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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our Congressional Year in Review for Animals

As the first half of the 111th Congress comes to a close, the Humane Society Legislative Fund today released a preliminary look at how federal lawmakers performed on animal issues in 2009. I hope you’ll check out the 2009 Humane Scorecard, and see whether your own representative and senators made the grade. We will post the final report card in early January, which will include some last-minute additional cosponsorships on scored bills.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to curb
the interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the pet

There were a number of advances for animal protection policies in 2009, but it was the first year of a two-year session, and a work in progress as many key bills still need to get over the finish line. Here’s our year in review, and a look at the achievements, setbacks, and future outlook for animals in Congress.


The lion’s share of the progress on animal issues in 2009 came on wildlife protection bills. Thanks to the strong leadership of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Subcommittee Chairs Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, and Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., the House of Representatives passed eleven wildlife measures this year, including ones to:

  • Curb interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade (led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.)
  • Restore the ban on commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros, improve range management through increased use of fertility control, and make other needed reforms (led by Reps. Rahall and Grijalva), and promote National Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Day (led by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.)
  • End the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning (led by Dels. Bordallo and Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa)
  • Provide grants for marine mammal rescue and disentanglement (led by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska)
  • Promote the recovery of sea otters along the Pacific coast, where current management efforts under the Endangered Species Act have not arrested a steep decline in the population (led by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.) 
  • Strengthen penalties for intentional killing of hawks, falcons, and other federally protected birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (led by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.)
  • Fund conservation programs to help imperiled cranes (led by Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.), great cats and rare canids (led by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.), and marine turtles (led by Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., and Del. Bordallo), and create a wildlife stamp to help finance conservation efforts for endangered species (led by Rep. Brown)

Many of these wildlife bills have champions in the Senate and some have already won committee approval, including the bills on primates as pets (Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La.), shark finning (Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.), marine mammal stranding (Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.), cranes (Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho), and great cats/rare canids (Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.). But none of them has gotten a floor vote yet—and they have been held hostage to the Senate’s general practice of requiring unanimous consent to approve such bills, which empowers any single senator to block their enactment. The Senate did unanimously approve a resolution, introduced by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, calling on the Canadian government to end its annual commercial seal hunt.

But much other work in Congress occurs by amending larger bills, including must-pass spending bills. This year key animal protection provisions were included in the various appropriations bills that fund federal agencies. The successes include: 

  • Downed Animals: Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., played pivotal roles securing language in the FY09 omnibus spending bill directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expeditiously finalize its pending rule on downed cattle. Just three days after President Obama signed the omnibus into law with this language, he personally announced in his weekly radio address that USDA would indeed make this rule final, so that cattle too sick or injured to stand and walk would no longer be allowed into the food supply, but would instead be humanely euthanized.
  • Non-Animal Alternatives: Reps. David Price, D-N.C., Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and David Obey, D-Wis., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, led efforts to obtain a $4 million increase for development of alternatives to animal testing and language promoting “acceptance of alternatives,” as part of the FY10 appropriations bills funding the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health. Sen. Byrd also included a provision in the Defense appropriations bill calling on the Army to produce a report on the use of live primates in training related to chemical and biological agents, including a cost estimate for converting from the use of these animals to human simulators. And Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., obtained language in the Defense authorization bill encouraging the Secretary of Defense to “develop additional advanced training simulators and training aids, to include animal-alternative training, to offer the most realistic, practical, transferable, and cost-effective” battlefield trauma training for medical personnel and service members before deployment.
  • Service Animals: Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Reps. Ron Klein, D-Fla., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., championed provisions in the Defense authorization bill instructing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with nonprofit organizations on a three-year pilot study of the use of service dogs to treat and rehabilitate wounded warriors, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sen. Byrd and Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., ensured renewal of a Homeland Security appropriations provision from prior years that requires humane treatment and bans killing of any horse used by the Border Control or other federal agency unless the horse’s handler is first given a chance to adopt the animal.
  • Horse Slaughter: Rep. DeLauro, with help from Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., succeeded in renewing language that prohibits the USDA from spending any money to inspect or allow horse slaughter for human consumption.
  • Animal Welfare Enforcement: Rep. DeLauro and Sen. Kohl fulfilled the requests of 135 representatives and 41 senators—led by Reps. Blumenauer and Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Sens. Levin and Vitter—to provide increased funding for USDA enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting law. They also sustained funds for a program to address the needs of animals in disaster preparation and response, and approved a sizable increase to $4.8 million (up from $2.95 million the year before) for a veterinary student loan forgiveness program to encourage new vets to work in underserved areas.
  • Class B Dealers: Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and others worked to secure report language accompanying the funding bill for the NIH, calling on the agency to quickly phase out federally-funded research on random-source dogs and cats sold by Class B dealers, who are notorious for selling stolen pets and otherwise fraudulently obtained animals, and to not award any new research grants or contracts that involve such animals.
  • Wildlife Protection under U.S. Trade Agreements: Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., with help from Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., and Sens. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., included strong levels of funding in the FY10 omnibus to support vital programs under U.S. trade agreements with Central America, Peru, and the Dominican Republic aimed at protecting threatened and endangered species and critical habitat, combating illegal logging and illegal wildlife trade, strengthening enforcement of environmental laws, and advancing sustainable development.
  • Deer at Point Reyes National Seashore: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., secured language in the Interior appropriations bill banning any expenditure of money to reduce the deer population at this national seashore.
  • Wildlife Crossings/Transportation Enhancements: By a vote of 39-59, the Senate defeated an amendment to the Transportation appropriations bill offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., which would have allowed states to opt out of a requirement to spend 10 percent of their surface transportation budgets on enhancement projects, including design modifications to promote safe crossings for wildlife (dubbed dismissively by Sen. Coburn as “roadkill reduction”).
  • Endangered Species Act: By a vote of 42-52, the Senate defeated an amendment to the FY09 omnibus appropriations bill offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, R-Alaska, which was intended to block the Obama Administration from quickly undoing damaging regulations issued in the final days of the Bush Administration to weaken the Endangered Species Act. After the omnibus was signed into law, the Interior and Commerce Departments rescinded the previous ESA rules in May.

