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Elections

Friday, April 04, 2014

Foot-in-Mouth Disease Strikes Kentucky Senate candidate

GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin has offered a number of excuses, since news broke that he attended a rally organized to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. He said he’s “never been to a cockfight, don’t condone cockfighting,” but stopped short of saying unequivocally that he opposes animal fighting or that he supports the enforcement of anti-cockfighting laws. Bevin also said he “doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.” But the cockfighters at the event were advocating for the repeal of the state’s anti-cockfighting statute. The point of the rally was to overturn Kentucky’s weak law against cockfighting, so how does Bevin’s invoking states’ rights clarify his participation at the event? 

His latest claim is that animal fighting is an American tradition. “But it’s interesting when you look at cockfighting and dogfighting as well,” Bevin told Louisville’s WHAS News Radio. “This isn’t something new, it wasn’t invented in Kentucky, for example. I mean the Founding Fathers were all many of them very actively involved in this and always have been. These are things that are part of a tradition and a heritage that go back for hundreds of years and were very integral early on in this country. ”

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Photo by KRGV

Very integral?  Hardly.  While the cockfighters would have us believe there were fighting pits at Mount Vernon and Monticello, there is no historical evidence to support claims that the Founding Fathers were involved in animal fighting. There is evidence, however, that they actively sought to root out the cruelty, which they saw as frivolous and detracting from the seriousness of the Revolutionary War effort. The First Continental Congress passed legislation in 1774 to “discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of games, cock fighting, exhibitions of shows, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments.”

Since that time, all 50 states have banned dogfighting and cockfighting, with dogfighting a felony in all 50 and cockfighting now a felony in 41. The members of the organized criminal network of cockfighters flock to the remaining states, like Kentucky, with anemic misdemeanor penalties, hoping that law enforcement will look the other way. They bring with them the associated activities of drugs, prostitution, and other crimes. It’s an underworld enterprise, and it’s still such a problem that the U.S. Congress has seen fit to upgrade the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, closing loopholes that cockfighters try to sneak through.

State legislatures around the country, too, are working to fortify their animal fighting statutes. Louisiana, the last state in the union to prohibit cockfighting, is now considering a bill to strengthen the law by upgrading the penalties and banning the possession of knives, gaffs, and other cockfighting weapons. It appears that Matt Bevin isn’t the only politician who is confused about cockfighting: Although the legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote, Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, said the bill interferes with “a legitimate sport known as chicken boxing.”

Whether some politicians invoke “chicken boxing,” “states’ rights,” or “American tradition,” these words amount to code for some form of decriminalization, so that cockfighters can still pursue their hobby without penalty.  The fact is, there’s no moral or rational justification for strapping razor-sharp knives and icepick-like gaffs to the legs of birds, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces, just for the entertainment of spectators who gamble on the fights and are titillated by the violence and bloodletting. There’s a difference between “liberty” and “license” and the cockfighters don’t seem to understand it.  Now, in Kentucky, there’s a politician who doesn’t either.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Kentucky’s Bevin Courts Cockfighting Vote

Politicians running for statewide office are known to show up at festivals, parades, county fairs, diners, a variety of commemorations, and even funerals. But it takes a very special kind of candidate to be a featured speaker at a  cockfighting rally, of all places.

That’s what U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin did, when he attended an event Saturday organized to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. Bevin, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s Republican primary, said he didn’t know it was a cockfighting event, and his campaign told the Louisville Courier-Journal it was “a state’s rights rally.”

But it’s hard to imagine anyone accidentally stumbling into a cockfighting meet-up. Even the event’s organizers said there was “never any ambiguity” about why they were rallying, which was to advocate for making cockfighting legal. In fact, here are some of the ads promoting the event, which were circulated through pro-cockfighting Facebook pages and web sites:  Flyerforrally2

Flyerforrally

There’s no hidden purpose here: Organized criminals want to repeal Kentucky’s already weak anti-cockfighting statute. We have plenty of evidence that they are brazenly breaking the law, strapping razor-sharp knives and icepick-like gaffs to the legs of roosters, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces—just so they can shout out bets and be titillated by the violence and bloodletting.

Bevin’s claims about not knowing ring hollow, as he is now parroting the language of anyone who defends animal cruelty but masks their true intent by speaking of “states’ rights.” His campaign spokesperson told the Lexington Herald-Leader his position on cockfighting: “Matt doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.”

