Tonight at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama will accept his party’s nomination for election to a second term, and the pundits will be analyzing his speech and looking back at his record. It’s an opportune time to take a look at what the Obama administration has done so far in 2012, and throughout his presidency, on animal welfare issues.
In reviewing the past nine months, the Obama administration has taken some positive steps, particularly on enforcement-related issues, and several different federal agencies have made progress on a wide range of subjects to improve the treatment of animals. However, there have also been specific actions that have directly harmed animals, and inaction on key issues. A brief overview of some of the major animal protection policies is illustrated below.
Several agencies have jurisdiction over animal welfare, and have listened to many of the concerns of animal advocates and made these issues top-priority regulatory actions. This would not have been possible without our dedicated supporters who have submitted comments to the agencies in response to our calls to action and made their views known, elevating the importance of these issues to the agencies. But the administration needs to go further and do more to help animals. Here are a few examples of how each agency is working to tackle significant animal protection problems and what each agency still needs to address.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
After more than 32,000 people petitioned the White House to crack down on puppy mills, the USDA issued a proposed rule this year to regulate unlicensed puppy mills that sell large numbers of dogs to consumers over the Internet without any public oversight. This rule is critical to protect the welfare of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding facilities, and more than 350,000 people submitted comments to the agency in favor of it. We hope USDA quickly finalizes this rule, and also takes action on a congressional directive from the 2008 Farm Bill to ban the imports of puppies from foreign mills, which has been languishing for four years.
In addition, after the release of The HSUS’ undercover video showing the shocking abuse of Tennessee walking horses to produce an artificially high-stepping gait for show competitions, the agency released a long-awaited final rule requiring uniform, mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. This rule is a much-needed step to strengthen enforcement of the law that prohibits “soring” of horses. USDA inspectors also maintained a strong enforcement presence at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, despite pressure from an industry that is in denial and wants to maintain the status quo on horse abuse.
On farm animal welfare and humane handling of livestock, USDA has created a new ombudsman position to whom employees and stakeholders can report concerns regarding inhumane treatment. However, the agency has failed to act in granting protections for downer veal calves. The HSUS submitted a petition to USDA in November 2009 to close a loophole in the existing downed animal regulations and require that all non-ambulatory disabled calves be immediately and humanely euthanized, just as is currently required for adult cattle. The petition was tentatively granted in February 2011, yet there has been an unacceptable delay and the agency has still not granted this petition despite the humane handling and public health concerns.
The agency has also failed to make any changes to programs that have long been concerns for animal welfare advocates. For example, USDA has refused to make any changes to its Wildlife Services program’s use of two highly controversial predator poisons—Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide—despite the many non-target animals and family pets killed, the fiscal waste, and the suffering of animals poisoned by these toxins.
Finally, the agency continued the huge taxpayer giveaways to the pork industry for buy-ups of surplus product, but the administration is asking nothing of this industry in terms of compensatory reforms, as it did for the financial sector and the automobile industry, in return for this taxpayer largesse. The pork industry can keep on immobilizing animals in small crates, polluting waterways, and dosing animals with antibiotics, threatening the public health of our nation.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
HHS has taken steps to promote the use of non-animal alternatives by awarding grants to individuals at universities and hospitals, who are developing technologies that focus on replacing animal use in drug development, including the development of new “human-on-a-chip” technologies that improve medical research outcomes and reduce reliance on animal studies.
As for eliminating the use of chimpanzees in research, the National Institutes of Health has put together a working group to make recommendations on how to implement an Institute of Medicine report, which states that the current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is unnecessary, with very few exceptions. Although NIH supports the recommendations in the IOM Report, it has signaled to Congress that it does not support an end to invasive research on chimpanzees, and this appears to be complicating efforts to secure passage of the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (to phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire all federally-owned chimps to sanctuaries).
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
EPA approved the first fertility control vaccine in wild horses. This is a critical non-lethal management tool, and it should lead to a significant reduction in inhumane wild horse round-ups.
In addition, EPA has joined The L’Oreal Group in a collaboration to create alternatives to animal-based toxicity tests for substances used in cosmetics. EPA also announced plans to reduce animal testing requirements for pesticides, and has released a comprehensive management plan to implement more non-animal tools for its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. While each of these plans is a step in the right direction, the agency should do more to bring U.S. pesticide regulations into line with global state-of-the-art technologies and best practices concerning replacement, reduction, and refinement of animal testing.
