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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Our Congressional Year in Review for Animals

The 111th Congress turned out to be a very productive session that ushered in several major policy reforms for animal welfare that were top priorities for HSUS and HSLF. This occurred despite the challenges of moving legislation forward in a competitive and often polarized climate. Though several good bills were left undone, animals won important victories in the 111th Congress, which ran from January 2009 to December 2010. Today I provide a wrap-up of how animal protection fared overall in the congressional session that just ended, and what’s ahead in the coming year.


Dramatic Victories in the Final Stretch

The final passage of these priority bills during the last month showed that Congress can indeed reach bipartisan agreement to protect animals:

  • Crush Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act: On Dec. 9, 2010, a new law (P.L. 111-294) took effect banning the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene “animal crush” videos that show the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, or impaling of live animals—often by scantily clad women in stiletto heels—for the sexual gratification of viewers. When the federal courts struck down a 1999 law intended to end this horrific trade, we saw a resurgence in crush videos for sale on the Internet. Outstanding leadership by Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., Gary Peters, D-Mich., John Conyers, D-Mich., Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Bobby Scott, D-Va., Jim Moran, D-Va., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Harry Reid, D-Nev., and David Vitter, R-La., spurred enactment in less than eight months of a narrowly-crafted bill to stop this vile trade involving animals purposely tortured for sick entertainment and profit.

  • Truth in Fur Labeling Act: On Dec. 18, 2010, P.L. 111-313 was enacted, bringing much-needed accuracy and disclosure to fur-trimmed apparel, regardless of the dollar value of the fur. Prior law allowed fur content to be unidentified if it was valued at $150 or less, and HSUS investigations found widespread deception in the marketplace, including garments trimmed with animal fur being falsely advertised as “faux fur.” Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and David Vitter, R-La., championed this legislation.

  • Shark Shark Conservation Act: On Jan. 4, 2011, P.L. 111-348 was signed into law, increasing protection for sharks from the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning—cutting the fins off sharks and tossing the mutilated live animals back into the ocean to die. Up to 73 million sharks are killed this way each year, catering to the market for shark fin soup. Shark finning is a major cause of massive declines in shark populations around the world, creating serious imbalances in ocean ecosystems that depend on these top predators. The new law closes loopholes that allowed domestic shark finning to continue despite an earlier ban passed in 2000, and strengthens the U.S. hand in international negotiations to press other countries to pursue meaningful shark conservation. Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Henry Brown, R-S.C., and Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Harry Reid, D-Nev., and David Vitter, R-La., played key roles in winning this law’s enactment.

Also in December, Congress passed a major food safety bill (P.L. 111-353), led by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Judd Gregg, R-N.H., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Bart Stupak, D-Mich., Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., which should provide much-needed additional safeguards for pet food and could strengthen the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of the egg industry. Among its many provisions, the new law sets safety standards for imported foods, requires importers to verify compliance, and gives the FDA better access to records and authority to impose mandatory recalls of contaminated products. This could help prevent problems such as occurred in 2007 when massive amounts of imported pet food tainted with melamine killed or sickened many pets. P.L. 111-353 passed the Senate in the wake of numerous recent outbreaks of food poisoning, including scandals involving egg contamination and filthy, inhumane conditions on factory farms, revealed in investigations conducted by the FDA and The HSUS. Extreme confinement of birds in battery cages where they can barely move for their entire lives is closely correlated to public health risks. All thirteen scientific studies published in the last five years comparing Salmonella contamination between caged and cage-free operations found that those confining hens in cages had higher rates of Salmonella. Under the new law, the FDA could increase inspections at battery cage egg facilities, require industry plans such as phasing out cages to minimize risk, and shut down repeat offenders.


Earlier Victories

In addition to these wins in December, the 111th Congress earlier completed action on two bills that will help wildlife: P.L. 111-241, introduced by Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., directs the U.S. Postal Service to issue and sell a Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp that will generate funds for conservation programs benefitting elephants, great apes, marine turtles, rhinoceroses, tigers, and other species.  P.L. 111-273, introduced by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., provides for safe disposal of controlled substances, including dangerous pharmaceuticals that can hurt wildlife when they are dumped in the trash or flushed away, and end up in the environment.

Dog A provision was enacted in 2009 authorizing a study of the use of service dogs for rehabilitating veterans, as sought by Reps. Ron Klein, D-Fla., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.  And several helpful provisions were enacted as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bills, including language to protect downed cattle, prevent horse slaughter in the U.S., boost development of non-animal alternatives in chemical testing and military training, call for a phase-out of federally-funded research on random-source dogs and cats sold by Class B dealers, ban killing of deer at Point Reyes National Seashore, and increase funding for enforcement and implementation of key animal welfare laws under the U.S. Department of Agriculture and under U.S. trade agreements.