The final Interior bill included a provision to prevent
EPA from collecting greenhouse gas emissions data
from the largest factory farms.


It was a year of general frustration with the Senate’s failure to pass the many wildlife protection bills that are primed for floor action, and the House’s failure to pass any bill that didn’t come from the Natural Resources Committee (with bills awaiting action in the Agriculture, Energy & Commerce, Judiciary, and other committees). But while those bills remain at a standstill, Congress also took a couple of steps backwards for animals this year. We are deeply disappointed about the outcome of two harmful provisions enacted into law:

  • Factory Farms/Climate Change: Despite strong opposition by subcommittee leaders Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Congress enacted a provision as part of the Interior appropriations bill that prevents EPA during FY10 from collecting greenhouse gas emissions data from the largest factory farms, along with other major sources, as the agency had announced plans to do. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture accounts for an estimated 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human activity, more than from the transportation sector. Yet Congress insisted on putting up blinders to prevent EPA from even tracking the contributions to climate change by the largest factory farms. The harmful provision was initially introduced in committee by Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, and Sen. Brownback, and then Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, pushed for a floor vote to sustain this provision during the House-Senate conference on the final Interior bill.
  • Guns in Parks: Congress overturned a long-standing federal ban on carrying loaded firearms in national parks, making it much more difficult for rangers to prevent wildlife poaching, as well as jeopardizing the serene enjoyment of national parks by visitors. Sen. Coburn rushed this major policy change through as an amendment to a completely unrelated credit card reform bill that was on a fast track for enactment, and he won the support of majorities in both the Senate and and House, notwithstanding strong opposition led by Reps. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and Grijalva.

Priorities Ahead in 2010

The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act to stop the export of
American horses to slaughter is one of our top
priority bills.

Besides continuing to seek Senate passage of the many wildlife bills discussed above, we will be seeking Senate and House floor approval of legislation to ban interstate and foreign commerce in nine species of large constrictor snakes for the pet trade. This issue is being led by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla.; both the Senate and House committees have approved versions of the legislation, with the Senate version covering all nine species of large snakes identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing medium or high risk to our natural resources.  

We will also be seeking action on several of our other top priority bills that have been gaining momentum and building their cosponsor lists, including:

  • Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act: To stop the export of tens of thousands of American horses to Canada and Mexico where they are slaughtered for human consumption (led by Sens. Landrieu and John Ensign, R-Nev, and Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and John Burton, R-Ind.)
  • Truth in Fur Labeling Act: To require the accurate labeling of fur apparel regardless of dollar value, closing a loophole in the current law which allows many fur-trimmed garments to be sold without labels disclosing the use of real fur or the species used (led by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Collins, and Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va. and Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif.)
  • Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act: To stop the overuse of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes on factory farms, which allow animals to be kept in overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions (led by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Feinstein, and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.)
  • Great Ape Protection Act: To phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and require that federally owned chimps are retired to sanctuaries (led by Reps. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., Dave Reichert, R-Wash., Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.)
  • Pet Safety and Protection Act: To stop Class B dealers from selling random-source dogs and cats into research, and prevent stolen pets and other animals obtained fraudulently from flea markets and “free to a good home” ads from ending up in the pipeline (led by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Doyle)
  • Protect America’s Wildlife Act: To stop the inhumane and unsporting aerial hunting of wolves, bears, and other wildlife from helicopters and airplanes (led by Sen. Feinstein and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.)

And there are many exciting new bills and issues on the horizon that we look forward to pursuing during the second half of the 111th Congress, such as:

  • Closing the remaining loophole that allows slaughter of downed veal calves, establishing an ombudsman’s office to ensure that USDA inspectors can carry out their slaughter plant oversight responsibilities without undue interference, and making other needed reforms in agency enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act
  • Seeking increased funding to improve USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to stop the cruel practice of “soring” show horses—using caustic chemicals, pressure shoeing, or otherwise inflicting pain on a horse’s legs or hooves to create an exaggerated high-stepping gait
  • Requiring that large-scale puppy mills that sell directly to the public via the Internet comply with basic welfare standards
  • Establishing a tax credit for spaying and neutering pets to reduce pet overpopulation and the financial burden on public and private animal shelters
  • Phasing in human-based methods for combat trauma training, as provided in the BEST Practices Act
  • Establishing federal felony-level penalties for attending a dogfight or cockfight, to crack down on the spectators who fuel these underground criminal enterprises with their admission fees and gambling wagers
  • Requiring that pork, eggs, and veal purchased for federal programs come from producers who use crate-free and cage-free systems, giving the animals enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around, and stretch their limbs

On balance, we made major strides forward for animals in 2009, and took a couple of steps backwards. We set the stage for final action on a number of priority bills in 2010, and made new animal protection issues part of the political discourse. We hope you’ll use the 2009 Humane Scorecard as a guide, and join us in redoubling our efforts for an animal protection agenda in Congress is 2010.


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