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Friday, January 04, 2013

The 2012 Congressional Year in Review for Animals

As the 113th Congress convenes this week, we take a look back at the 112th Congress that just concluded and look forward to the challenges ahead. The 112th—which covered the two years beginning January 2011—was characterized by gridlock, partisan divides, and delay until the last minute. As Jonathan Allen wrote in Politico, the legacy of the 112th Congress is unfinished business: “This Congress will leave town having enacted fewer laws than any since 1947, when such statistics were first kept.” Its inability to resolve large issues extended to much of the “small stuff” also—leaving some priority animal protection bills hanging at the end, though they had tremendous bipartisan support and were poised to get over the finish line.

Unfinished Business

Animal fightingAnimal Fighting Spectators: A case in point is S. 1947/H.R. 2492, legislation to fill a gap in the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an organized animal fight. Spectators are more than mere observers; they make animal fighting profitable, fueling the industry with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and they help conceal organizers and handlers who try to blend into the crowd when a bust occurs. The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act—introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Scott Brown, R-Mass., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio—earned the endorsement of nearly 300 national, state, and local law enforcement agencies covering all 50 states, and would cost taxpayers nothing, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate passed this reform twice—first during debate on the Farm Bill in June, when it was incorporated into an amendment offered by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and approved by a vote of 88 to 11, and second on its own, when it passed by voice vote in December. The House Agriculture Committee also approved the legislation by a vote of 26 to 19, when Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., offered it as an amendment to the Farm Bill in July. But the House and Senate didn’t reach agreement on a final Farm Bill. And House leaders failed to allow a floor vote on the free-standing animal fighting bill, even though it had 228 House cosponsors (more than half of the House). We hope to get this policy done soon in 2013, either on its own or as part of the Farm Bill.

Chimpanzees in Research Laboratories: S. 810/H.R. 1513, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act introduced by Sens. Cantwell, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Dave Reichert, R-Wash., Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Ed Towns, D-N.Y., won approval by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, had 18 Senate and 177 House cosponsors, and was primed for final action, but did not get unanimous consent in time. This legislation would phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research, retire the approximately 500 federally-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary, and halt breeding of chimpanzees, which could be resumed in the future only if the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine formally recommends that breeding is necessary. Chimpanzees have proven to be poor research models for human diseases, so at any given time, about 80 to 90 percent of chimps in U.S. labs are not used in research, but simply warehoused in barren and costly laboratory cages at taxpayer expense. It’s much less expensive to care for chimpanzees at sanctuaries (where they live with other chimps in a natural setting) than to warehouse them in labs. Following a December 2011 report by the IOM, which could not identify a single area of biomedical research for which chimpanzees are necessary, the bill was updated to incorporate the IOM recommendations, with significant help by House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif. While it did not get enacted, progress on this legislation helped spur action by the National Institutes of Health, which announced plans to retire more than 110 chimpanzees (the full population of government-owned chimps at the New Iberia Research Center, a lab that The HSUS investigated and exposed in 2009) to Chimp Haven, the federal chimpanzee sanctuary, in the coming months.

Eggs and Hen Housing: S. 3239/H.R. 3798 had a hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee and got the bipartisan support of 20 Senate and 154 House cosponsors, but there was not an opportunity to pursue this as a floor amendment when House leadership failed to bring up the Farm Bill for consideration by the full House. As part of the “fiscal cliff” package, Congress set a September 2013 deadline for resolution of a new Farm Bill, so we hope to have an opportunity for a House vote on the reintroduced legislation. The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments would phase out barren battery cages for all 280 million laying hens in the U.S., provide them with nearly twice as much space and enrichments such as nest boxes and perches, mandate labels on egg cartons to inform consumers about how the eggs were produced, and make other needed reforms jointly advocated by The HSUS and the United Egg Producers, which represents about 90 percent of the egg industry in this country. The legislation would establish a uniform, mandatory national standard to ensure a level playing field for all producers and certainty about what will be required in the coming years, so they can make the necessary investments in their businesses. Farms with fewer than 3,000 laying hens, as well as cage-free and free-range systems, would be unaffected by the legislation, except that the latter might enjoy increased sales as consumers gain access to clearer labels. Introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Jeff Denham, R-Calif., this legislation has been endorsed by leading consumer organizations and veterinary groups, as well as more than 1,000 family farms.

