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June 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

U.S. Senate Passes Animal Fighting Amendment

The U.S. Senate tonight voted in favor of an amendment to the Farm Bill, introduced by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to make it a federal crime to attend a dogfight or cockfight, and a felony to bring a child to an animal fight. The vote was an overwhelming 88 to 11.

This is a great turn of events, as the original animal fighting amendment was not among the list of 73 amendments allowed to be considered during the Senate debate on the Farm Bill. But thankfully, because Sen. Vitter had a previously approved amendment relating to the Animal Welfare Act, it was allowed to be modified to include the animal fighting language as well. 

Pit_bullForty-nine states (all but Montana) have penalties for animal fighting spectators, who finance the criminal activity with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and provide cover for animal fighters who blend into the crowds during law enforcement raids. It’s time to sync up the federal law with the state laws, and close this remaining gap so that law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting.

We are grateful to Sen. Vitter for offering this amendment, and to Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who simply would not take no for an answer on this issue. They received tremendous support and cooperation from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in getting this done. Special thanks also to Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., who were co-authors of the original legislation, S. 1947, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. Kudos to all 88 senators who voted in favor of the measure, including Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who had a big part in letting the amendment proceed.

And thanks go to all the animal advocates who contacted their lawmakers and urged them to support this important anti-cruelty legislation. Read the press release from HSLF and The HSUS for more information.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Preliminary Victories and Setbacks on Federal Animal Welfare Issues

During the last 24 hours on Capitol Hill, there have been some major debates on animal protection—with some preliminary victories and setbacks. Here’s my report from Washington:

Horse Slaughter: The House Appropriations Committee today approved, by voice vote, an amendment offered by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., to block spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect U.S. horse slaughter plants in Fiscal Year 2013. The spending prohibition had been in place since 2005, but was not renewed last year by a joint House-Senate conference committee, leading to concerns that horse slaughter plants could reopen within the U.S. at the cost of about $5 million annually to U.S. taxpayers.

Horses_in_pen_270x224“When more than 80 percent of the American population opposes this practice, it is high time we put an end, once and for all, to industrial horse slaughter,” said Rep. Moran. “Horses hold an important place in our nation’s history and culture, treasured by all for their beauty and majesty. They deserve to be cared for, not killed for foreign consumption.”

During debate, Rep. Moran noted that the Appropriations Committee cut back funding for USDA’s meat facility inspections by $9 million below Fiscal Year 2012, and he argued against expanding USDA responsibilities to inspect horse meat shipped to foreign countries that would come at the expense of funding for inspections of food consumed by U.S. citizens. Additionally, U.S. horse meat may also contain chemicals harmful to humans if ingested. Unlike farm animals raised for their meat, horses are routinely given powerful medications, including the anti-inflammatory pain killing drug phenylbutazone.

We will be working to maintain the Moran amendment on de-funding horse slaughter when the appropriations bill goes to the House floor and when it’s finalized. But the end-game for us is to push for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., which now has 165 co-sponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate. Only that bill will halt live exports of American horses for slaughter.

Farm Bill: The Senate last night reached agreement on a package of 73 amendments that will be allowed to be considered as part of the Farm Bill debate. Unfortunately, Senate leaders did not allow either of the major animal welfare amendments to get a vote: the amendment by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight, or the amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and a bipartisan group of senators to improve the treatment of egg-laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for the egg industry.

Hens_batteryThe animal fighting legislation has virtually no opposition, and the egg industry legislation is the result of collaboration and problem-solving by all the major stakeholders, so it’s shocking that neither of these issues is proceeding to be debated and voted on as the Senate considers the Farm Bill this week. It can only be because some special interests from the pork and beef lobbies are so extreme that they object to any progress on animal welfare, even when it has absolutely nothing to do with their industries. Senate leaders really let us down by capitulating to extremists in denying consideration of these amendments.

On the positive side, the Senate package also does not include a harmful amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that would allow the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies and block efforts to get toxic lead out of ammunition. But that legislation, like the others, is not done, and we may hear from Sen. Tester again on this issue. And there will be votes allowed on some amendments to limit government subsidies to industrial factory farms, such as the amendment by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to lower payments for crop insurance, and the amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to give small farmers the opportunity to decline to participate in industry check-off programs that often favor Big Agribusiness over family farms.

We are hopeful that if the House takes up its version of the Farm Bill in coming weeks, there will be another opportunity to have animal welfare amendments considered. We will be working hard to pass the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, which has the support of animal protection groups, veterinary groups, consumer groups, and the egg industry—please contact your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators today and ask them to help pass this critical legislation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lawmakers Speak Out on Animal Protection

The Hill newspaper today published its annual special edition on animal welfare, which demonstrates again the importance of animal issues to lawmakers and their constituents. This special edition provides a great overview of important animal welfare policies now being debated in the U.S. Congress—ranging from animal fighting to horse cruelty to chimpanzees in research to the confinement of egg-laying hens—written by a diverse and bipartisan group of champions on these issues from both the House and the Senate.

