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July 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

House Passes Truth In Fur Labeling Act

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed H.R. 2480, the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, a bill by Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., to provide a much-needed upgrade to the nearly 60-year-old federal fur labeling law. The HSUS and HSLF have been advocating for years that a new national policy was needed to ensure accuracy and consistency in the labeling of fur-trimmed apparel, after our investigations found dozens of major designers and retailers selling unlabeled jackets trimmed with animal fur, some of it falsely advertised as “faux fur.” There was no opposition to the bill in committee or today on the House floor, and we are urging the Senate to take swift action on this bipartisan bill to protect consumers and animals.

RaccoonDogPups Since the 1950s, any fur garment sold in the U.S. has had to include a label indicating the species of animal used and the country of origin, but there’s a gaping loophole in the current law that excludes fur-trimmed garments if the value of the fur is $150 or less. At current pelt prices, that means a jacket could have fur on its collar or cuffs from 30 rabbits ($5 each), nine chinchillas ($16 each), three foxes ($50 each), or three raccoon dogs ($45 each), and be sold without a label. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that one in every eight fur garments doesn’t require labeling.

Imagine if one in every eight medicine bottles or food packages didn’t have a label, especially if you avoid certain foods or medicines because of allergies, ethical or religious reasons. Consumers making well-informed decisions based on complete information is a cornerstone of a functioning market economy. Shoppers who may have allergies to fur, ethical objections to fur, or concern about the use of certain species, cannot make informed purchasing choices due to this gap in the current law.

With the technological advances in synthetic fur, and the dyeing of animal fur colors like pink and green to make it look fake, even the most careful and knowledgeable shoppers and department store clerks often can’t tell the difference simply by visually inspecting the material. Especially when consumers purchase designer jackets over the Internet, they have no choice but to trust the retailer’s statements about those garments. The only way to address this widespread deception in the marketplace is to attach a label to the individual garment.

We are especially grateful to Reps. Moran and Bono Mack for their leadership on this issue, and Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, who are leading the fight in the Senate. We also thank House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.; Ranking Member Joe Barton, R-Texas; Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill.; and Ranking Member Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. for their work to guide the bill forward and advance it swiftly through the House. Reps. Whitfield, John Sarbanes, D-Md., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, all spoke eloquently today on the House floor in favor of the bill’s passage, and we thank them for their strong support.

It’s time for fur-trimmed jackets, parkas, sweaters, and vests to meet the same federal standard as other fur garments, and provide the same important product information that’s already required seven times out of eight. Please contact your two U.S. senators today, and ask them to get the Truth in Fur Labeling Act enacted quickly.

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Online Tools to Take Action for Animals

I joined nearly 1,000 animal advocates from across the country this weekend at HSUS’s sixth annual Taking Action for Animals conference here in Washington, where attendees heard from Nigel Barker, Wayne Pacelle, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and other leaders and experts in the animal welfare field. And today, hundreds of those who attended also rallied on Capitol Hill with actress Wendie Malick and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and lobbied their own lawmakers in favor of critical animal protection policies—dealing with crush videos, fur labeling, puppy mills, horse slaughter, and the protection of wild mustangs.

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The Taking Action for Animals conference is about providing advocates with new tools so they can be more effective in making a difference for animals in their own communities. In the spirit of the annual training conference, the Humane Society Legislative Fund used the weekend activities as an opportunity to introduce an exciting new tool we’ve developed so advocates can track where their legislators stand on animal protection issues—the Humane Scoreboard.

Many of you are regular users of our annual report cards published at the end of each legislative year, where we rate lawmakers on their actions for animals in Congress and report on the year’s progress on animal protection policies. Now, we’re pleased to launch a brand-new online tool, the Humane Scoreboard, which will be continuously updated year-round to provide a real-time snapshot of where U.S. senators and representatives stand on animal protection legislation, votes and policies.

This unique site is updated as new bills are introduced, new votes occur and new co-sponsors are added to animal protection bills. The site provides animal advocates with a day-to-day snapshot of their legislators’ efforts to protect animals. You will instantly know how your legislator voted on important federal legislation, like last week’s landslide vote in the U.S. House to ban the trafficking in obscene crush videos, and tomorrow’s scheduled House vote to require accurate labeling of fur-trimmed apparel.

