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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TSCA Reform Could Save Millions of Animal Lives

The House of Representatives today debated H.R. 2576, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, a compromise bill produced after months of negotiation between key parties in the House and Senate to modernize and reform the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The House will vote on the bill tonight and the Senate is expected to take it up as soon as tomorrow. 

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Photo courtesy of iStock Photo

We are strongly urging lawmakers to pass the legislation, because tucked into this massive final package is a huge win for animals: unprecedented language that could save hundreds of thousands of rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and other animals from suffering and dying in laboratory experiments in the very short term to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. My colleague Wayne Pacelle wrote about the prospect of this advance in detail in The Humane Economy, and now this moment is upon us.

These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats and dropped in their eyes. The new bill would dramatically reduce—if not eliminate, in some cases—the use of animals in these tests, and would also improve the science behind chemical testing, and encourage better safety decisions to protect the environment and human health. It makes chemical testing smarter, faster, and more reliable for regulatory decision-making, and will provide momentum to continually update the science and reduce animal use.

When it comes to human and environmental health, our historic animal testing-based approach is fundamentally flawed; the science incorporated into the original TSCA decades ago has stymied EPA’s ability to regulate chemicals. To generate screening data for a single chemical, it currently takes three years and $6 million, and the results are often highly variable, difficult to interpret (leading to years of argument and dispute), and not easily applied to regulatory action (often leading the agency to ask for more and more data, nearly all of which is inconclusive)—hence EPA has regulated only a handful of chemicals in 40 years.

Because of the failure of this testing approach, the National Academies of Sciences was asked to come up with a better way. The approach NAS recommended capitalizes on our vast knowledge of chemistry and biology and modern technology to design highly reliable tests that measure chemical effects on critical biological pathways. This revelation has resulted in an emerging consensus among scientists and regulators around the world, including the EPA, that this forward-looking approach is the best regulatory framework for the future. It will be much less costly, faster, and yield more reliable results. This new scientific approach will also be far more humane, as it involves a shift away from animal testing. By requiring the reduction of animal use, H.R. 2576 spurs the implementation of the best available science, which will dramatically improve EPA’s ability to responsibly and more efficiently regulate chemicals and more meaningfully protect the American public from hazardous substances.

Toxicity testing is a particularly cruel use of animals, often involving poisoning until death or some disease state is achieved. It is important to note that 95 percent of animals used in research, including chemical testing, are not protected by law in the U.S. (mice, rats, and birds are specifically excluded from provisions of the Animal Welfare Act). This is in dramatic contrast to the situation in the world’s largest economy, the European Union, where all vertebrates (and some non-vertebrates) are protected in all scientific uses. The European Commission requires that non-animal methods are preferred, and every procedure using animals must be submitted for approval by the government. In addition, the European Union’s toxic chemicals law stipulates reduction of animal testing as an overarching principle, and requires use of all approaches not involving animals first, with animal testing only as a last resort. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act provides the first such protection for animals used in testing in the U.S.

We are immensely grateful to the many members of Congress who pushed for the animal testing language to be included in the final package, especially Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., David Vitter, R-La., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who developed and advocated for the strong anti-animal testing language in their version of the bill. There is still time to contact your members of Congress and urge them to vote yes on H.R. 2576. This is a landmark opportunity to save millions of animals while addressing key health and environmental concerns.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Will the Next Interior Secretary be a Trophy Hunter?

If Donald Trump, Jr. gets his way, there could be a slayer of elephants and leopards and other rare wildlife appointed as Secretary of Interior in his father's administration.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The Environment & Energy Daily last week noted that candidate Donald Trump doesn’t claim to know much about hunting or the outdoors, and has largely deferred on those issues to his son, Donald Jr., who is organizing outreach to sportsmen for the campaign. The younger Trump mused that he would like to be Secretary of the Interior, and in a January interview with Petersen’s Hunting, said:

“So you can be assured that if I’m not directly involved I’m going to be that very, very loud voice in his ear. Between my brother, and myself no one understands the issues better than us. No one in politics lives the lifestyle more than us.”

