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January 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Podcast: An Egg-Citing Bill, Rating Federal Policymakers

CapitolToday I posted the latest installment of the “Animals & Politics” podcast, hosted by Patrick Ferrise, in which we discuss the new legislation in Congress to improve the treatment of egg-laying hens, and our 2011 ratings for federal lawmakers and the Obama administration. We have an unusual alliance between animal welfare groups and the egg industry, and a unique opportunity this year to pass consensus-driven legislation to help hundreds of millions of hens nationwide. We also have to measure the outcomes on animal protection issues at the federal level in the previous year, and having yardsticks such as the 2011 Humane Scorecard allows us to chart our progress and take stock of where we are as a movement. I hope you’ll take a listen to today’s podcast by clicking here, and then take action by asking your members of Congress to support and co-sponsor H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012.

Michael Markarian - Animals & Politics Podcast #4

Friday, January 27, 2012

Michigan Launches Full-Scale Campaign Against Animal Fighting

A trio of bills before the Michigan Legislature takes full-scale aim at dogfighting and cockfighting in creative and meaningful ways that could serve as a model for other states. These bills have passed the Michigan Senate as well as the House Judiciary Committee and now await a House floor vote before going to Governor Rick Snyder for his consideration.

First, S.B. 356 would allow for the seizure of property and other assets purchased with profits gained from animal fighting. Second, S.B. 357 would define any property used to house an animal fighting operation as a public nuisance. And finally, S.B. 358 would include animal fighting in the state’s racketeering laws, reflecting a growing recognition that dogfighting and cockfighting rings are organized crime. While mafia-owned illegal casinos use slot machines as gambling devices, illegal cockfighters and dogfighters use live animals who are often fought to their bloody deaths.

Animal fightingIncluding animal fighting under a state’s organized crime law is a reasonable policy approach when you consider the extensive, multi-state underground networks involved in these cruel trades. The elaborate security measures employed to avoid detection by law enforcement, the massive amounts of money gambled, breeding operations, underground magazines and transport services used to move dogs between kennels are all part of the animal fighting underworld.

Like any underground crime, dogfighting and cockfighting only thrive because people spend money on it. These individuals don’t walk into a bar on Main Street and accidentally stumble across a dogfight. They knowingly seek out the criminal activity at clandestine locations, and they often whisper secret passwords to enter. They pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling bets, generating the bulk of the revenue for this illegal enterprise. And they provide cover for dogfighters and cockfighters, who blend into crowds at the first sign of a police raid to evade prosecution. For enforcement actions to be complete, we need to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in the enterprise.

What’s more, the link between animal fighting and other dangerous crimes is well-established. A study by the Chicago Police Department in 2004 revealed “a startling propensity for offenders charged with crimes against animals to commit other violent offenses toward human victims.” The study also concluded: 70 percent of those arrested for animal cruelty, including dogfighting, over a four-year period in Chicago had also been arrested for other felonies; 65 percent had past arrests for battery and 70 percent had been arrested for illegal narcotics.

A dogfighting raid in Monroe County, Michigan, a year ago underscored these statistics. The high-stakes dogfight attracted individuals from Georgia, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio. Authorities seized more than $40,000 in cash, as well as firearms, cocaine and other drugs.  Several dogs, victims of injuries sustained in the fights, were already dead when law enforcement arrived on the scene.

This should give pause to anyone concerned about public safety and animal welfare. Taking animal fighters off the streets will help to curtail other violent crimes and make our communities safer for all—human and animal.

The bills before the Michigan Legislature are moving forward thanks to the leadership and work of three Michigan senators. Senators Rick Jones (R-24), Bert Johnson (D-2) and Steve Bieda (D-9) are championing this effort to save animals from cruelty and death in fighting pits.

Our friends at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Animal Protection Unit and the Michigan Humane Society initiated and support these bills, and a handful of other states have attempted similar concepts. Creative thinking, fresh ideas and dogged pursuit of sound and effective policies will get us one step closer to eradicating the cruel enterprise of animal fighting once and for all—a day that cannot come soon enough.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Bill for Hens Provides New Pathway Forward

A year ago at the president’s State of the Union address, Democrats and Republicans sat together, in a show of solidarity for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., severely injured at a mass shooting in her district. Tonight’s address is likely to be very different in tone, and in fact, the unity and cohesion briefly exhibited last year on Capitol Hill has largely waned. It’s rare to see lawmakers of different parties and different viewpoints talking to each other, let alone sitting together.

It’s this backdrop of ideological gridlock and deepening partisan divides that makes yesterday’s introduction of H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, especially stand out as politically unique. The main supporters of the legislation are the United Egg Producers, which represents 88% of the nation’s egg industry, and The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal welfare organization. The bill was introduced by a bipartisan group led by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., the only veterinarian in Congress, with Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012
Take action to support H.R. 3798.

The bill will codify an agreement between The HSUS and UEP to phase out barren battery cages and replace them with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide each egg-laying hen with nearly double the amount of current space; require environmental enrichments, such as perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas, allowing hens to express natural behaviors; mandate labeling on egg cartons to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs, such as “eggs from caged hens” or “eggs from cage-free hens”; and provide other improvements such as banning forced starvation molting and prohibiting excessive ammonia levels in henhouses.

