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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Appropriators Team Up to Help Animals

The Senate and House Appropriations Committees have each produced their agriculture spending bills for Fiscal Year 2015, and both bills contain good news for animals. While the House and Senate will need to reconcile their differences to arrive at a final package, they’re in close agreement on the key items affecting animal welfare.

Horse Slaughter

First, both committees approved amendments to bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from resuming inspections at horse slaughter plants in the United States. The Senate amendment, offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was approved by a bipartisan vote of 18-12, and the identical House amendment, offered by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., with the vocal support of Subcommittee Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Mike Quigley, D-Ill., won by a bipartisan vote of 28-22.

Horse Entering Salughter Chute
Horse entering chute at a Mexican slaughter plant

These provisions will prevent the opening of horse slaughter plants in this country and ensure that our tax dollars are not used to support the cruel and predatory practice of rounding up random-source horses for food exports. A similar spending prohibition was enacted each year beginning in 2005, but was not renewed in 2011 or 2012, leading some horse slaughter profiteers to initiate plans to open plants in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico. Fortunately, in January 2014, Congress restored the prohibition for the current fiscal year—sidelining the horse slaughterers’ plans. 

The action by both committees now sets the stage for Congress to continue this crucial moratorium, while we redouble efforts to gain passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which will permanently bar horse slaughter in this country for human consumption, and also prevent the live export of U.S. horses to Canada and Mexico for the purpose of slaughter. We don’t set up dog and cat slaughter plants in this country to deal with the homeless pet problem just because some countries consume dog and cat meat, and we shouldn’t allow it for horses either.

Animal Welfare Funding

In addition to the positive outcomes on the horse slaughter provision, animals fared well on funding for enforcement of critical animal welfare laws in both the Senate and House committee bills. As these items are in general agreement, they’re well positioned to be retained in the final measure sent to President Obama for his signature.

Thanks to the strong leadership of Senate Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Ranking Member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and House Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Farr, funding for USDA to enforce and implement key animal welfare laws was sustained and even modestly increased in some cases. In such a tough budget climate with so many programs competing for finite dollars, we are pleased that lawmakers understand it’s possible to achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts such as these have the funds they need. 

Here’s a rundown of what the Senate and House committee bills provide for key programs:

  • Horse Protection Act: $705,000 in the Senate bill / $697,000 in the House bill for USDA enforcement to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds  (deliberately inflicting severe pain and cooking chemicals into the horses’ legs and feet to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes). This is the first time the House bill included more than $500,000 for enforcement of this law. The current funding level is $697,000.
  • Animal Welfare Act: $28,222,000 in the Senate bill / $28,010,000 in the House bill for USDA enforcement of the important law that sets basic standards for care of animals at more than 10,000 sites across the country—including puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling circuses, and airlines. Current funding is $28,010,000.
  • Investigative and Enforcement Services: $16,362,000 in the Senate bill / $16,224,000 in the House bill for this USDA division whose responsibilities include investigation of inspectors’ findings regarding alleged violations of the AWA and HPA and the initiation of follow-up enforcement actions. Current funding is $16,224,000.
  • Office of Inspector General: $97,240,000 in the Senate bill / $97,020,000 in the House bill for this office that handles many areas including investigations and audits of USDA’s enforcement efforts to improve compliance with the AWA, HPA, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and regulations to protect downed animals. The Senate committee report specifically urges the OIG to address animal fighting violations under the AWA, in coordination with state and local law enforcement. Current funding is $89,902,000.
  • Humane Slaughter: Helpful committee report language accompanying the Senate and House bills, directing the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that funds provided for Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforcement will be focused on overseeing compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas. Similar language was included last year for FY14 Agriculture Appropriations.
  • Veterinary Student Loan Repayment: $4,790,000 in the Senate bill / $5,000,000 in the House bill for this program that helps to ease the shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural communities and in government positions (such as those overseeing humane slaughter, AWA, and HPA rules), by repaying student debt for those who choose to practice in one of these underserved areas. Current funding is $4,790,000.

Without adequate funding for enforcement, the laws and rules we work to enact are mostly just exhortations. Having legislators seek that funding is crucial, especially when there are such strong competing budget pressures. We are so grateful to Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., for again leading the way, mobilizing the broad bipartisan support of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives this year who signed letters to the Senate and House committees requesting these funds. Their collective efforts set the stage for positive committee action, which in turn has put us in a strong position for good outcomes in the House-Senate negotiations.

This is only the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily working to build the enforcement budgets for these and doing this work provides a critical service to the broader movement to protect all animals. Over the past 16 years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the AWA by 205 percent (a cumulative total of more than $138 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 126 AWA inspectors, compared to about 60 during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of facilities with animals under their care. This modest investment in lobbying by The HSUS, HSLF, and citizen advocates is multiplied many times over and translates into millions of dollars toward animal welfare and a real impact on the ground.

Tennessee Walking Horse
Walking horse at a competition in Shelbyville, Tenn.

We will continue to watch the appropriations process closely and press for inclusion of the horse slaughter provision and the highest possible funding levels when the House and Senate reach agreement on the final legislation. Proper enforcement of these laws not only helps animals but benefits people, too—for example, by protecting consumers from disreputable puppy mills and from mishandling of pets on airlines, reducing food safety risks associated with poor management at slaughter plants, reducing the risk of dangerous encounters with wild animals in exhibitions, and reducing the risk of bird flu transmission via cockfighting. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and doing right by them is good policy for all of us.

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