Over seven and a half years of the Obama administration, the Department of the Interior has been perhaps the most active federal agency on animal welfare issues, actively restricting trophy hunting of some of the world’s most imperiled animals. 

What an appalling turnaround it would be to put the persecutors of wildlife in charge of U.S. policy on these issues.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shut down imports of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Interior Department officials also listed African lions as threatened, dramatically restricting the imports of trophies from lions killed abroad at places like South African’s canned hunts.

This same agency also listed captive chimpanzees as endangered, leading to the end of chimps in laboratory experiments. They also classified eight species of large constrictor snakes, including Burmese pythons and anacondas, as injurious under the Lacey Act, prohibiting the trade in these snakes as pets. The administration made wildlife trafficking and elephant poaching a priority issue, and proposed a rule to close loopholes in the U.S. ivory trade, the second largest retail market after China.

What will that record look like in the next administration, and what if it’s under President Trump?

Donald Jr. and his brother, Eric, made headlines for being involved in trophy hunting, posing with a dead leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures—even holding the tail of an elephant. The lifestyle they are living—spending their fortunes to travel the world and amass heads and hides of the rarest and most majestic animals on earth—is more on par with the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the wealthy dentist who shot Cecil the lion) than it is with rank-and-file sportsmen or conservationists.

It’s not an issue of partisanship, and no Republican or Democratic president is ever going to be perfect on animal issues. The Obama administration, while making a great deal of progress for wild animals on a broad range of subjects, also took several harmful policy actions, such as working to remove federal protections for wolves and grizzly bears and turn over management to hostile states.

But the risk of having a globe-trotting trophy hunter at the top job at Interior, or having the ear of the president, is a real one. The administration is responsible not only for policies involving hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands, but also wildlife law enforcement, international treaties on trade and conservation, and import policies for wild animal parts and trophies.

A Trump presidency could set the stage for rolling back wildlife protections and implementing policies to advance trophy hunting around the world and here at home. It’s something animal advocates should pay attention to as they evaluate the candidates. 

Friday, May 06, 2016

White House Hopefuls and Down-Ballot Candidates Can Connect with Voters on Animal Protection

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both still running on the Democratic side, but the overall field in the 2016 race for the White House has narrowed considerably since HSLF reported in January on the candidates’ animal protection records. Ted Cruz and John Kasich officially suspended their campaigns, with Donald Trump all but locking up the Republican presidential nomination.

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Mark Bacon/Alamy Stock Photo

While the elections and candidates are dominating public discussion and media coverage, animal welfare issues have been an important part of our recent national discourse too. With Ringling Brothers performing its last show with elephants last weekend, SeaWorld announcing an end to its orca breeding program and sunsetting that part of its business model, Walmart pledging to source all of its eggs from cage-free sources, Armani ending its use of animal fur, and hundreds of chimpanzees being retired from private laboratories to sanctuaries—all spurred on by public demand for more humane treatment of animals—it’s clear animal protection issues are important to the voting public.

This week Hillary Clinton published an animal welfare statement highlighting the humane issues she plans to tackle as president, as well as her strong record on animal protection in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State. She pledged to crack down on abuses such as wildlife trafficking, puppy mills, and horse slaughter, and to support a federal anti-cruelty statute and more humane treatment of farm animals. A group supporting Bernie Sanders had previously published a summary of his positions and actions on animal welfare. Like Clinton, he’s had a strong and compelling record in the U.S. Senate, demonstrating his concern for the issues as well as his leadership. Donald Trump has yet to release a campaign statement on animal issues, but when he has associated himself with animal welfare, it has not always been positive.