Anti-Animal Legislation Blocked

With the general gridlock in Congress and the stalling of major legislative action, there were some positive outcomes as anti-animal legislation also didn’t get over the finish line, including:

Polarbear“Sportsmen’s” Acts: S. 3525/H.R. 4089 were wish-list packages for the gun lobby, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-FL, respectively, which contained several harmful wildlife provisions. In the House bill, we were most concerned about sections that would allow importation of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada, even though polar bears are listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act; that would open nearly all federal public lands to sport hunting; and that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect the public and environment from toxic lead through ammunition exposure. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., offered an amendment to strike the harmful polar bear language, which would encourage reckless killing of imperiled species in the future, and Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., offered an amendment to spare national parks from the bill’s pro-hunting requirements except for park units that already allow hunting. Both amendments were defeated and the bill passed the House by a vote of 274 to 146 in April. The Senate bill also contained anti-animal provisions including those on polar bear trophy imports and toxic lead ammunition. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Scott Brown filed an amendment to strike the polar bear language, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., offered an amendment on the lead ammunition provision, but Senate leadership did not allow votes on amendments. The Senate took a series of procedural votes in September and November, and the bill stalled on budget grounds because a portion of its costs had not been offset by corresponding spending cuts. While supporters of the bill hammered out a deal to address the budget problem, the clock ran out and the Senate did not try to take up the bill again, perhaps because it would have been viewed as a sop to the gun lobby in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

King Amendment to the Farm Bill: In July, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, got the House Agriculture Committee to approve a sweeping amendment that aimed to negate most state and local laws regarding the production or manufacture of agriculture products. Passed late at night by voice vote during a lengthy committee markup on the Farm Bill, the King amendment sought to block state laws protecting farm animals in a way that could also preempt a wide swath of laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish—a radical federal assault on the historic power of states to protect the health and welfare of their own citizens, as well as to address animal cruelty such as from intensive confinement at factory farms, horse slaughter, or shark finning. Sen. Feinstein mobilized opposition to this amendment, leading a letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee leadership co-signed by 15 of her fellow Senators urging rejection of the provision in a final Farm Bill or any other vehicle. It was not included in the “fiscal cliff” package, and we will remain watchful in the new Congress.

Positive Outcomes for Animals

There were some bright spots for animals in the 112th Congress, including in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. The final House-Senate compromise on H.R. 4310 contained two provisions that will help animals:

  • Requiring a report by the Secretary of Defense to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees by March 1, 2013 on strategy and timeline for refining and, when appropriate, transitioning from the use of live animals in medical training of personnel for treatment of combat trauma injuries. This language, related to the BEST Practices Act (H.R. 1417/S. 3418) that Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced, was incorporated into the House Defense bill during committee markup at the request of Reps. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., and Bartlett.
  • Facilitating the transfer for adoption of retired military working dogs, and authorizing the Secretary of Defense to establish and maintain a system for veterinary care of such dogs, albeit with no federal funding.  This provision is modified from the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act, H.R. 4103/S. 2134, introduced by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Sen. Blumenthal, and shepherded through the Defense bill by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., and Sen. Blumenthal.
  • The final House-Senate Defense bill also left out a harmful provision that had been in the earlier House-passed version of H.R. 4310. This provision pushed by Rep. Jeff Miller (like the one in H.R. 4089) sought to block EPA from protecting wildlife and the public from the hazards of lead in bullets and other ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Additionally despite intense budget pressures and a focus on deficit reduction, we were able to mobilize broad bipartisan support for needed animal welfare funding. For FY 2012, Congress actually agreed to record-level boosts in some key programs:

  • Almost a 20 percent jump (more than $5 million increase) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual budget to strengthen inspections and enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act at about 12,000 sites, including puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other facilities. This was on top of $4 million in reprogrammed FY 2011 funds approved in October 2011 by Agriculture Appropriations leaders—Reps. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and Farr, and Sens. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo.—specifically to improve oversight at puppy mills. A bipartisan group of 125 representatives and 34 senators—led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Sens. Boxer and Vitter—joined in seeking the FY 2012 boost for the Animal Welfare Act, along with funding for other key animal welfare programs. 
  • A nearly 40 percent jump ($196,000 increase) for USDA’s enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, which had been stuck at the woefully inadequate ceiling of $500,000 since 1976. These funds have helped USDA crack down on the cruel and illegal practice of “soring” show horses, the intentional use of caustic chemicals and sharp objects on horses’ hooves and legs to make it painful for them to step down and give them an artificial, high-stepping gait in show competitions—in other words, deliberate infliction of severe pain in order to cheat and win prizes. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Reps. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., championed this funding request.
  • A 17 percent jump ($2.32 million increase) for USDA’s Investigative and Enforcement Services, which does follow-up work on a range of cases including those under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. All of the FY 2012 increase was dedicated to animal welfare activities.
  • Maintaining $4.8 million (same as previous year) for the veterinary student loan program that helps ease the shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural communities and in government positions (such as those overseeing humane slaughter and Animal Welfare Act rules), by repaying student debt for those who choose to practice in one of these underserved areas.
  • At least $20 million to help ensure implementation of labor and environmental provisions—including for wildlife protection programs—under free trade agreements with countries of Central America, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. 
  • An allocation of $4 million to study and combat white-nose bat syndrome, a lethal disease that has had a devastating impact on millions of bats in North America.
HorseFor FY 2013, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees took action, but the full Congress did not finish work on the funding bills. Instead, a continuing resolution was passed to keep the federal government operating at the FY 2012 levels until March 2013, by which time Congress will need to resolve funding for the balance of the fiscal year. Though it’s too soon to say what the final outcomes will be, we’re heartened that the committees held the line against cuts in most of these programs. We thank our champions, Reps. Blumenauer and Smith and Sens. Boxer and Vitter, for again mobilizing a strong bipartisan showing of support for these funds—150 representatives and 35 senators co-signed letters seeking the FY 2013 animal welfare funding.

We also commend the committees for including helpful report language for FY 2012 and FY 2013 guiding the federal agencies and expressing concern about a number of important issues:
  • Pet Theft for Research: directing the National Institutes of Health to expedite its phase-out of Class B dealer-acquired animals in research (such dealers obtain animals through random sources, which can include theft of family pets and fraudulent response to “free to good home” ads). Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, played the key role on this. In 2012, NIH announced a ban on the acquisition of cats from Class B random source dealers. The Senate report language for FY 2013 praises that action and urges NIH to follow suit for dogs by no later than 2015 and to provide an update on this matter to the committee early in 2013.
  • Alternatives Development: encouraging the NIH and EPA to increase their financial support and commitment to the development of non-animal approaches to chemical risk assessment and drug testing. Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and Sen. Harkin championed these efforts.
  • Humane Slaughter: directing USDA to ensure that funds intended to strengthen oversight of humane handling rules are being used that way.
  • Animal Fighting: expressing strong concern and urging USDA to work with relevant agencies to investigate and enforce federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting.
  • Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture: urging the Food and Drug Administration to take several specific actions to move forward on addressing the overuse of antibiotics in livestock for non-therapeutic purposes, a common practice that allows animals to be kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions on industrial factory farms. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Sen. Feinstein led efforts on this. 

Looking Ahead

Besides the expected reintroductions of priority bills on animal fighting, chimpanzees in research, and hen housing, as well as continued vigilance regarding attempts to revive the Sportsmen’s Act and King amendment, we look forward to renewed efforts in the 113th Congress on other animal protection issues, including:

Horses

  • Horse Soring: To crack down on the cruel practice of inflicting pain on show horses’ legs and hooves in order to win prizes, which is already illegal under the Horse Protection Act, by amending the law to end the failed industry self-policing system, establish felony penalties, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and make other needed reforms. Introduced in September 2012 by Reps. Whitfield and Cohen, H.R. 6388 garnered 57 cosponsors and has been endorsed by major veterinary and animal protection organizations, as well as numerous horse industry groups. Its introduction followed an HSUS undercover expose revealing the abhorrent practices of a top prize-winner, and a USDA Inspector General audit criticizing the current enforcement regime and recommending these reforms.
  • Horse Slaughter: To prohibit interstate commerce in horses for slaughter for human consumption. H.R. 2966/S. 1176, introduced by Reps. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had 166 House and 27 Senate cosponsors. In both 2011 and 2012, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., won approval in the House Appropriations Committee to renew language barring USDA from conducting inspections at or approving meat from horse slaughter plants. In 2011, the final House-Senate appropriations conference agreement stripped out this “defund” language. In 2012, Congress pushed the final appropriations process off till a March 2013 deadline, so the defund awaits resolution then.
  • Horse Racing: To prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horseracing, which jeopardizes the health and safety of both horses and jockeys, creates an unfair playing field, and corrupts the integrity of the sport. Rep. Whitfield and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. introduced H.R. 1733/S. 886, and committees in the House and Senate held hearings on this issue.
  • Wild Horses: In 2011, the House approved a $2 million cut in Bureau of Land Management funding for wild horse and burro management, offered as an amendment to H.R. 1 (a continuing resolution to fund the government through FY 2011) by Rep. Burton. The purpose of the cut was to call attention to serious problems in the BLM’s current management program of round-ups and long-term holding in federally-financed pens, and the availability of a more fiscally-responsible alternative approach involving humane fertility control (immunocontraception) on the range. While H.R. 1 was ultimately defeated in the Senate, the House action helped spur BLM—a week after the Burton amendment’s approval—to announce its intention to overhaul its wild horse and burro management and modestly increase plans for using immunocontraception. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., led a group letter (co-signed by 64 other representatives) to the Department of Interior opposing a planned round-up to spay and geld wild horses; the letter noted that immunocontraception is more humane, and BLM subsequently cancelled its spay/geld plan, instead using immunocontraception. We will continue pushing to overhaul the BLM’s current system with a more humane, effective program that could save taxpayers $180 million over ten years.

Pets

  • Puppy Mills: To close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act regulations by requiring that large commercial breeders who sell 50 or more puppies per year directly to consumers via the Internet or other means be licensed and inspected; and to require that dogs used for breeding at commercial breeding facilities be provided the opportunity to exercise daily. H.R. 835/S. 707, introduced by Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Farr, Bill Young, R-Fla., and Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Vitter, garnered 216 House and 33 Senate cosponsors. Although the legislation did not advance, the broad bipartisan support for it helped spur action by the USDA, which proposed new regulations to provide AWA oversight to large-scale operations selling directly to the public. The USDA rule is still pending and will hopefully be finalized in 2013, obviating the need for congressional action.
  • Veterans Dog Training Therapy: To create a pilot program for training dogs, including shelter dogs, as a form of therapy to help treat combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-deployment mental health conditions, and then have the animals become service dogs for veterans with disabilities. H.R. 198, introduced by Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., was unanimously approved as part of a package (H.R. 2074) of veterans’ health care bills. The package stalled in the Senate and did not receive final action. S. 1838, introduced by Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and John Boozman, R-Ark., had a committee hearing, but did not get considered by the full Senate.
  • Humane Euthanasia at Animal Shelters: Reps. Moran and Lou Barletta, R-Pa., each introduced resolutions (H.Res. 736 and H.Res. 761, respectively) to express opposition to the use of gas chambers to euthanize shelter animals and encourage more humane euthanasia methods.

