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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The 2013 Congressional Year in Review for Animals

Congress returns to Washington today to convene the second session of the 113th Congress, and it’s a good time to take stock of what was achieved in 2013 and the pathway for animals in the New Year. In terms of general lawmaking, the 113th Congress has been known for inaction and partisan gridlock. It passed fewer laws in its first year—65—than any single session on record. Yet despite the dysfunction in Washington, we’ve made real progress on key animal protection 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—such as protecting horses from "soring" cruelty, doping, and slaughter, and fortifying the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting—which are teed up for action in 2014. As we look back on 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 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. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., led this effort.  
 
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 Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has led the charge in the Senate to keep this out of the final bill. Opponents were denied the opportunity to have a floor vote on an amendment led by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., 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—led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Schrader, and Gary Peters, D-Mich.—as well as 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, the Tulsa World, the Denver Post, 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, S. 666/H.R. 366, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jim Moran, D-Va.—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, thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. For the House, related language was approved as an amendment offered by Rep. McGovern 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 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 at the behest of Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and the late Bill Young, R-Fla., and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The horse slaughter defund 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, and ultimately seeking to pass the free-standing Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, S. 541/H.R. 1094, sponsored by Sens. Landrieu and Graham and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., to provide a more lasting and comprehensive solution.   
 
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. Over the past several years, Congress has recognized the need to boost 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. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., marshaled the bipartisan support of 34 Senators and 164 Representatives on joint letters calling for these funds, and the subcommittee leadership—Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Ranking Member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif.—responded to their colleagues’ appeals.
 
Horse soringHorse Soring:  The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) ActH.R. 1518/S. 1406, championed by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va.—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, attaching excessively “weighted” shoes, 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, S. 973/H.R. 2012, led by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., 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.

 
Other Pending Animal Protection Efforts Include:

Pets

  • Puppy Mills: Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Sam Farr, D-Calif., the late Bill Young, R-Fla., and Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced H.R. 847/S. 395 to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act regulations by requiring that large-scale commercial dog breeders who sell 50 or more puppies per year directly to consumers via the Internet or other means be licensed and inspected, as breeders who sell to pet stores already are; and to require that breeding dogs at commercial facilities be allowed to exercise daily. The broad bipartisan support for this legislation helped spur the USDA to finalize regulations in September to extend federal oversight to thousands of puppy mills that do business online.
  • Pets on Trains: Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced H.R. 2066/S. 1710 to require Amtrak to propose a pet policy that allows passengers to transport cats and dogs on certain Amtrak trains.
  • Veterans Dog Training Therapy: Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., introduced H.R. 183 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.
  • Wounded Warrior Service Dogs: Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 2847 to require the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to jointly establish a K-9 Companion Corps Program that will award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations to assist them in the planning, designing, establishing, and operating of programs that provide assistance dogs to covered military members and veterans.  
  • National Animal Rescue Day/Winslow’s Day: Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., introduced H. Res. 63 to create awareness for animal rescue programs throughout the year and address the challenge of overpopulation through continued spaying and neutering.
  • Euthanasia Methods at Shelters: Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Lou Barletta, R-Pa., introduced H. Res. 208/H. Res. 433, respectively, to voice opposition to the use of inhumane and dangerous gas chambers to euthanize shelter animals and express support for state laws that require the use of more humane euthanasia methods.


Equine

  • Horse Transport:  Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., introduced S. 1459 to prohibit and establish penalties for the transport of horses in interstate transportation in a motor vehicle containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another (except a vehicle operated exclusively on rail or rails).
  • Horse Therapy: Reps. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced H.R. 1705 to expand the Department of  Defense managed health care program for military beneficiaries to include coverage of rehabilitative therapeutic exercises that utilize horses.


Farm Animals

  • Eggs/Hen Housing: Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 1731/S. 820 to provide a uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens, phased in over a period of 15-16 years, that will significantly improve animal welfare and provide a stable future for egg farmers.
  • Non-Therapeutic Use of Antibiotics: Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 1150/S. 1256 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.
  • Antimicrobial Data Collection: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., introduced S. 895/H.R. 820 to require the Food and Drug Administration to improve both the collection and public reporting of information on how antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs are used in food animal production.