There are 25,000 animal welfare groups in the country, nearly two-thirds of Americans have pets, and there are felony-level penalties for animal cruelty in every state. Opposition to animal cruelty is now a universal value, and presidential candidates and down-ballot candidates really stand to miss an opportunity when they don’t speak to this constituency and its concerns. It may not ever be a daily talking point for major candidates, but it’s a genuine opportunity to speak to a vast constituency of interested citizens and break out of the predictable set of orthodox positions that the Democrats and Republicans have already divvied up.

It's worth noting that major corporations in every sector of the economy have also embraced animal welfare issues—whether it’s Walmart, McDonald’s, and dozens of others in food retail; cosmetic companies like Lush and the Body Shop; fashion giants like Armani and Hugo Boss; or PetSmart and Petco in the pet industry. It’s a mainstream sensibility, and with so many of these company policies validating that idea, it’s not a risk but an opportunity for candidates to take a stance on these issues. It’s a particularly good opportunity to speak to women and suburban voters, who have particularly strong inclinations on animal issues.

And the public is not just paying attention to what the candidates say on paper, but also to what they do off the campaign trail. The three Clinton family members, especially Chelsea, have been deeply involved in anti-poaching work and spoken out against the ivory trade, as a matter of animal welfare and economic development for African nations. Donald Trump’s sons, on the other hand, have been involved in trophy hunting of African wildlife, shooting leopards and other rare animals in Africa. Their behavior smacks more of the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the dentist who shot Cecil the lion last July) than it is about Joe Sixpack from West Virginia or Pennsylvania, who is killing deer for meat and filling the freezer. This issue has the potential to cement negatives for Trump among millions of humane-minded people, especially women, who would be offended by this kind of animal killing for such gratuitous purposes.

The animal welfare movement is no longer a niche movement. Our collective voices are powerful and influential. So make sure you’re paying attention to what the candidates are saying about humane issues—because if it’s important to you, it should be important to them.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Lawmakers to USDA: Make a Bigger Splash on Marine Mammal Rule

After almost 20 years of inaction, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally proposed in February an update of its standards of care for marine mammals in captivity. But the proposed standards are weak, and need to be strengthened substantially.

There’s been such positive momentum recently on the issue of marine mammals in captivity, with SeaWorld ending the breeding of orcas and sunsetting that part of its business model, and a federal court blocking the import of 18 wild-caught beluga whales for display purposes. But the remaining marine mammals held in captive settings need improved standards for their handling, care and housing. As announced, the proposed standards do include some positive changes. We are very disappointed, however, that many of the standards remain unchanged from decades back, and some are even weakened. We are not alone in our concerns.

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Movies such as “Blackfish” have raised public consciousness of the plight of marine mammals in captivity. Photo by iStockphoto

Last week, seven Senators and 14 Representatives led by a strong team from California—Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Jared Huffman and Adam Schiff—sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack thanking him for taking some positive steps, but urging USDA to go further in the final marine mammal regulations.

Specifically, the letter expresses concern that the proposal leaves unchanged the standard for tank sizes that has been in place since 1984. Alarmingly, for some species such as beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins and killer whales, the proposed changes might even result in accepting smaller tanks. The USDA proposal ignores advice from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which called on USDA to use more precautionary calculations in setting minimum tank sizes.

The legislators also object to the exemption afforded to industry to get around salinity requirements, by allowing seals and sea lions kept in fresh water to simply be given salt supplements and saltwater eye baths.  USDA stated in its proposal that it “expects this will minimize additional costs and renovations at existing facilities.”  But the fact is, the agency should keep foremost in its sights and regulations the welfare of these animals, not just what will increase profitability.

Regarding the new standards for what used to be known as swim-with-the-dolphin programs (now to be called interactive programs), the letter points out that the USDA proposal would actually reduce some protections for marine mammals and the public, explicitly removing the requirement for a buffer zone that gives the animals a safe place to which to retreat while remaining in the program. The proposed changes would also increase the amount of time that dolphins are forced to be available for interactions with the public.