The fact is, both the federal government and the states have a big role to play in cracking down on this form of intentional, malicious cruelty to animals. A substantial share of dogfights and cockfights involve interstate transport of the animals and parties from multiple states. There are also instances where due to corruption, lack of resources or lack of interest, local agencies refuse to prosecute large-scale animal fighting rings. Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation was prosecuted by federal authorities when the local commonwealth attorney refused to take action. In the absence of a federal animal fighting law, which Matt Bevin apparently opposes, the Michael Vick case would never have moved forward. 

All 50 states now ban cockfighting, and it’s a felony in 41, though it’s still a misdemeanor in Kentucky. It’s now moved to an underworld enterprise, but it’s still such a problem that the Congress has seen fit to upgrade the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, closing loopholes that cockfighters try to sneak through. The latest upgrade to the federal law—to punish the spectators who finance the fights with their admission fees and gambling wagers and provide cover to animal fighters who blend into the crowds during law enforcement raids—passed the U.S. Senate three times before being folded into the final Farm Bill package.

Bevin’s primary opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, rightly voted for the animal fighting spectatorship amendment that made it into the final Farm Bill. That legislation was cosponsored by dozens of Republicans and Democrats, and endorsed by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and more than 300 individual sheriffs and police departments across the country, as well as veterinary, animal welfare, and other groups. The only people on the other side? Illegal animal fighters.

There’s still a small and active group of cockfighters out there, but most politicians have left them behind, as society itself has done. Now, they are flocking to the remaining few states with weak misdemeanor penalties, like Kentucky, where they hope they can get away with a slap on the wrist, while the window is surely closing upon them. Matt Bevin showed appalling judgment in associating himself with this band of lawbreakers and perpetrators of unspeakable animal cruelty.  He’s brought discredit upon the state of Kentucky, and he should withdraw from the Senate race.

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.

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. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Remembering Rep. Bill Young

This past week the animal protection movement lost a long-serving ally in Congress, with the passing of U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., at age 82. He served 43 years in the House, coming to Washington in 1971 during the Richard Nixon administration, and was the most senior Republican in Congress at the time of his death.

As the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee for six years, Rep. Young consistently supported efforts to boost funding for the adequate enforcement of animal protection laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting statute. During the time of his chairmanship, from 1999 to 2005, annual Animal Welfare Funding increased from $9,175,000 to $17,436,000.

YoungThis year, he joined Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., in sponsoring a bipartisan amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill, to restore the prohibition on funding USDA inspections at horse slaughter plants. The amendment passed the Appropriations Committee by voice vote, and having the former chairman as a leader on the issue was an important factor. If the provision is retained when the final appropriations bill is signed into law, it will block horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil.

Rep. Young also joined Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Lois Capps, D-Calif., as part of a bipartisan quartet sponsoring the Puppy Uniform Protection and Standards (PUPS) Act. The goal of the bill was to bring large-scale commercial dog breeders that sell puppies directly to consumers over the Internet into the federal system of oversight, and have them follow the same rules on licensing, inspections, and standards of animal care that breeders selling to pet stores already have to meet. The USDA finalized a rule this year that achieved the same policy, and the bill by Rep. Young and his colleagues helped provide congressional support for that effort.

Rep. Young cosponsored a wide range of animal protection bills over his long career, on issues such as horse soring, animal fighting, the use of chimpanzees in research, and many more. He called on the White House to ban the import of large constrictor snakes that threaten public safety as well as native wildlife in Florida and other regions, and he testified eloquently against the inhumane treatment of elephants in traveling circuses.

It’s remarkable to think about the transformational change that Rep. Young saw during his time in Washington, even as we reflect upon his crucial role. He served in the years when Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and so many statutes that still stand as some of the nation’s most important federal animal protection policies.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund expresses our thanks to Rep. Young for his career-long concern and advocacy for animal protection, and we offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends, and staff.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How Have Your Lawmakers Scored So Far?

As we close in on the final couple months of 2013, HSLF is posting a preview of our 2013 Humane Scorecard. I hope you will check it out and see how your U.S. senators and U.S. representative have performed so far this year on animal protection issues. If they did well, please thank them; if they have room for improvement, please let them know you’re paying attention and there is still time for them to do better before the final scorecard is wrapped up at the end of the year.