We hope you will use the Humane Scoreboard to track your legislators’ progress and encourage them to continue making strides for animals in Congress. This new site also allows you to chart our progress and how the animal protection movement is doing geographically, by party affiliation, and in other categories.

Animal protection has always presented serious moral questions to thinking people, but now more than ever, it is being treated as a serious issue on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are debating policies that have enormous implications for animals. Now you have a one-stop-shop to determine your legislator’s positions and the state of animal protection legislation in Congress. I hope you will check out the Humane Scoreboard today.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hundreds of New Mexico Chimps at Risk

At a time when the federal government is criticized for fiscally wasteful programs, it’s shocking that the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health has come up with a new one: a plan to transfer 202 federally-owned chimpanzees from Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico to the Southwest National Primate Research Center in Texas. These chimps have been warehoused for years in New Mexico at taxpayer expense, and once in Texas, they will be made readily available for invasive research. Fifteen of the chimpanzees have already been transferred—their names yet unknown.

Chimp There has been an outpouring of opposition to this transfer, including from policymakers and opinion leaders. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has called on the NIH to halt the transfer and to instead permanently retire the chimpanzees in New Mexico, including the 15 who have already been sent to Texas. The governor said, “There is a compassionate and prudent alternative to the National Center for Research Resources’ plan and I feel strongly that we must save the chimpanzees.”

Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., who last week introduced a resolution recognizing Jane Goodall for her 50 years of achievements for chimpanzees, has expressed his concern about the transfer as well and has requested that NIH at least answer questions before proceeding.

The Albuquerque Journal criticized the NIH proposal in a strong editorial, pointing out that the plan is morally “abhorrent,” fiscally “irresponsible,” and scientifically “wasteful.” The paper didn’t pull any punches when it opined, “The federal government’s plan to move chimpanzees from the Alamogordo Primate Facility to a San Antonio lab is wrong on so many levels it’s hard to believe someone with all 23 human chromosome pairs approved it.”

Most of the chimpanzees are elderly and the oldest is Flo, who will turn 53 this September. Many, if not all, were infected long ago with hepatitis and/or HIV. They were once under the control of the infamous Coulston Foundation, a now-defunct laboratory that had a long record of violations of the Animal Welfare Act and Public Health Service Policy. Conditions there prompted NIH to step in and take title to 288 chimpanzees.

The remaining 202 chimpanzees have been warehoused at APF for the last nine years under an expensive contract between the government and Charles River Laboratories, which ends in May 2011. None of the chimpanzees have been used in invasive research during those nine years but have been languishing; they have been forced to endure so much during their lives—it is time to give them the retirement that they deserve.

The HSUS, HSLF, Animal Protection of New Mexico, and other groups are urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to stop the transfer and retire these chimpanzees at the APF facility in New Mexico under the care of a sanctuary organization. The fate of these chimps is hanging in the balance and we urge you to lend your voice to their rescue. And if the Administration doesn’t do the right thing, it’s just one more reason that Congress needs to step in and pass the Great Ape Protection Act, which would end this financial boondoggle and ensure retirement of all 500 government-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stomping Out "Crush" Videos, Stepping Up Enforcement

The big news in Congress this week is that the House overwhelmingly passed the Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Animal Crush Videos Act, introduced by Representatives Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., by a sweeping vote of 416 to 3. The bill now goes to the Senate, where Senators Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., have vowed to lead the fight for this legislation.

19308 We are making progress on other priorities, too, in the 111th Congress. With a tough budget climate and competing national priorities for federal spending, HSUS and HSLF continue to make the case on Capitol Hill that adequate federal funding is necessary to enforce the nation’s animal welfare laws. And it’s money well spent since improved enforcement for animal protection means improvements in food safety, public health, consumer protection, disaster planning, anti-crime initiatives, and other related issues.

Once again this year, we rallied the support of a strong bipartisan group of 40 senators and 131 representatives—led by Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Chris Smith, R-N.J.—to request funds needed to improve enforcement of animal welfare programs. Thanks to the outstanding leadership of the chairs of the agriculture appropriations subcommittees—Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.—the signs look promising for animal welfare programs in fiscal year 2011.