Movies such as “Blackfish” and “The Cove” have raised public consciousness of the plight of marine mammals in captivity, and the issue is now part of our national discourse. We are grateful to USDA for issuing these long-awaited regulations for captive marine mammals, but urge the agency to ensure that the final rules are aligned with public expectations of the conditions in which these magnificent creatures are held and the manner in which they are treated. With our allies in Congress lending a powerful voice for the welfare of captive marine mammals, along with thousands of individuals who have submitted public comments, we hope that the agency listens.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Key House Committee Takes Horse Slaughter off the Menu

We had a powerful showing today in the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, with animal protection leaders Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa., securing enough votes to pass their amendment dealing with horse slaughter for human consumption. The "defund" amendment to prevent the opening of horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil passed by a vote of 25 to 23.

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Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

Last year a similar measure narrowly failed in the same committee by a vote of 24 to 24, but was later approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee by a voice vote and retained in the final omnibus spending bill. With today’s action by the House panel, we will be in a stronger position to keep the doors of horse slaughter plants shuttered and prevent the use of American tax dollars for this cruel practice.

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

We are grateful to Reps. Farr and Dent for leading this successful bipartisan effort, and to all 25 committee members who voted in favor of the amendment to protect horses. If your representative serves on the committee, you can see how he or she voted below.

Lawmakers voting yes on the amendment, to protect horses: 

Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Michael Honda (D-CA),  Steve Israel (D-NY), David Jolly (R-FL), David Joyce (R-OH), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), David Price (D-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Peter Visclosky (D-IN), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Kevin Yoder (R-KS).

Lawmakers voting no on the amendment: 

Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Mark Amodei (R-NV), Ken Calvert (R-CA), John Carter (R-TX), Tom Cole (R-OK), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ),  Kay Granger (R-TX), Tom Graves (R-GA), Andy Harris (R-MD), Jaime Herrera Buetler (R-WA), Evan Jenkins (R-WV), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Scott Rigell (R-VA), Martha Roby (R-AL), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Chris Stewart (R-UT), David Valadao (R-CA), Steve Womack (R-AR), David Young (R-IA).

Not voting: 

Henry Cuellar (D-TX), John Culberson (R-TX), Chaka Fattah (D-PA).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Recognizing Humane Legislators on Capitol Hill

Last night the Humane Society Legislative Fund and The Humane Society of the United States hosted our annual congressional Humane Awards, where we honored a bipartisan group of lawmakers who led the way for animals during the last year. More than 50 Senators and Representatives plus staff members from dozens of additional offices attended the event in the U.S. Capitol, as we celebrated the federal lawmakers who are leading the way to make the world a better place for animals.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M, recipient of the 2015
Humane Legislator of the Year, pictured with Wayne Pacelle,
President & CEO of The HSUS.

The top awards went to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., who were honored as the 2015 Humane Legislators of the Year. The Humane Legislator of the Year award recognizes federal lawmakers who have initiated path-breaking animal protection legislation and demonstrably advanced reform in the policy-making arena.

In 2015, Sen. Udall led the effort—with Sens. David Vitter and Cory Booker—to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, including provisions to reduce, if not eliminate, the use of animals in chemical testing. He successfully offered the amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee to restore “defund” language that’s kept horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil. As the top Democrat on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, he helped fend off anti-wildlife riders that would have weakened the Endangered Species Act, stripped wolves of federal protections, and blocked efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and the poaching of elephants for the ivory trade. Udall is also a leading voice for reforms in the horse racing industry to crack down on rampant doping. He played a key role in obtaining strong provisions to require all federal agriculture research facilities to meet animal welfare standards, and he set the stage for the decision by the National Institutes of Health to end the use of all chimpanzees in laboratory experiments and retire them to sanctuaries. This is simply a breathtaking set of accomplishments and activities.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., recipient of the
2015 Humane Legislator of the Year,
pictured with Wayne Pacelle.