U.S. Department of the Interior
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stepped up its efforts to crack down on the Illegal wildlife trade. In conjunction with The HSUS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FWS conducted “Operation Cyberwild” to put a stop to illegal wildlife trade over the Internet. As a result of the operation, twelve individuals were charged with the sale of endangered and protected species. FWS also announced an effort to crack down on the black market rhino trade within the U.S. and arrested seven people on illegal trafficking charges.
Unfortunately, the FWS de-listed wolves in Wyoming this year, which followed prior de-listing actions in Idaho, Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Wolves already are being hunted and trapped in the Northern Rockies, and the killing is set to begin this fall in the Great Lakes, and now we can add another looming destruction of wolves in Wyoming, where the state has a retrograde plan for managing wolves that kicks in after federal protections are eliminated.
The Bureau of Land Management’s dealings with wild horses this year are a mixed bag. The BLM requested $2 million dollars in additional funds to conduct research on increasing fertility control of wild horses and participated in the Wild Horse Symposium, which discussed, in part, the role of contraceptives in wild horse management. BLM also announced that it will conduct an environmental analysis of an eco-sanctuary for American mustangs in northeastern Nevada. Problems remain, however, at wild horse gathers. For instance, round-up numbers are still high this year, as BLM has thus far removed 7,496 horses and 503 burros. BLM is making many of the right moves, but must do more in the field to protect the welfare of horses, and further increase the use of fertility control as a management tool.
U.S. Department of Commerce
DOC has done good things for shark conservation this year, including a proposed rule by the National Marine Fisheries Service which aims to implement the Shark Conservation Act. The aim of these proposed rules is to promote sustainable management on an international level, and these regulations would further strengthen U.S. leadership in increasing shark conservation and addressing shark finning on a global scale.
Unfortunately, the NMFS has still failed to promulgate revisions to the critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales. The agency made promises to revise the critical habitat for this deeply imperiled species by the beginning of 2011. A year later, however, the conservation community is still waiting for this vital change.
There are a number of other federal agencies that took actions on animal welfare in 2012, including the U.S. Department of Transportation issuing a proposed rule to expand the animal reporting requirements by air carriers, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection forcing a New York-based company to stop selling products made of domestic dog fur. These are a few highlights from the year. For a comprehensive review by agency, see the Obama Administration Mid-Year Animal Protection Review for 2012.
More Action Needed
In reviewing the Obama administration’s work to protect animals over the past four years, common themes have emerged. On the positive side, agency officials have stepped up the enforcement of animal welfare laws and demonstrated a willingness to examine key policy issues. The agencies are also working to be more transparent and are posting enforcement actions online, which is a service to the public and to all stakeholders. There are several proposed rules in the pipeline, such as the rule to crack down on unlicensed puppy mills, which hopefully will become final soon. Progress has been made on key issues ranging from wild horses to chimpanzees in research, although more needs to be done on these subjects.
On the negative side, there have been significant delays in agency action on some issues, such as the rules to protect downer veal calves and designate critical habitat for North Atlantic right whales. There have also been no reform of programs that have long been a concern for animal advocates, such as the taxpayer giveaways to the pork industry and the continued use of poisons to kill wildlife as a subsidy for private livestock ranchers. And there have been hostile actions, such as the de-listing of wolves, which will lead to more unnecessary destruction of these keystone predators.
On balance, the Obama administration has prioritized some animal protection issues and has an opportunity to continue these efforts over the next few months and achieve even more for animals. We continue to encourage President Obama to publicly show his support for animal protection administrative actions. We will issue a final grade for 2012 at the end of the year, and hope the administration will take action before then on several outstanding high-priority actions for animals. These include:
- Finalize and issue the puppy mill retail rule and puppy mill import rule
- Close the loophole on downer veal calves
- Increase fertility control and decrease round-ups for wild horses
- Grant petition to declare horsemeat as condemned or unqualified for human consumption
- Phase out the use of predator poisons Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide
- Issue the critical habitat rule revisions for North Atlantic right whales
- List captive chimpanzees as an endangered species and phase out invasive experiments on chimps
Our supporters are fundamental to our success, and we hope you join us and echo this call to action by contacting the administration and urging them to get these critical animal protection efforts over the finish line.