. And finally, it allows the U.S. Forest Service to transfer funds to BLM to remove and adopt out wild horses and burros on national forest lands.

Importantly, the committees encourage the BLM to consider new, more humane methods of wild horse population management and to request funding for a pilot program in fiscal year 2016, in accordance with recommendations from the National Research Council (of the National Academy of Sciences) and others. The current wild horses and burro program is a fiscal and animal care disaster, with the BLM stuck on a treadmill spending millions of tax dollars essentially running captive horse shelters. It’s time for a better pathway, to keep the population numbers in check through fertility control on the range, as a more humane alternative to costly round-ups and long-term horse care.

Animal Welfare Funding: The omnibus bill allocates continued funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, federal animal fighting law, and programs to aid animals in disasters and address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and low-income areas—all at the same levels or slightly higher than fiscal year 2014. Over the past several years, Congress has recognized the need to boost funding for animal welfare enforcement, even in a competitive climate for budget dollars, and that funding has a real impact for animals on the ground. Today there are more than double the number of inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, and other regulated facilities, compared with inspector levels in the 1990s.
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., marshaled the bipartisan support of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives on joint letters calling for these funds.

Anti-Wildlife Measures: As with any major compromise package, there are harmful provisions, too. The bill blocks any agency expenditures to regulate the use of lead in ammunition or fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act or any other law, notwithstanding the devastating effects of lead on wildlife, people, and habitat from such exposures and the ready availability of non-toxic alternatives. This provision is especially troubling, and it’s something politicians have tried before in the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” as a hand-out to the extreme segments of the hunting lobby even though many responsible sportsmen already use non-lead ammo and it’s been required for all waterfowl hunting for more than two decades.

The package also increases funding for the USDA’s misnamed “Wildlife Services” program, which kills predators with traps, poisons, aerial gunning, and other cruel and indiscriminate methods (methods that kill many non-target animals including pets and endangered species) as a government subsidy to private livestock ranchers. The program is fraught with a lack of transparency and public accountability.

It also blocks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from taking action to list populations of the greater sage-grouse or Gunnison’s sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act—a disturbing pattern, as happened previously with de-listing of grey wolves, of Congress trumping scientific decision making on the conservation of threatened and endangered species with its political will.

But, on balance, there are more good than bad provisions for animal welfare included in the omnibus bill, and it would move the ball forward for horses, elephants, rhinos, and many other creatures.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Victory for U.S. Horses: European Commission Suspends Horsemeat Imports From Mexico

The European Commission has suspended the import of horsemeat from Mexico to the European Union due to food safety concerns, and it’s a decision that has huge implications for the slaughter of American horses for human consumption. Killer buyers export tens of thousands of horses from the United States to Mexico each year, often outbidding horse owners and rescue groups, just so the animals can be inhumanely butchered, shrink-wrapped, and air-freighted to diners in Belgium, France, Italy, and other EU nations.

In fact, according to an audit published last week by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office, 87 percent of the horses slaughtered in Mexico for export to the EU came from the United States. The audit paints a grim picture of serious animal welfare problems both during transport and on arrival at the slaughter plants, with controls on the effectiveness of stunning the horses described as “insufficient” during slaughter.

Horses for slaughter
Horses wait in pens at the U.S. border before being transported to Mexico for slaughter. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The auditors reported that “horses of US origin were regularly found dead in slaughterhouse pens due to trauma or pneumonia shortly after arrival,” and that many rejected horses had livers indicating trauma and injury during transport. They recounted finding two injured horses (“one with open wounds above both eyes, the other lame”) who “had been left in pens under full sun…and had been present in the pens without veterinary treatment for at least two days.”

Even though the European Commission requires lifetime veterinary records for EU horses intended for food, EU regulators have allowed third parties, such as Canada and Mexico, to meet a lower food safety standard, wherein they submit affidavits stating that horses have not been given drugs prohibited in the EU, and cover the horses' veterinary history for only six months.  But the audit found that even this watered-down food safety requirement is virtually an impossible standard to meet.The auditors “found very many affidavits which were invalid or of questionable validity, but were nonetheless accepted,” and flatly noted “the requirement, that they be identified and traceable for a period of at least 180 days prior to dispatch for slaughter, cannot be respected.”

Because American horses are icons and companion animals, and not raised for human consumption, they are given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are never intended for the food system—ranging from common painkillers such as “bute” for treating ailing or lame horses, to cocaine and cobra venom, and other forms of “doping” in the horseracing industry.These random-source horses are rounded up by bunchers, and regardless of whether they’re ultimately killed in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, there is no system to track medications and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure that their meat is safe for human consumption. It’s a free-for-all when this doped-up meat is peddled to foreign consumers.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. And these are the special interests that have been lobbying so hard to use our tax dollars to bring back horse slaughter in the United States, and to block legislation forbidding the export and long-distance transport of horses for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.

Federal law currently prohibits the inspection of horse slaughter plants on American soil, and we’re hoping that “defunding” provision will be extended when congressional appropriators release the “cromnibus” package this week. And ultimately, we must pass the free-standing Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to provide a more lasting and comprehensive solution and to halt the export of horses to our North American neighbors. As the European Commission audit makes clear, the horse slaughter industry is reckless, unsafe, and inhumane, and those who profit by rounding up and butchering companion horses for their meat should stop defending it as some sort of altruistic act. 

Get Political
for Animals




Powered by TypePad