Rep. Buchanan also was active on such a diverse set of policy reforms. He led efforts to protect manatees from extinction, challenging the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to downgrade the species from endangered to threatened status. He is the co-author of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to stop horse slaughter for human consumption, and he voiced support for the appropriations “defund” language and opposition to the Bureau of Land Management’s sale and transport of nearly 1,800 wild horses to slaughter. In the wake of the tragic killing of Cecil the lion, he urged the Department of Interior to list African lions as endangered, and the agency issued a strong final rule to prevent imports of most lion trophies. He co-authored the Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research (AWARE) Act to provide animal care standards for farm animals used in federal agricultural research. And he opposed repeated legislative attacks against the Endangered Species Act and against the proposed rule to crack down on illegal ivory trafficking.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., recipient of a Lifetime
Achievement Award, pictured with Wayne Pacelle.

In addition to the top awards for Sen. Udall and Rep. Buchanan, we honored four retiring lawmakers with Lifetime Achievement Awards for their career-long dedication and accomplishments on a wide range of animal protection issues. The awards went to Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. Sam Farr D-Calif.

Among the many issues these leaders spearheaded over the years, Sens. Boxer and Vitter teamed up annually securing needed funds for the enforcement of key animal welfare laws such as the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and implementation of programs to protect pets in disasters and ease the shortage of veterinarians in underserved areas.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Rep. Sam Farr D-Calif., recipient of a 
Lifetime Achievement award, pictured with Wayne Pacelle
and Michael Markarian, President of HSLF.

They also co-authored the Captive Primate Safety Act to crack down on the trade in primates as exotic pets. Sen. Vitter and Rep. Farr were sponsors of the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act to require licensing and inspections of puppy mills selling directly to the public over the Internet, which set the stage for USDA regulation of Internet puppy sellers. With Sen. Mikulski as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Farr as the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, they both had outstanding pivotal roles on a host of animal protection concerns, including keeping horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil, requiring humane treatment of farm animals and compliance with Animal Welfare Act standards at federal facilities, significantly boosting USDA’s budget to oversee the AWA, and seeking to end the abhorrently cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., recipient of the Legislative Leader
award, pictured with his dog Lily and with Wayne Pacelle.

These lawmakers all led on a number of other issues over the years, including Sen. Boxer fighting tirelessly for wildlife and environmental protection through positive measures and fending off harmful legislation, Sen. Mikulski sponsoring the SAFE Act to stop exports of horses for slaughter and helping to ensure continued retirement of chimpanzees into sanctuary, Sen. Vitter advocating for TSCA reform to phase out chemical testing on animals and passing legislation to ban animal fighting spectators and to require labeling of fur-trimmed apparel, and Rep. Farr sponsoring bills to protect egg-laying hens in barren battery cages and performing elephants in traveling circuses. We are grateful to them for their service and their career-long dedication to animal protection.

Finally, we also recognized several other lawmakers based on their leadership on animal welfare legislation and their ratings on the 2015 Humane Scorecard. In total, 181 legislators – 39 in the Senate and 142 in the House (representing 37 states) – received awards for their work in 2015. We’re grateful to all of these members of Congress who are helping to forge a path to a more humane future through their demonstrated leadership on animal protection legislation, and we congratulate them as recipients of the 2015 Humane Awards.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Feds Tackle the Tiger Trade

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized a rule eliminating a loophole in the Endangered Species Act regulations that has produced a crisis involving captive tigers across the nation over the past two decades. The elimination of the so-called “generic tiger exemption” will substantially increase oversight of captive tigers, kept in inhumane conditions at shoddy roadside zoos, funneled into the exotic pet trade, and dragged to shopping malls and fairs for photo ops and special events.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS
Alex was part of an exotic pet rescue in Kansas at a
facility that took advantage of this loophole. Alex is
happy and safe and now resides at Black Beauty Ranch.