The HSUS and UEP have been long-time adversaries, but have come together and identified a solution for housing 280 million laying hens that balances animal welfare and the economic realities of the industry. As Rep. Schrader noted, “I take my hat off to both organizations for putting aside their historical differences and working together to reach a deal that provides certainty for our farmers while providing improved conditions for the hens.”

While all the credible animal protection groups strongly support this bill—including HSLF, the ASPCA, Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Mercy for Animals, and several others—there are a few fringe critics who sit on the sidelines and carp about how it doesn’t go far enough. They have no pathway of reform to suggest, only obstructionism and piety. They don’t understand the political dynamics that exist, and that this bill can bring real relief to these animals who are suffering in the here and now and need our help.

The nation needs this kind of problem solving, and the Congress should enthusiastically embrace an agreement between all the major stakeholders. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to support H.R. 3798, which will not only improve the treatment of hundreds of millions of hens, but will also send a message that our country can find bipartisan solutions even to the most difficult and divisive problems.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hot Off the Press: 112th Congress Midterm Humane Scorecard

Last month I provided a look at our 2011 congressional year in review for animals, and noted many of the achievements and setbacks during the first half of the 112th Congress. We made progress for animal protection on a number of fronts, especially increased funding to crack down on puppy mills and horse soring despite a very tough budget climate, and laid the groundwork for important policies to be considered in 2012.

2011 Humane ScorecardI’m pleased to announce today that the Humane Society Legislative Fund has posted the final version of the 2011 Humane Scorecard, where you can track the performance of your federal lawmakers on key animal protection issues during last year. We rated legislators based on their voting behavior on measures such as agribusiness subsidies, lethal predator control, and the Endangered Species Act; their cosponsorship of priority bills on puppy mills, horse slaughter, animal fighting, and chimps in research; their support for funding the enforcement of animal welfare laws; and their leadership on animal protection. All of the priority bills whose cosponsorships we’re counting enjoy strong bipartisan support; in the House, each of the four now has more than 150 cosponsors.

The Humane Scorecard is not a perfect measuring tool, but creating some reasonable yardstick and allowing citizens to hold lawmakers accountable is central to our work. The HSUS historically and in recent years HSLF have been publishing the Humane Scorecard since the 103rd Congress (which covered 1993-1994), so this annual congressional snapshot has been available for nearly two decades. Additionally, The HSUS has just published its report card on the Obama administration, measuring the performance of the federal regulatory agencies on animal welfare issues, and giving the administration a subpar grade of C-minus for 2011.

When the Humane Scorecard comes out each year, it helps clarify how the animal protection movement is doing geographically, by party affiliation, and in other categories. It helps us chart our course for animals by seeing where we have been effective, and where we need to improve. And much more needs to be done, as we have just begun 2012 and are pushing animal protection policy issues forward in the second half of the 112th Congress.

Here are a few of the most important statistics from 2011:

  • A bipartisan group of 30 Senators and 97 Representatives covering 38 states, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia led as prime sponsors of pro-animal legislation and/or scored a perfect 100—nearly one-third of the Senate and one-quarter of the House.
  • The average Senate score was a 41, with Senate Democrats averaging 58, Senate Republicans averaging 22, and Senate Independents averaging 100.
  • The average House score was a 42, with House Democrats averaging 70, and House Republicans averaging 19.
  • Fifteen Senators scored 100 or 100+.
  • Eleven Senators scored zero.
  • Sixty-five Representatives scored 100 or 100+.
  • One hundred ten Representatives scored zero.
  • The New England region led the pack with an average Senate score of 83 and an average House score of 69, followed closely by the Mid-Atlantic region with a Senate score of 62 and a House score of 67, and the West with a Senate score of 60 and a House score of 55.
  • The Rocky Mountains and the Southeast were at the bottom with average Senate scores of 28 and 26, respectively, and average House scores of 22 and 26.
  • California, Connecticut, and Vermont were the only states with an average Senate score of 100.
  • Georgia and Kansas were the only states in which both Senators scored zero.
  • Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont were the only states with an average House score above 80, and of them, only Rhode Island had an average House score of 100.
  • Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming were the only states with an average House score below 10.

I’d like to give special thanks to the following three Senators and 26 Representatives who scored the highest possible 100+, meaning they had a perfect score on animal protection and also provided key leadership on a particular issue or issues:

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
  • Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
  • Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii)
  • Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.)
  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)
  • Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
  • Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.)
  • Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.)
  • Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.)
  • Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.)
  • Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio)
  • Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)
  • Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.)
  • Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.)
  • Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.)
  • Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.)
  • Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.)
  • Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.)
  • Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.)

I hope you will use the Humane Scorecard as a guide, and communicate with your lawmakers about their grades for 2011. If they scored high marks, please thank them for their support of animal protection. If they did poorly, please tell them you’re watching and you hope they’ll do better in 2012. Let all your federal legislators know that you and other constituents care about the humane treatment of animals, and want to see common-sense policies enacted to protect these creatures from cruelty and abuse.

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