Wildlife

  • Large Constrictor Snakes: In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to list nine invasive species of dangerous giant snakes as “injurious” under the Lacey Act, which would ban their import into the U.S. or transportation between states. These snakes, sold for the pet trade, jeopardize public safety, animal welfare, and fragile ecosystems—pet snakes have killed children and adults, and those that have escaped or been abandoned have nearly annihilated certain prey populations in the Everglades. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Reps. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., Bill Young, Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Gregorio Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., mobilized letters urging the White House to finalize the rule, and were joined by 17 other representatives. In January 2012, the Obama Administration announced that only four of the identified snake species would be prohibited, leaving unchecked the commercial trade in five other species, including boa constrictor, python, and anaconda species. Rep. Rooney introduced H.R. 511 to prohibit importation and interstate transport of all nine snake species. Approved by voice vote in February 2012 by the Judiciary Committee, the bill did not receive final action in the House.
  • Captive Primates: S. 1324/H.R. 4306, introduced by Sens. Boxer, Vitter, and Blumenthal, and Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. and Blumenauer, would prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the pet trade. The Senate bill was approved by voice vote in committee, but the legislation did not get further consideration. The release of dozens of exotic animals including primates from a private menagerie in Ohio—which led to panic in the community and nearly all the animals being shot to death— highlighted the urgency for this legislation, reminding the nation about the out-of-control exotic pet industry that puts animals and people at risk every day.
  • Lethal Predator Control: In 2011, the House defeated an amendment offered by Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Peters to cut $11 million from the “Wildlife Services” account for lethal predator control, a needless subsidy for private livestock ranchers. This USDA program routinely uses tax dollars to poison wildlife, shoot them from helicopters, and use other costly, cruel and indiscriminate methods that also kill pets and endangered species—and that don’t work effectively, since other predators move into the vacant territory. According to USDA, less than 1 percent of livestock are killed by predators. Non-lethal, cost-effective and humane control methods are available, yet the federal government continues to waste millions of tax dollars on inhumane killing methods. As the 113th Congress focuses on potential spending cuts, this program should be on the table. Reps. Campbell and DeFazio also introduced H.R. 4214 to end the use of two particularly lethal poisons commonly employed by Wildlife Services that pose a national security risk and are devastating to pets and others unintentionally exposed, and they sent a joint letter to USDA’s Inspector General calling for a thorough investigation of the program, particularly in light of the Internet posting of gruesome photos by a Wildlife Services employee. Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., also introduced H.Res. 6308 to require USDA to make available to the public on the Internet annual reports on the animals killed by this program.   
  • Bird-Safe Buildings: Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., introduced H.R. 1643 to require, where practicable, that federal agencies incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features into new and existing public buildings, and address the impacts of interior and exterior lighting on native bird species.
  • Big Cats: Introduced by Reps. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and Sen. Kerry, H.R. 4122/S. 3547 would prohibit private possession of tigers and other big cats except by professionally trained individuals at facilities such as accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, and also require persons who currently own big cats to register those animals with the USDA.

Animals in Research

  • Alternatives Development: Given the anticipated attention to spending cuts, the 113th Congress should certainly give serious consideration to the potential savings of at least $500 million over 10 years from curtailing extravagant and unnecessary testing on animals. For one-fifth the cost of a multi-year carcinogenicity study on animals, the NIH Chemical Genomics Center has reported that it can screen up to 1,000 chemicals in 200 different robot-automated cell or gene tests in as little as two weeks. Our nation’s leading science advisors have called for a wholesale paradigm shift away from classical animal tests toward molecular, cellular, and computational tools. Although these tools cannot yet fully replace conventional test methods, many authorities—including federal agencies—believe they hold the key to cheaper, faster, and more human-relevant safety testing for the 21st century.

Farm Animals

  • Antibiotic Overuse on Factory Farms: Rep. Slaughter and Sens. Feinstein and Collins introduced H.R. 965/S. 1211 to phase out the routine non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals—a common practice to promote growth and compensate for overcrowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions on factory farms—in order to maintain the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating sick people and animals. More than 430 organizations across a broad spectrum—representing agricultural, health, environmental, animal protection, hunger, labor, religious, and other concerns—are endorsing this legislation. The expected reauthorization in 2013 of the Animal Drug User Fee Act will also provide an opportunity to strengthen requirements for collection of data on antibiotic use in animal agriculture.
  • Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection: H.R. 3704, introduced by Reps. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., and Peter King, R-N.Y., would codify the USDA ban on the slaughter of downed cattle (those too sick or injured to stand and walk on their own) and strengthen it to cover other species, as well as downed calves, and ensure immediate humane euthanasia and application to livestock auctions and markets.

In sum, although there were some victories, particularly on the funding front, the 112th Congress left a good deal of unfinished business for animal protection. That presents an opportunity for us to redouble our efforts and work harder than ever to advocate for needed reforms. We hope you’ll join us, and urge your members of Congress to take action on these critical animal protection policies as they begin the new year and the new session.

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