The House and Senate bills to fund the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture aren’t yet finished, but both have cleared significant intermediate hurdles (the House bill was approved at the subcommittee level and the Senate bill was approved by the full committee). Both bills maintain strong levels of funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal law to combat dogfighting and cockfighting, as well as programs for veterinary student loan forgiveness and disaster planning for animals. Importantly, both bills recommend increased funding for investigations and enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, which should bring added might to combat abusive puppy mills, and nearly double the amount allocated for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, a much-needed upgrade to crack down on rampant “soring” abuse involving deliberate infliction of severe pain on show horses’ legs and hooves, so it will hurt them to step and their exaggerated gait will win prizes.

The Senate committee has also included language in its report urging the USDA to “consider the establishment of an ombudsman to provide FSIS inspectors and other personnel with an avenue to register their concerns and help ensure that they are able to carry out their responsibilities—ensuring compliance with all food safety and humane slaughter requirements—without undue interference,” and “consider the hiring and training of a mobile review team of FSIS employees to conduct unscheduled audits, including the potential for undercover surveillance, focused on assessing compliance with humane handling rules of live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes and stunning areas.” The ombudsman and mobile strike unit are two enhancements to enforcement that HSUS and HSLF sought, following our undercover investigations at the Hallmark (Calif.) and Bushway (Vt.) slaughter plants. The Senate committee also weighed in on the importance of the animal fighting law, and both bills ask the FDA to conduct a review of the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals and antimicrobial resistance.

This is just the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily building the enforcement budgets for these laws, recognizing that laws on the books won’t do animals much good if they’re not enforced. Over the past eleven years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act by 139.5% (a cumulative total of more than $84 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 115 USDA inspectors, compared to about 60 inspectors during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other facilities. We are hopeful that the fiscal year 2011 bill, once it’s finalized, will boost these numbers even further.

Thanks to your work, Congress can help sustain our efforts to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. It’s an investment in the animals’ future—and our own.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Blog Favorites So Far in 2010

I’m always curious about which blog posts resonate most with you—the readers. Traffic to my blog is a good indicator of what subjects are top of mind for animal advocates. So, below, I list the top ten most popular blog posts so far for the first half of 2010. In first place (by a mile) is my January blog on the release of our 2009 Humane Scorecard. Many of you want to know where your legislators stand on key animal protection issues—and our annual report card is a great place to start. My take on a major cockfighting raid earlier this year in Texas, and the lawmaker who derailed legislation to upgrade the state’s anti-cockfighting law, came in second, followed by my post on Animal Planet’s airing of the 24th Genesis Awards, an uplifting celebration of the people in the news and entertainment industries who use their extraordinary talents to advance animal issues.

You’ve enjoyed the Q&A interviews with advocates who are making a difference for animals, such as Angela Moxley of Small Angels Rescue and Sarah Baeckler of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, as well as hearing what other blog readers had to say in the “Talk Back” entry. The critical public policy issues for animal protection in Congress caught your attention, whether it’s our work to promote the development of alternatives to animal testing, crack down on the brutal practice of shark finning, or strengthen penalties for the killing of federally protected raptors. Finally, rounding out the list is my post about the extraordinary benefits of factory farming reforms—for both animals and rural communities.

  1. Hot Off the Press: The 2009 Humane Scorecard
  2. A Taste for Cruelty
  3. Watch The Genesis Awards this Weekend
  4. A Pathway to End Animal Testing
  5. Even the Smallest Creatures
  6. Talk Back: Greyhounds, Puppies and Acts of Kindness
  7. The Lucky Seven: Q&A with Sarah Baeckler
  8. Increasing Penalties for Killing Protected Birds
  9. The Finning Must End
  10. How Farm Animal Reforms Also Benefit Residents

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Talk Back: “Crush” Videos, Protecting Missouri’s Dogs, and the “Little” Guys

Here’s a selection of comments that have come into the blog lately. I recently wrote about the efforts to end cruel animal “crush” videos. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee passed a bill by Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., to crack down on traffickers of these videos of extreme animal cruelty. Many of you are angry about these sick videos, too:

Thank you for being brave enough to bring this topic to light. Before reading this post, I had NO clue how sick and twisted some people are when it comes to animal cruelty. Your post was informative, factual, compelling, and eye opening. Thank you. Good luck to all fighting the battle to end cruelty on all levels.—John M.

While citizens have the right to freedom of speech, explicit videos that expose animal crushing and all other kinds of animal cruelty are disturbing and offensive. Redistributing such vile videos for a profit should not be allowed.—Wendy F.