CapitolIn this preliminary report, we evaluate lawmakers’ performance on animal protection issues by scoring a number of key votes, but also their support for adequate funding for the enforcement of animal welfare laws, and their cosponsorship of priority bills. We provided extra credit for legislators who took the lead on an animal protection issue, or who signed a letter opposing the dangerous King amendment in the Farm Bill, because that radical and overreaching provision is such an urgent threat. Building the number of cosponsors on a bill is an important way to show that there is a critical mass of bipartisan support for the policy, and help push the legislation over the finish line. Already in the last few weeks, we’ve seen a dramatic jump in the cosponsor counts for each of these bills, and we need to keep the momentum going with your help.

The bill to crack down on the cruel practice of horse soring has 209 cosponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate; the egg industry reform bill has 141 cosponsors in the House and 15 in the Senate; the animal fighting spectator bill has 211 cosponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate; and the horse slaughter bill has 156 cosponsors in the House and 28 in the Senate. These are impressive numbers, and they show the strength of our cause and our grassroots support.

Please check the scorecard charts and call your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative today. Thank each of them for their support of the bills that they’re already on and urge them to cosponsor any of the four animal protection bills being counted on the 2013 Humane Scorecard that they’re not yet cosponsoring. If they decide to join on before the end of the 2013 session, they’ll receive credit on the final Humane Scorecard published at the end of the year.

You can look up your federal legislators here, and then call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected to each of your legislators. Here are the four animal protection bills whose cosponsors are being counted on the scorecard:

HorseHorse Soring—S. 1406 and H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. Introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.—to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to exaggerate their high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage 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 rein in this abuse by enacting the Horse Protection Act, but rampant soring continues, according to a 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General that recommended reforms incorporated in the PAST Act. The PAST Act will amend the Horse Protection Act to end the failed industry self-policing system, strengthen penalties, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and make the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling it illegal, as well as directing another to do so. This legislation is endorsed by the American Horse Council and more than 30 other national and state horse groups, as well as by the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practioners, and many others. The PAST Act 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.

Eggs and Hen Housing—S. 820 and H.R. 1731, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments. Introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.—to provide for a uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens, phased in over a period of 15-16 years (during the normal course of replacing aged equipment for many producers), which will significantly improve animal welfare and provide a stable and secure future for U.S. egg farmers. The legislation is supported by the egg industry and animal welfare groups, and expressly does not affect any other livestock sector or food product other than eggs. Under this legislation, each laying hen will ultimately be provided nearly double the amount of current space, along with enrichments such as nest boxes and perches that permit hens to better express natural behaviors. Egg farmers will be able to invest in these enriched colony cage systems with the assurance that they will face regulatory certainty and not a patchwork of conflicting state laws—helping industry at no cost to the federal government (the preliminary CBO score on this legislation is zero). Studies have shown higher productivity for hens in enriched colony cage systems—i.e., more eggs and lower hen mortality. An economic study by the independent research group Agralytica concluded that the bill’s reforms are expected to increase consumer prices by less than 1 penny per egg, spread out over the lengthy phase-in period. Consumers support this legislation by a margin of 4-to-1, and it has been endorsed by leading consumer organizations, as well as by the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 1,000 individual family farms across the country, and many others. Cage-free and free-range systems, as well as operations with fewer than 3,000 laying hens, will be unaffected by the legislation, except that they may see increased sales as consumers are able to more clearly distinguish what’s available on store shelves, thanks to the bill’s labeling provisions. View responses to frequently asked questions here.

PitbullAnimal Fighting Spectators—S. 666 and H.R. 366, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. Introduced 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.—to establish misdemeanor penalties for knowingly attending an organized animal fight and felony penalties for knowingly bringing a minor to such a fight. Members also receive credit if they voted in favor of a related amendment, offered by Rep. McGovern during markup of the Farm Bill in the House Agriculture Committee (markup Roll Call #10 to H.R. 1947). While Congress has strengthened federal animal fighting law in recent years, this bill will close a remaining gap: prohibiting spectating and helping take the profit out of animal fighting.  Spectators are more than mere observers at animal fights. They are participants and accomplices who enable the crime, paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling wagers, and helping conceal organizers and handlers who try to blend into the crowd when a raid occurs. 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. The preliminary CBO estimate on this legislation is zero.  Related language is in the House-passed Farm Bill (H.R. 2642), as it was in last year’s House Agriculture Committee bill. This legislation has also been approved three times by the full Senate—in June as part of its Farm Bill (S. 954), and last year as a Farm Bill floor amendment and as free-standing legislation (S. 1947) on a vote of 88-11.