Until now, tigers of unknown or mixed lineage, including thousands of tigers at roadside zoos and private menageries, were not subject to the same permit application and recordkeeping requirements as the approximately 280 tigers managed for genetic diversity by zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That meant people could breed, trade, and otherwise use tigers without applying for a permit and undergoing scientific scrutiny, and the trade in generic tigers was left virtually unregulated.

Only about 3,200 tigers are left in the wild, but American roadside zoos, menageries, and exotic pet owners keep nearly twice that number. These facilities threaten the safety of our communities and impose an enormous financial burden on taxpayers, government agencies, and nonprofit sanctuaries like the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas and Big Cat Rescue in Florida, which often have to rescue tigers from deplorable conditions. The new rule will help ensure that only properly accredited facilities engaged in legitimate conservation activities can breed and trade tigers, by requiring an ESA permit for such activities regardless of the tiger’s genetic lineage.

We benefited from the efforts of Republican and Democratic members of Congress who urged the White House to finalize the generic tiger rule. Bipartisan groups of lawmakers in both the House and Senate helped to push the issue forward, led by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Dick Blumenthal, D-Conn.

In another step forward for tigers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidance to its inspectors to start cracking down on public contact with infant tiger cubs and other exotic cats at exhibition facilities licensed under the Animal Welfare Act. While the policy only deals with cats four weeks of age or younger, we will continue to urge USDA to do more on this issue and to explicitly prohibit public contact with tiger cubs of any age, along with other dangerous captive wildlife.

Conservation efforts for wild tigers are undermined by the exploitation of captive tigers. Those who engage in these activities misrepresent tigers’ conservation status to the public and potentially even provide a supply of tiger parts for illegal international trade. Individual tigers also suffer tremendously at these unqualified facilities, where they are routinely bred to produce a steady supply of cubs for unsafe photographic opportunities and interactive experiences with paying customers.

The HSUS found terrible abuse during three undercover investigations conducted at such pay-to-play exhibits in the last five years. At the G.W. Exotic Animal Park (currently home to nearly 100 tigers) a juvenile tiger pounced on a young child and an investigator documented five tiger deaths in one month. At the Natural Bridge Zoo tiger cubs were deprived of food to make them compliant for bottle-feeding sessions and were punched and smacked when they exhibited normal play behavior. At Tiger Safari infant tiger cubs were deprived of essential maternal care, and both of the tiger cubs used for excessive public handling during that investigation died when they were less than two years of age.

These multi-pronged efforts to protect tigers have been years in the making, and a coalition of groups, including The HSUS and The Fund for Animals, submitted rulemaking petitions for the actions involved. The Obama administration has made positive strides with these important protections to end the exploitation of tigers, and we urge the relevant federal agencies to further protect animal welfare and public safety by cracking down on this inhumane and reckless trade.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Lawmakers Speak Up for Animals in Spending Bills

Against a backdrop of election year politics and partisan fights in Congress, lawmakers are moving forward to fund the federal government and all its programs. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been holding hearings and are preparing to mark up the individual bills designating funds for agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, and others whose budgets have a direct impact on animals. 

Last year’s omnibus spending bill included a number of big wins for animals, and many of those same issues are still in play this year. We need to send the strongest possible signal to the leaders of the key subcommittees that animal protection matters. That’s why it’s so important that a bipartisan group of legislators has stepped up to request needed provisions and oppose harmful riders. Here are some highlights:

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Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Animal Welfare Enforcement Funding: 169 Representatives and 38 Senators requested funds for USDA to enforce key animal welfare laws including the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as programs to address the needs of animals in disasters and to encourage veterinarians to locate their practices in underserved rural areas and to take up USDA inspector positions. More Senators helped seek this animal welfare funding than last year, and it’s the highest number in the House ever since we began working on these annual letters in 2001. Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., marshalled the support of their colleagues on these letters. This multiyear effort has resulted in a cumulative increase of $185 million over the past 17 years for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, and a doubling of USDA inspectors on the ground and specialists to support them in ensuring basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

Horse Slaughter: 96 Representatives and 23 Senators jointly urged inclusion of the “defund” language that prohibits the USDA from spending federal dollars on inspections of horse slaughter plants and keeps such plants from reopening on U.S. soil. Led by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Frank Guinta, R-N.H., these letters are also a considerably stronger showing than last year’s House and Senate letters seeking the defund provision. 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.