It is well known and proven that this kind of behavior can often lead…to human abuse.  Why is it even considered a valid form of free speech? It isn't. Inflicting pain and suffering upon another living creature, human or not, is definitely a perverted form of expression of any kind. Ban it.—Michael R.

This bill must pass, if we are to consider ourselves a civilized nation. We cannot allow these demented depraved evil people to entertain each other using vile videos depicting unconscionable acts of cruelty to animals. I support the bill 100%.—Mrs. Saldivar

If you are as concerned as these readers, please ask your U.S. Senators to support legislation aimed at cracking down on depraved animal “crush” videos.

I also wrote about the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, which would close a loophole in the nearly 60-year-old federal fur labeling law that allows many fur-trimmed jackets and other apparel to be sold without labels:

Thank you, sir, for being a voice to those who have no voice. These are God's creations and deserve to be treated as such. Thank you again.—Roxann E.

And I told you about Small Angels Rescue, an organization working to promote small animal care and adoption:

Great article, or should I say interview. Angela seems to be the genuine caregiver when it comes to the "small guys." Great work! Keep it up. Any animal deserves its day in the sun. Thanks again. Hope there is more to come.—Brian

It is amazing and heartwarming to know that there are many shelters for small animals like hamsters, gerbils, rats, guinea pigs all around the world. I agree that there is no need to purchase a hamster from a pet shop. There are plenty of them up for adoption.—Rachel, the Hamster Lover

Finally, I also told you about efforts underway in Missouri to crack down on abusive puppy mills and hopefully turn around the Show Me State’s reputation as the puppy mill capital of America:

A lot of time people are very discouraged when legislative efforts fall short. Though success is very important, we can't lose with these ballot measures because they force people to think about a subject that many would prefer to ignore.—Stephen K.

Thank you all for submitting these comments, and, as always, please keep the feedback coming. If you have a question or comment and would like to join the conversation, please send me an email. Thanks for all you do for animals.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Putting Teeth into Shark Protections

Christina Wilkie of The Hill reported yesterday that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is teaming up with the Discovery Channel during the hugely popular “Shark Week” in August to promote legislation cracking down on cruel and wasteful shark finning. There has been good news and bad news for sharks in recent months, and the renewed push for shark conservation could not come at a more critical time for these declining ocean predators.

Reef Whitetip Shark NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center A new Hawaii law took effect last week making the state the first to ban the sale and possession of shark fins, helping to dry up the demand for fins and remove the financial incentive for killing these creatures at sea. We are grateful to state Sen. Clayton Hee (D-Kahuku, La'ie, Ka'a'awa, Kane'ohe) for championing the pathbreaking bill, and to Gov. Linda Lingle (R) for signing it into law. Hawaiians revere this sacred animal, also known as “manō,” a protector of the oceans and Hawaii’s fisherman, and now they’ve set a standard for other states to follow.

Tens of millions of sharks are hauled up on the decks of fishing boats around the world every year, only to have their fins hacked off, often while they’re still alive. The mutilated sharks are then thrown back into the ocean, because the meat of most shark species is unpalatable and fishermen don’t want to use up freezer space by storing their bulky carcasses. The fins, on the other hand, fetch a very high price in East Asia, where they’re used to make shark fin soup.

Unfortunately, the nations participating in the fifteenth meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Doha, Qatar, in March had the opportunity to increase protections for imperiled shark species, but failed to do so. Palau and the United States had submitted proposals to give crucial protections to the hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks—two of the most over-exploited species for the international trade in fins—but the proposals were tanked under pressure from Japan, China and their allies.

While the public policy results have been mixed, some leaders in the fishing industry are reeling in progress for sharks on their own. Dozens of marinas in the United States, the Caribbean and the South Pacific have registered as Shark-Free Marinas, prohibiting the landing of any shark on their premises, and the organizers of the recent Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge off the southwest Florida coast opted for a completely catch-and-release tournament. It’s a welcome move away from the gruesome shark killing contests held up and down the U.S. shores.

Sen. Kerry and Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) have introduced the Shark Conservation Act to strengthen the enforcement of the federal shark finning law. Congress banned shark finning a decade ago, but enforcement is complex and there is a major loophole that currently permits a vessel to transport fins obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel. The legislation to upgrade the law has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate Commerce Committee, and is awaiting action by the full Senate. Don’t wait for “Shark Week” to contact your two U.S. senators and tell them to pass the Shark Conservation Act, before it’s too late for sharks.

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