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Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 the Year of Chimps and Horses in Congress

The 113th Congress has had the lowest output, in terms of general lawmaking, since 1947. Yet despite the general dysfunction and partisan gridlock in Washington, we’ve made real progress on our key issues. During the first year of the session, we already had one major bill enacted that facilitates the retirement of hundreds of chimps from barren laboratories to natural sanctuaries, and laid substantial groundwork on a number of other issues, particularly a range of reforms to protect horses from cruelty, doping, and slaughter. As we wind down 2013 and head into the second part of the two-year Congress, we’re poised for significant gains on several priorities.
 
ChimpChimpanzee Sanctuary: A bill that made it over the finish line already in 2013 will help chimpanzees warehoused in barren laboratory cages. We celebrated the decision earlier this year by the National Institutes of Health to retire about 90 percent of the government-owned chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuary—where they can live the rest of their lives in peace—and to significantly scale back funding for chimpanzee research. But there was a hitch that had to be overcome: the law Congress enacted in 2000, establishing the national chimpanzee sanctuary system with a unique public-private partnership, imposed a cumulative ceiling on the funding that NIH could devote to the system. NIH was due to reach that limit in mid-November, which not only jeopardized the retirement of the government-owned chimpanzees in labs today who are slated for transfer to sanctuary, but also funding for the continued care of chimpanzees already living at the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven in Louisiana. This would be terrible for the animals and also for taxpayers, since retirement to sanctuary is less costly than keeping chimpanzees in labs. Fortunately, there was bipartisan support in Congress to solve this problem. On November 14—just under the wire before the cap was reached—the Senate gave final approval to a legislative fix passed by the House of Representatives just days earlier. S. 252 contains provisions amending the 2000 CHIMP Act to allow NIH the flexibility to continue using its existing funds for sanctuary care. Signed into law the day before Thanksgiving, this humane, cost-effective, common sense outcome gave us all something to cheer.
 
King Amendment: As a House-Senate conference committee finalizes its negotiations on the Farm Bill, we await resolution on the destructive provision that was folded into the House bill during committee, with minimal debate, at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642. No similar language is in the Senate Farm Bill, and opponents were denied the opportunity to have a floor vote to strike it during House floor debate. The King amendment could negate most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products. It aims to block state laws protecting farm animals and could also preempt laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes. A broad coalition of 89 organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, religious, and other concerns jointly signed a letter calling for the King Amendment—and any related language—to be kept out of final House-Senate legislation. An even broader list of more than 500 groups, officials, newspapers, and citizens have publicly stated their opposition, including letters by a bipartisan set of 23 Senators and 169 Representatives, the National Conference of State Legislatures, County Executives of America, Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, Mississippi and Arkansas Attorneys General, Iowa Farmers Union, Safe Food Coalition, professors from 13 law schools, and editorials in a number of papers such as USA Today, the Des Moines Register, and the Washington Post. The House-Senate conferees certainly should not include this intensely controversial provision or anything like it if they want to complete action on the Farm Bill early in 2014 as planned.
 
AnimalfightingAnimal Fighting: Both the House and Senate Farm Bills include provisions to strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an organized animal fight. The language of the free-standing animal fighting spectator bill—which enjoys the bipartisan support of 262 cosponsors combined in the Senate and House—was part of the Senate Farm Bill from the beginning, as introduced in the Agriculture Committee. For the House, related language was approved as an amendment during committee with a strong bipartisan vote of 28-17. We are hopeful that the animal fighting provision will be part of the final House-Senate package that may be done in January. This legislation is widely supported by nearly 300 national, state and local law enforcement agencies (covering all 50 states), including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and it would cost taxpayers nothing, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It already won approval in 2012 by the House Agriculture Committee and twice by the full Senate, but final action on the Farm Bill stalled last year. Forty-nine states already have penalties for animal fighting spectators, but we need to sync up the federal and state laws since many of these animal fighting raids are multistate and multijurisdictional. Closing this gap in the legal framework will help law enforcement crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting, including those who finance the activity with admission fees and gambling wagers, provide cover to animal fighters during raids, and expose children to the violence and bloodletting.
 