Wildlife Trafficking and Ivory: 86 Representatives and 17 Senators requested enforcement funding for various agencies working to combat wildlife trafficking and voiced opposition to any rider that would block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on its proposed rule to crack down on illegal trade in elephant ivory. These strong letters were championed by Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Peter King, R-N.Y., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. The biggest ivory-selling markets in the world are in China and the U.S., and these sales are fueling the slaughter of elephants thousands of miles away. It’s simply shocking that some politicians are trying to block the Obama administration from cracking down on elephant poachers and ivory traffickers.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Endangered Species: 73 Representatives called for robust funding to support the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on Endangered Species Act listing, planning and consultation, species conservation and restoration, and recovery efforts. Two freshmen legislators, Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., led the charge here on behalf of ESA protections. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90 percent of American voters. This bedrock environmental law that calls for science-based decision making has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct. We will also be working hard to defeat poisonous riders to delist species and weaken the ESA.

As the appropriators gear up to make their initial decisions on how to allocate resources among many competing requests and whether to include provisions that could help or harm animals, we hope they will heed the remarkable bipartisan support demonstrated in these letters, which reflect the broad public mandate for animal protection policies.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Veal Slaughter Plant Closed, Time to Finish the Job on Downer Calves

Catelli Bros., a veal and lamb slaughter plant in New Jersey, quietly announced this week that it will no longer slaughter animals. This is the same location where, two years ago, an HSUS investigation revealed abusive handling and inhumane slaughter practices, including still-conscious calves struggling while hanging upside down on a conveyor belt, calves being shot numerous times before reaching unconsciousness, a truck driver dragging a downed calf with a chain around the animal's neck, and plant managers twisting calves’ ears and pulling them by their tails. The investigation also documented employees shocking, hitting, and spraying calves with water. The exposé led to a weeks-long shutdown of the plant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

The latest news in this story is a reminder, though, of unfinished business at the USDA: The agency has yet to finalize a rule, seven years in the making, to ban the slaughter of downed veal calves.

Unfortunately, what happened at Catelli Bros. was not an isolated case, but rather another instance of abuse and mishandling in the calf slaughter industry. Back in 2009, a similar HSUS investigation at Bushway Packing, a Vermont veal facility, revealed that calves only a few days old—many with their umbilical cords still hanging from their bodies—were unable to stand or walk on their own. The infant animals were kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment. The USDA shut the Vermont facility down and the case resulted in a cruelty conviction.

The USDA should be commended for its swift response in both New Jersey and Vermont when these abuses came to light. But there is something even more important at stake, and that is the need for a strong federal policy to protect young calves and prevent and discourage these abuses before they occur. That can be done by closing a loophole in the current downed animal regulations that invites cruelty by allowing these animals to be slaughtered for food if they can be made to stand.

Following the 2009 investigation in Vermont, The HSUS filed a legal petition asking the USDA to require that calves brought to slaughter unable to rise and walk be promptly and humanely euthanized and excluded from the food supply. More than 50,000 people wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack supporting the change. And last May, the USDA finally released a proposed rule to close this loophole.

Without a clearly-stated ban, current regulations create an incentive for workers to do everything they can—kicking, beating, prodding, and dragging—to force downed calves to slaughter. The proposed rule would reduce immense suffering and bring regulations for downed veal calves in-line with those already in place for downed adult cows.