Horse Slaughter—S. 541 and H.R. 1094, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act. Introduced by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.—to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given hundreds of drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested. The shocking discovery of horse meat in beef products in the U.K. underscores the potential threat to American health if horse slaughter plants were to open here. 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 kill horses 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. 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.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

What Does a Government Shutdown Mean for Animals?

Congressional Democrats and Republicans failed to reach agreement last night on continued funding of the federal government, and Washington this morning began the process of temporarily mothballing its programs and services. In a shutdown, “non-essential” federal workers are furloughed, while some “essential” operations continue. Several people have asked how a government shutdown affects animals, either by suspending critical animal welfare functions or providing a temporary reprieve from government killing programs. While some of the details are still emerging, here’s a brief rundown on how the agencies are handling the shutdown and some of the effects that we expect it could have on animals:

Congress2U.S. Department of Agriculture

Under the Animal Welfare Act, USDA is charged with ensuring that minimum standards of care and treatment are provided by regulated entities (approximately 12,000 sites currently), including research facilities, commercial dog breeders and dealers, and exhibitors of exotic animals. Without federal government funding, USDA will not be able to inspect these facilities to ensure humane care or provide enforcement against violators, meaning puppy mills, research labs, roadside zoos, and the like could cut corners and operate recklessly while no one is watching.

The agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued a statement today indicating that “facility inspections and complaint investigations related to the Animal Welfare Act” would not continue during a funding lapse. Additionally, USDA’s website is dark due to the shutdown, which means the public no longer has access to the animal care database to review AWA inspection reports and violations. The agency’s consideration of important rulemaking provisions to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act, such as prohibiting the public contact with tigers and other dangerous wildlife, will grind to a halt.

APHIS also indicated it would no longer provide “assistance for the control of most plant and animal pests and diseases.” We assume that means some activities of the Wildlife Services program, which annually kills tens of thousands of predators on both public and private lands, could cease during the shutdown, providing some relief to wildlife typically targeted through aerial gunning, poisoning, and other inhumane methods. Predominantly coyotes are killed—regardless of whether they cause any harm to livestock or other property—but also wolves, bears, and mountain lions, as well as non-target victims including endangered species and family pets. Some Wildlife Services activities are not subject to congressional appropriations, because they are funded through reimbursable agreements with state or local governments or other third parties, so the trapping and lethal killing may continue.  

Under the Horse Protection Act, USDA is mandated to ensure that Tennessee walking horses are not subjected to the abusive practice of soring—the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves with chemicals or other substances in order to force an artificial, exaggerated gait. Without federal government funding, we expect that USDA oversight and inspection will not be provided at Tennessee walking horse shows, and USDA will not be able to impose penalties upon violators to prevent cruelty to these horses.

Slaughter plants cannot conduct slaughter operations without the presence of USDA inspectors overseeing that food safety and humane handling regulations are followed. USDA has indicated that front-line inspectors have been designated “essential” and will continue working. The Food Safety Inspection Service said it will “ensure adequate senior level management of and coordination of the agency’s public health responsibilities during a shutdown,” which is important for identifying and responding to serious humane handling violations, during which inspectors are supposed to notify upper-management, who make the decision to suspend slaughter plant operations. The shutdown, unfortunately, should mean regulatory staff are not available to finalize proposed rules to improve humane slaughter enforcement, such as closing the loophole on the slaughter of downed veal calves.

Department of the Interior

The Bureau of Land Management stated that it will maintain the “minimum number of employees needed to humanely care for” and feed the 50,000 wild horses in short and long-term holding facilities. Unfortunately, it will cease wild horse and burro adoptions, compounding its current problem of warehousing wild horses and burros at taxpayer expense, and will likely not be able to proceed with the more humane and fiscally responsible short-term round-ups needed for the application of fertility control and release of horses to live on the range.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explained that law enforcement staff will be considered “essential” employees, including federal wildlife officers on the nation’s national wildlife refuges. Patrolling vast amounts of land with scarce resources, these officers are the last line of defense to prevent illegal killing of wildlife. Refuges and other federal lands are being closed to the public, presumably also closed to hunting and trapping and other consumptive use. Furthermore, service employees will no longer be able to work on the listing of imperiled animals under the Endangered Species Act, which means the consideration of potential listings for chimpanzees and African lions will be delayed.

Department of Commerce

The National Marine Fisheries Service has suspended its Dynamic Management Area program which protects endangered right whales from deadly ship strikes. The DMA program notifies ships of the “out of season” presence of right whales and asks that ships observe a 10 knot speed limit when going through the area to prevent deadly ship strikes. The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered, with only a few hundred remaining, and the shutdown removes one of their protections.