Horse Slaughter: The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills include identical language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspections at horse slaughter plants, language added during committee markup in both chambers. This provision, requested for the first time by the agency itself in the president’s budget, would reinstate a prohibition that had been in place from 2007 to 2011. It is urgently needed, as some companies are about to open horse slaughter plants in the U.S. It makes no sense for the federal government to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to oversee new horse slaughter plants at a time when Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility. The shocking discovery of horse meat in beef products in Europe underscores the potential threat to American health if horse slaughter plants open here. Moreover, horse slaughter is cruel and cannot be made humane, and the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. Horses are shipped for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water, or rest in crowded trucks in which the animals are often seriously injured or killed in transit. Horses are skittish by nature due to their heightened fight-or-flight response, and the methods used to slaughter them rarely result in quick, painless deaths; they often endure repeated blows during attempts to render them unconscious and sometimes remain alive and kicking during dismemberment. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. We’re pressing to have the horse slaughter provision sustained in the omnibus bill that Congress plans to act on by January 15 to avoid another government shutdown.  
 
Animal Welfare Funding:  The House Agriculture Appropriations bill would restore funds cut last year in some accounts, and the Senate bill would actually provide substantial increases requested in the president’s budget for USDA to enforce and implement key animal-related laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. Final resolution is expected by January 15 as part of the omnibus bill, and we hope the Senate’s higher figures will prevail. We’ve consistently boosted funding for animal welfare enforcement, even in a competitive climate for budget dollars, and it has a real impact for animals on the ground. Today there are 136 inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, and other regulated facilities, more than doubled from just 60 in the 1990s.
 
HorseHorse Soring:  The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act has gained major momentum with the bipartisan support of almost 300 cosponsors in the House and Senate, and a successful hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This legislation boasts a lengthy list of endorsements, including the American Horse Council and 48 other national and state horse groups; the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and veterinary medical associations in all 50 states; many animal protection groups; and others. The PAST Act amends an existing federal law, the Horse Protection Act of 1970, to better rein in the cruel practice of “soring”—in which unscrupulous trainers hurt Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to make it painful for them to step down, so they will display an extreme high-stepping gait that wins prizes at horse shows. Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to “cook” those chemicals deep into the horse’s flesh for days, attaching heavy chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting bolts, screws or other hard objects into sensitive areas of the hooves, cutting the hooves down to expose the live tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. More than 40 years ago, Congress tried to stop this abuse, but the Horse Protection Act is too weak, and rampant soring continues, according to a 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General that recommended reforms incorporated in the PAST Act. This legislation is not expected to add costs to the federal government; it will simply enable USDA to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient and effective way. The only ones opposing this non-controversial legislation are those who are already breaking federal law, committing heinous cruelty, cheating to win unfair advantage at horse shows, and profiting from it. That subset of the show horse world doesn’t want Congress to alter the status quo. But many others in the show horse world are strongly advocating the PAST Act to deal with morally repugnant behavior that is giving their industry a major black eye, hurting attendance at shows, driving away corporate sponsors, and driving down horse sale prices.
 
Horse Racing:  The House Energy and Commerce Committee also held a compelling hearing on the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle testified in favor of the legislation. A powerful New York Times exposé examined 150,000 horse races from 2009 to 2011, reporting that minimal oversight, inconsistent regulations, and rampant doping of horses has led to a stunning “average of 24 horse deaths on racetracks around the country every week.” According to Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Racing Board, “It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through. In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.” This is tragic for the horses and also often the jockeys, who can suffer serious injuries, paralysis, or death from being thrown. The legislation would ban doping of racehorses, and give the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent body that has helped root out doping in other professional sports, the authority to oversee and enforce the new rules. Rather than having different rules with respect to medicating of horses in every state where tracks operate, there would be a consistent national policy.
 
Taking stock at the mid-point of the 113th Congress, we celebrate the enactment of the chimpanzee legislation, and redouble our commitment to finish the job for these other pressing priorities that are poised for action. The animals are counting on us, and despite the general dysfunction in Washington, there is tremendous potential on many fronts. 

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