In fact, one of President Obama’s first actions on animal welfare when he took office in early 2009 was to close a loophole that allowed the slaughter of mature downed cattle too sick or injured to walk on their own, in the wake of the Hallmark investigation that resulted in the largest meat recall in U.S. history and schools in dozens of states pulling ground beef off their lunch menus. Now, in his final year in office, President Obama can finish the job on this long-awaited rule and apply the same protections to young calves.

We’re grateful for the help from many members of Congress who encouraged USDA to implement this policy. In joint letters last year, 92 members of the House, led by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and 14 Senators, led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., wrote to USDA in support of the proposal and urged the agency to finalize this rulemaking effort as soon as possible to protect animal welfare and food safety.

It’s just common sense that young, vulnerable calves should have the same protections under the law already given to adult cattle. The USDA has acknowledged that this regulatory loophole needs to be closed, and it shouldn’t wait for another investigation to uncover even more abuses. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to take a consistent approach to animal welfare and to make final the rule and plug this downer loophole.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

HUD Needs a Clause on Claws

Public housing can be extremely difficult to obtain, with many families in need stuck on waiting lists for months or even years. For those with cats, the relief of acquiring public housing is quickly replaced by dread when they face an unthinkable choice: have their cat declawed or find kitty another home. Forcing tenants to declaw their cats is one of the most extreme pet policies on the books, and increasingly rare in apartment buildings. It’s not only an inhumane mutilation of the cat, but also creates a financial burden and takes choices about responsible pet care away from public housing residents.

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iStock Photo

A bipartisan group of 51 members of Congress, led by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, is working to make sure that families and their beloved cats won’t be put in these situations. They wrote to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, urging him to prohibit public housing authorities (PHAs) from requiring residents to declaw their cats. HUD does not mandate declawing, but individual PHAs may legally do so in their pet policies. The fact that some PHAs are forcing residents to choose between a costly, cruel mutilation or giving up their companion leads to a patchwork of inconsistent rules, and can be easily remedied with a change to current HUD regulations.

Declawing is a cruel, expensive, medically unnecessary, and painful procedure, involving the amputation of the last bone on each toe. Despite common misperceptions, declawing a cat is not analogous to a snake that sheds its skin or a tarantula that molts its shell. To put it in human terms, it would entail amputating a finger at the last knuckle. Moreover, veterinarians recommend it as medically necessary only in the most drastic circumstances, such as when certain types of cancer are present.

Further, declawing is an ineffective and often counterproductive method for protecting property. Left with sensitive paw pads, many cats develop other destructive behavior issues, such as biting or urinating outside the litter box. Instead of spending their time ensuring that all resident cats are declawed, housing managers at PHAs would save themselves considerable time and grief by instead referring residents to animal welfare groups that can provide residents with appropriate scratching equipment and behavior advice.

For the majority of people living in public housing, this policy serves as a de facto ban on cats as scarce resources mean that they can’t find other affordable, cat-friendly housing nor can they pay for the expensive declaw procedure.

With the growing public concern over the cruelty of declawing, the procedure has been banned in 28 countries including Australia, Brazil, and much of Europe. In the U.S., several cities have banned declawing, California prohibits landlords from imposing declawing as a requirement for residents, and the New York state legislature is considering a declawing bill in 2016.

This would not be the first time HUD has stepped in and banned PHAs from requiring veterinary procedures that are cruel and medically unnecessary. HUD regulations already prohibit PHAs from requiring dogs to be devocalized, and that existing policy could easily be extended to prevent PHAs from requiring cats to be declawed.

We are grateful to the members of Congress who are standing up for cats and the families who love them, and we urge HUD to adopt this policy swiftly. Without any legitimate property protection purpose, a formal notice to PHAs that they cannot force residents to put their pets through an inhumane, painful, and expensive procedure should be an easy call for HUD.

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