Additionally, there will be no federal response for marine mammal strandings except for issues of public health and safety or live animal safety. The government will continue to respond to live animals that need immediate treatment, such as those with life threatening entanglements or beached cetaceans. However, for large whale entanglements the government has stated that significant review of the case may be needed prior to determining whether immediate response, and the use of government resources, is necessary.

Department of Health and Human Services

The National Institutes of Health said it will continue “animal care services to protect the health of NIH animals,” including 1,350,000 mice, 390,000 fish, 63,000 rats and 3,900 primates used in research. NIH also indicated it will “discontinue some veterinary services” and “will not take any actions on grant applications or awards,” which will delay work on developing more efficient and cost-effective methods of using non-animal alternatives in research.

The Food and Drug Administration noted that it “will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities.” The means a delay on important rules to ensure the safety of pet food, in the wake of a number of recalls.

For a number of other agencies—from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Federal Trade Commission to U.S. Customs and Border Protection—it is unlikely that they could initiate any new investigations during the shutdown, potentially hampering efforts to crack down on factory farm pollution, the mislabeling and false advertising of fur products, and even the import of dog fur and cockfighting birds across our borders. We will continue to monitor the developments as the shutdown unfolds, and keep you informed of its impact on animal protection.

Friday, July 19, 2013

One Letter Makes a Difference

Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., in his weekly “Correspondence Corner” video series, took a question from a constituent who emailed him in support of H.R. 847, the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, to crack down on abusive puppy mills. Joined by his special guest, Arbor, a rescue dog adopted by one of his staffers, Rep. Paulsen took the opportunity to answer the question from Dick in Bloomington, and talk about not only his co-sponsorship of the puppy mill legislation, but also his co-sponsorship of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, H.R. 366, to make it a crime to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight. You can watch the video here (the question begins at 1:41).

When Dick took action and sent an email to his congressman, he may not have known whether it would make an impact, or whether he would even get a response. But it’s an example of just how much a single constituent letter really matters. Dick’s email prompted the lawmaker and his staff to focus their attention on animal protection policy issues and to communicate his record of support for bills cracking down on puppy mills and animal fighting to other constituents throughout the district. A single letter not only can spur action by a lawmaker, but also can start a conversation that has a ripple effect and spreads the message to others throughout the community.

So keep writing those letters, making those phone calls, and sending those emails. Find your federal and state lawmakers by typing in your zip code on our web site.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

An Eye on 2014: Anti-Animal Politicians In the Mix

Some of the leading opponents of animal welfare in the U.S. House of Representatives may run for the U.S. Senate in 2014, where if elected they would ostensibly have more power to block common-sense animal protection policies. While Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has not yet made a final announcement about whether he will seek the open seat vacated by five-term Sen. Tom Harkin (a great friend to animal welfare), we do know that Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., was the first to throw his hat in the ring to succeed two-term Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

lion
The African lion Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., hunted and ate,
on display in his congressional office.
photo: Betsy Woodruff, National Review

Broun has one of the most extreme anti-animal voting records in the Congress; time and again he opposes the most modest efforts to prevent cruelty and abuse, and he goes out of his way to attack animal protection. Although he is a medical doctor, he voted twice, in 2008 and 2009, to allow the trade in monkeys, chimpanzees, and other primates as exotic pets, which can injure children and adults and spread deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and herpes-B virus. He voted to allow the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros. Shockingly, he was one of only three lawmakers to vote against legislation in 2010 to ban the trafficking in obscene animal “crush” videos, in which scantily clad women in high heels crush puppies, kittens, and other small animals to death for the sexual titillation of viewers.

Before coming to Congress, Broun was a volunteer lobbyist for Safari Club International, an extremist trophy hunting group that advocates for the killing of threatened and endangered species around the globe and at canned hunts here at home. The organization’s PAC has given more than $15,000 to Broun since 2007, and he has been their point man in the House. His congressional office has so many dead, stuffed animals on display—including an African lion, a bear, and a Dall sheep—that Roll Call described it as “something between a zoo and a pet cemetery.” Broun recently told National Review about his international hunting exploits, saying that he dined on African lion meat: “The lion wasn’t particularly tasty. It was kind of chewy, but I ate it too.”

