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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Our Change Agenda for Animals

Senate confirmation hearings are in full swing this week for President-elect Obama’s Cabinet choices. Lawmakers are asking the nominees to lay out their vision for leading the federal agencies, and to explain how they will execute Obama’s plans for confronting the major challenges facing the nation.

Dog and cat2Obama’s nominees will almost certainly be confirmed by the Senate, and will assume their new posts shortly after the inauguration. But before they become immersed in the quotidian needs of running our government, we hope they will take a step back and look at the big-picture reforms that are needed.

When it comes to animal protection, more than a dozen federal agencies have a direct impact on the lives of millions of pets, farm animals, laboratory animals, and wildlife. In years past, some of these agencies have functioned largely as an annex to industry, and have been inattentive to the wishes of Americans who care about animal welfare, food safety, and environmental protection.

Rather than politics as usual, it’s time for change. The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund have developed a change agenda for animals, with 100 immediate steps the executive branch can take to advance the humane treatment of animals. Here are some of the most critical reforms needed:

  • The Agriculture Department must improve enforcement at slaughter plants, puppy mills, research laboratories, and wild animal exhibits, and crack down on abusive practices such as animal fighting, horse soring, and puppy imports. It should apply basic humane slaughter protections to poultry so that nine billion birds per year have a merciful death, and finalize its pending rule to prohibit the slaughter of downed cows who are too sick or injured to stand up. The agency should work to stop the export of horses for slaughter in other countries, and should shift the focus of its Wildlife Services program to effective nonlethal methods rather than the use of aerial gunning, cruel traps, and toxic poisons.
  • The Interior Department must renew and restore its commitment to the Endangered Species Act, and work to protect listed species and their habitat. It should reject attempts by trophy hunters to reopen the import of heads and hides from threatened polar bears, and should list the entire species of chimpanzees as endangered, bringing an end to their use in research. The agency should also revamp its Wild Horse and Burro Program, and encourage the broader use of immunocontraception and other alternatives to rounding up wild horses and holding them in pens at taxpayer expense.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency must ensure that factory farm emissions are not exempt from federal environmental laws, including new laws addressing climate change. It must also invest in promising alternatives to animal testing that offer more rapid, efficient screening of pesticides and other chemicals.
  • The Commerce and State Departments must make the protection of marine mammals and ocean life a priority both domestically and internationally, working to stop commercial whaling, seal hunts, shark finning, dolphin drive fisheries, and other abusive practices.
  • The Health and Human Services Department must expedite the retirement of all federally-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries, honor and maintain its moratorium on breeding chimps for research, and work to phase out use of chimps in invasive experiments. It should also prioritize the development of alternatives to animals in toxicity testing, and take urgent steps to address the overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic purposes on factory farms.
  • The Justice Department must begin collecting data on animal cruelty crimes as a separate offense category in federal databases, so that law enforcement officials can analyze the trends and connections with other violence. The agency should also enforce the longstanding federal law limiting long-distance transport of farm animals to 28 hours or less, and create a new Animal Protection Division to ensure strong enforcement of animal protection laws.
  • The White House should appoint an Animal Protection Liaison to help coordinate animal welfare concerns (policy issues, regulations, and positions on legislation) that cut across many different federal agencies. 

Polar-bear-bigPresident-elect Obama has already indicated his support for many of the issues on our change agenda, when he filled out the HSLF presidential candidate questionnaire on pending bills and funding matters. Now it’s time for the agencies to put these ideas into action, and make a key difference in strengthening animal welfare and reducing animal suffering. You can read our entire change agenda for animals by clicking here, and join us in advocating for these much-needed reforms.

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