Animals in Research

  • Alternatives Development in Research and Testing:  Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, included report language for the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to prioritize federal funding for non-animal methods in the BRAIN initiative and through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
  • Alternatives to Live Animal Use in Military Training: Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced the Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act, H.R. 3172/S. 1550, to require the Secretary of Defense to employ alternative methods that are more effective and humane than live animal use for training members of the Armed Forces in the treatment of severe injuries.
  • Class B Dealers: Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., introduced the Pet Safety and Protection Act, H.R. 2224, to prohibit the use in research of dogs and cats obtained through Class B dealers from random sources such as pet theft and free-to-good home ads.


Wildlife

  • Shark Finning: Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and Sam Farr, D-Calif., introduced H. Res. 285 to raise awareness of the dangers of shark finning and express the view of Congress that, in order to even the playing field for U.S. fishermen and prevent the overfishing of sharks on a global scale, the U.S. should end the importation of shark fins from foreign fisheries that practice shark finning. These lawmakers, with Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., mobilized letters co-signed by more than 70 representatives and senators calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service to reverse its interpretation of the Shark Conservation Act that may preempt state laws barring the trade in shark fin products. The Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also pressed the agency to rethink its position.
  • Captive Primates: Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced H.R. 2856/S. 1463 to prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade. This would extend to dangerous primates such as chimpanzees, who can be easily purchased over the Internet and from out-of-state dealers, the protections afforded by Congress to big cats in the Captive Wildlife Safety Act of 2003.
  • Primate Imports for Sanctuary: Reps. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced H.R. 3556 to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a rule allowing the importation of primates for the purpose of placement of abused, injured, or abandoned primates in certified animal sanctuaries.
  • Big Cats and Public Safety: Reps. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced H.R. 1998/S. 1381 to better address the exotic pet trade by limiting the breeding of lions, tigers, and other big cats to accredited zoos, and preventing unqualified individuals and facilities from possessing these dangerous predators, who suffer from being kept in abusive and unsafe conditions and threaten public safety.
  • Corolla Wild Horses: Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced H.R. 126 to direct the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement to provide for management of the free-roaming wild horses in and around the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. The bill passed the House by voice vote on June 3, and is pending in the Senate.
  • Wildlife Services: Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., called on the USDA Office of Inspector General to conduct an audit of the agency’s Wildlife Services lethal predator control program, including its use of poisoning and aerial gunning. The OIG is proceeding with an audit in 2014, which could lead to important recommendations to reform this outdated and mismanaged program. Also, Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 2074 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to submit to Congress, and make available to the public on the Internet, a report on the animals killed under the Wildlife Services program.
  • Refuge from Cruel Trapping: Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., introduced H.R. 3513 to end the use of body-gripping traps in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
  • Dangerous Constrictor Snakes: Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jim Moran, D-Va., urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move swiftly to add five species of dangerous constrictor snakes to the list of injurious species whose trade is banned under the Lacey Act. All five species were identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing a medium or high risk of establishing breeding populations in the United States, jeopardizing native wildlife and pets, as well as human health and safety.


Veterinary Medicine

  • Veterinary Medicine Mobility: Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Angus King, I-Maine, introduced H.R. 1528/S. 950 to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow veterinarians to transport, administer, and dispense controlled substances outside of their registered locations to help ensure that proper care can be provided to patients in rural or remote areas, including pets in disasters, farm animals, and wildlife.
  • Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment: Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., introduced H.R. 1125/S. 553 to amend the Internal Revenue Code to exclude from gross income payments under the federal veterinary medicine loan repayment program or any other state loan repayment or forgiveness program that is intended to provide for increased access to veterinary services in underserved areas.


In sum, the mid-point of a two-year Congress is usually a work in progress. As we take stock of 2013, we celebrate the enactment of the chimpanzee legislation, note the progress that has been made on top-tier issues like animal fighting and horse soring, and redouble our commitment to finish the job for the wide range of 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 for action in 2014.

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