So it was with enthusiasm that he voted to allow wealthy American trophy hunters to import the heads and hides of threatened polar bears killed for sport in the Arctic, and he voted to allow the carrying of loaded firearms in national parks and open more national park units to sport hunting. Although he claims to be a conservationist, he voted against programs to support the conservation of marine turtles, Southern sea otters, imperiled crane populations, and rare dog and cat species such as wolves, leopards, and jaguars around the world. And he voted to weaken the Endangered Species Act and prevent the listing of imperiled species and designation of critical habitat. With this voting record, he doesn’t bear even a passing resemblance to a conservationist.

Although he claims to be a fiscal conservative, Broun votes to spend our tax dollars when they serve his own interests. He supported a $12 million package that would overturn key protections for threatened polar bears, expand sport hunting on federal lands, and prevent restrictions on toxic lead ammunition that poisons wildlife and the environment. And he voted to spend millions of tax dollars to kill predators with steel-jawed leghold traps, toxic poisons, and other inhumane methods, as a subsidy for private livestock ranchers.

Broun is certain to face a competitive Republican primary, and given his extremist views, he won’t get a pass in the general election from Democrats. HSLF will be exposing his record every step of the way, and we’ll keep you updated as the 2014 races begin to take shape, and as we take stock of what’s at stake for animal welfare.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The 700 Club

The animal protection movement hit a major marker this week, with 700 new animal protection laws enacted in the states since 2005. Two bills signed into law in New Mexico—allowing the purchase of protective equipment for police dogs and the adoption of the dogs after their retirement—ushered in the 699th and 700th new state policies during that time period.
 
Dog_pbtt_red_270x224Since the launch of the Humane Society Legislative Fund in 2005, we and our partners, including The HSUS, Doris Day Animal League, and state and local animal welfare groups around the country, have helped to reshape the legal landscape for animal protection in the states. Dogfighting is now a felony in all 50 states, and cockfighting is illegal in all 50 and a felony in 40. All but one state (Montana) have criminal penalties for animal fighting spectators, all but two (North Dakota and South Dakota) have felony-level penalties for malicious animal cruelty, and all but three (New York, Texas, and West Virginia) make it a felony to possess fighting dogs. All but six states (Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) now restrict the private ownership of dangerous wildlife such as big cats, primates, wolves, bears, and venomous snakes, to one degree or another, to protect public safety and the animals themselves who are caught up in the trade. Seventeen states require the addition of a bittering agent in antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent the poisoning of animals, and this lawmaking led to a voluntary agreement with the industry to change the sweet-tasting product nationwide.
 
We are marching forward to close the gaps in the legal framework where they exist, and increase the penalties and provide additional tools for law enforcement. Hundreds of new laws have been passed to protect pets and service animals, help animal shelters, crack down on abuses at large-scale commercial puppy mills, and protect wildlife and equines. And issues that were perceived as very difficult just eight years ago, such as improving the treatment of animals on industrial factory farms, are making progress as well: Nine states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island) now ban the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in metal gestation cages where they can’t turn around for virtually their entire lives, and four (California, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island) ban the practice of dairy cow tail-docking, the routine and painful amputation of cows’ tails. 
 
More issues are on the move this year, and just yesterday, the New Jersey Assembly overwhelmingly approved A. 3250 to ban gestation crates, by a vote of 60 to 5. The bill now goes to the Senate for concurrence and then to Gov. Chris Christie, and if enacted, will make New Jersey the tenth state to address this abusive pork industry practice. This week, the West Virginia Senate Natural Resources Committee passed S.B. 466 to ban dangerous wild animals as pets—moving the state one step closer in cracking down on this unregulated practice. This morning, the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee passed H.B. 1148 to ban the trade in shark fins—a critical step toward Maryland becoming the first Atlantic state to join California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington in cracking down on the brutal practice of cutting off sharks’ fins at sea and leaving them to die slow and painful deaths for shark fin soup. Other priority bills that lawmakers will consider this year including banning toxic lead ammunition that poisons wildlife and the environment in California, prohibiting hound hunting and trapping of bears in Maine, and protecting dogs and their families from a dangerous policy that discriminates against pit bulls in Maryland.

We are blocking policies that harm animals, too: We and our coalition partners with Keep Michigan Wolves Protected are preparing to submit more than 225,000 signatures of Michigan voters to qualify for the statewide ballot and repeal the legislature’s authorization of a sport hunting and trapping season on wolves, a species just beginning to recover from the brink of extinction.
 
Join us in celebrating this milestone for animal protection policymaking, and help usher in more laws to prevent cruelty and abuse, by contacting your state lawmakers today.

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