HenIt’s especially timely as the Senate is now considering the Farm Bill, and we are urging animal advocates to contact their two Senators in support of an amendment offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors to phase out barren battery cages and improve the treatment of egg-laying hens. I hope you will read all of the animal welfare essays in The Hill, and I’d like to provide some excerpts from those pieces for blog readers:

“As the only veterinarian currently serving in Congress, I think I have a unique perspective on issues involving animal welfare and agriculture and a responsibility to provide a rational voice on these issues that are all too often polarizing and costly. In a time where compromise and agreement is in short supply, we should be embracing and rewarding this kind of cooperation. Producers want it, consumers want it and animal welfare advocates want it. This is a no-brainer—Congress should pass H.R. 3798.”—Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

“From ensuring that our pets are treated humanely to ensuring that we are protected from primate attacks, I know that these issues can be advanced with strong bipartisan support.  Animal safety shouldn’t just fly under the radar. It should be promoted and discussed more broadly, and in a consensus-building, nonpartisan way. That’s certainly my goal in my work to ensure that these policies find strong support in the Senate.”—Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

“Horses have been our companions and helped make this country what it is today. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to our nation’s relationship with horses. America’s admiration for horses’ natural magnificence is the foundation of numerous industries, yet many of the horses used in these enterprises are treated poorly. Two sporting industries plagued by this inconsistency are the Tennessee Walking Horse show circuit and the world of horse racing.”—Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

“Cracking down on animal fighting is important not just because pitting dogs or other animals against each other to fight to the death is cruel in and of itself—those who have no compassion for the pain they inflict on animals also tend to lack compassion for their fellow humans. Gang activity, illegal gambling, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and acts of human violence all go hand-in-hand with animal cruelty. It is barbarism and desensitizes those who participate in it to the pain and suffering of others.”—Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.

Horses2“In recent years, our horses have been protected from domestic slaughter due to Congress’s suspension of funding for horse-meat inspections. This year, however, instead of an open, full congressional debate on the issue, a few members of Congress reinstated funding for these inspections during a conference committee on appropriations legislation. This action does not reflect the current public opinion on this subject, and it opens the door to horse slaughter in our country, increasing the need to create a permanent ban on the practice, as was one of the recommendations in the June 2011 Government Accountability Office report.”—Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Prince Lorenzo Borghese

“As a scientist who used primates as subjects in life-saving research for America’s military pilots and astronauts as well as the only member of Congress with a doctorate in human physiology, I can assure you that spending more taxpayer money on invasive research on chimpanzees is both scientifically and fiscally unnecessary. That is the reason I introduced the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (H.R. 1513/S. 810), which already has more than 175 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House and Senate.”—Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

“Animals don’t have a political voice except the one that humans raise on their behalf. They don’t vote, they don’t lobby and they certainly don’t buy air time during campaign season. But they are just as important to our way of life as we are.”—Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Momentum Builds for Hen Welfare Legislation

HenI wrote a round-up in March of some of the nation’s largest newspapers that have published editorials endorsing H.R. 3798 to improve the treatment of 280 million laying hens in the egg industry, and calling on Congress to pass the legislation swiftly. Now, the Senate bill has been introduced, S. 3239, by Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and a group of bipartisan co-sponsors, and several more newspapers have weighed in on the proposed measure, including the following:

Chicago Tribune: “It's a small but important step, and it deserves to be enacted….The virtue of federal legislation is that it sets a minimum standard of care for animals while sparing responsible producers from the threat of being undercut on price by less scrupulous competitors.”
Arizona Republic: “House Resolution 3798…is a compromise that responds to the concerns about animals with requirements that the egg producers can accept. In today's hyperpolarized world, that's not just a victory. It's an example of the way things should work.”
Sacramento Bee, Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star: “Two former antagonists have come together to push for a national standard for the humane treatment of chickens raised for their eggs. The plan is a reasonable compromise and we hope they are successful in getting it through Congress—a place where too many people don't seem too interested in finding common ground these days.”

In this era of polarizing issues and divided partisanship, it’s rare when a diverse group of stakeholders representing varied interests all agree on the right pathway forward. That’s what we have with the hen bill, as animal protection groups, the egg industry, veterinary groups, consumer groups, and others are all advocating for this policy. The nation needs this kind of problem solving, and the Congress should enthusiastically embrace a reform that has the support of all the affected parties.

Please add your voice by calling your two U.S. Senators today at (202) 224-3121 and asking them to support and co-sponsor S. 3239. After you’ve made your calls, please follow up by sending them an email. I’ve listed below some of the key endorsers of the legislation, and you can also take a look at the full list of supporters.

Animal Protection Groups:
The Humane Society of the United States
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
American Humane Association
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Compassion In World Farming
Compassion Over Killing
Farm Sanctuary
The Humane League
Humane Society Legislative Fund
In Defense of Animals
Mercy for Animals
National Federation of Humane Societies
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Marin County Humane Society
Sacramento SPCA
SPCA for Monterey County
Dumb Friends League
Brown County Humane Society
Animal Welfare Society
Kalamazoo Humane Society
Michigan Humane Society
Animal Humane Society
Humane Society of Charlotte
SPCA Cincinnati
Oregon Humane Society
Humane Society of Berks County
SPCA of Texas
Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)
Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society
Washington Humane Society
Richmond SPCA

Agriculture and Egg Producer Groups:
United Egg Producers
Arkansas Egg Council
Association of California Egg Farmers
Colorado Egg Producers Association
Florida Poultry Federation, Inc.
Georgia Egg Association
Michigan Agri-Business Association
Michigan Allied Poultry Industries
New England Brown Egg Council
North Carolina Egg Association
Ohio Egg Processors Association
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Veterinary Groups:
American Association of Avian Pathologists
Association of Avian Veterinarians
American Veterinary Medical Association
Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association

Consumer and Faith Groups:
Center for Food Safety
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Consumer Federation of America
National Consumers League
Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness

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