The Senate also unanimously approved a resolution, S. Res. 84, introduced by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, urging Canada to end its cruel commercial seal hunt (the House had approved a parallel resolution in the prior Congress, and resolutions are considered done when the respective chamber approves them). The House approved H. Res. 767, introduced by Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., calling for a National Animal Rescue Day to raise awareness about the importance of pet adoptions and spaying and neutering. It also passed H. Res. 812, introduced by Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J.,  honoring the significant contributions of Military Working Dogs to the U.S. Armed Forces and calling for their adoption and care after their service is over, and H. Res. 1614, by Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., recognizing the vital role that law enforcement service dogs and their handlers perform in providing for our nation’s security.


Congressional Efforts that Encouraged Pro-Animal Agency Action

A House hearing chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, shined a spotlight on problems in the USDA's oversight of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and needed reforms including establishment of an ombudsman to provide slaughter plant inspectors an avenue to register their concerns and help ensure they are able to carry out their responsibilities without undue interference by agency supervisors. The ombudsman idea was proposed by the late Dr. Dean Wyatt, a courageous whistleblower who testified at the hearing and whose tips about egregious abuse of infant calves prompted an HSUS undercover investigation of the Bushway slaughter plant in Vermont that was highlighted at the hearing. Senate Agriculture Appropriations committee report language included by Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wis., in July encouraged the agency to establish an ombudsman, and a letter to USDA by Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., co-signed by 40 of his colleagues, reinforced the request, as did the letters of more than 50,000 individuals. In December, USDA announced it will appoint an ombudsman for humane handling issues, as part of a package of reforms the agency is undertaking to strengthen its humane slaughter enforcement.

Congressional efforts helped spur agency action on many other fronts, including these: 

  • Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, organized letters co-signed by 15 senators and 66 representatives, urging President Obama to require that U.S. officials at international meetings vote to uphold the long-standing ban on commercial whaling, in response to the Administration’s earlier work on a plan that involved lifting the ban. With the legislators joining an international grassroots outcry, the whaling moratorium was thankfully sustained.

  • Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., led efforts to try to curb overuse of antibiotics in factory farms. Their legislation and frequent communications with agency officials encouraged the FDA, USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to testify that this is a serious problem warranting attention, though the agencies didn’t specifically embrace the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.

  • Chimps in research Reps. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., Dave Reichert, R-Wash., Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced legislation to phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research, retire all federally-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary, and codify the National Institutes of Health moratorium on breeding of these animals for invasive research.  And Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., sent a letter to the National Academy of Sciences requesting a study to determine “the extent of the continued need for invasive research on chimpanzees and the merits of alternative methods.”  These actions helped set the stage for NIH to put on hold its plan to transfer nearly 200 chimps from semi-retirement at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico into possible renewed invasive research at the Southwest National Primate Research Center in Texas.

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was a powerful champion for ending the pet trade in pythons and other large constrictor snakes, introducing legislation that won approval in committee and provided support to the Department of Interior’s determination to go forward with regulations to prohibit nine injurious species from import, export, and interstate commerce.

Unfinished Business

Unfortunately, a host of worthwhile animal protection legislation did not get finished before Congress adjourned (many of these were passed by the full House and the relevant Senate committee, but were unable to get final Senate approval), including bills to:

  • ban interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the pet trade (introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La.);

  • permit felony-level penalties for egregious intentional violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.);

  • enhance programs for marine mammal rescue and disentanglement (introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.);

  • develop and implement more effective recovery plans for southern sea otters, whose population is in steep decline despite their listing under the Endangered Species Act (introduced by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.);

  • authorize grants for local conservation projects to help marine turtles (Reps. Henry Brown, R-S.C., and Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam); great cats and rare canids (Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.); cranes (Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho); and neotropical migratory birds (Rep. Ron Kind and Sen. Ben Cardin);

  • Horse restore the prohibition on the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros (a protection undercut by a rider in the FY 2005 omnibus spending bill) and promote improved range management, including broader implementation of fertility control as a more humane and less costly alternative to roundups, removal, and warehousing of these majestic animals (Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.);

  • prohibit interstate transport of horses in double-decker trailers and other vehicles with multiple stacked levels (Reps. Mark Kirk, R-Ill, Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and James Oberstar, D-Minn.); and

  • establish a pilot program at Veterans Administration medical centers in which patients with post-deployment mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder would train service dogs as a form of therapy, and the trained dogs would assist veterans with disabilities (Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C.).

Many bills enjoyed strong support demonstrated by broad cosponsorship, but didn’t get formal consideration in committee, such as legislation to:

  • ban knowing possession, transport, purchase, sale, delivery, and receipt of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption (Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and John Ensign, R-Nev.);

  • close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act by requiring that puppy mills selling puppies online and directly to the public be licensed, regulated, and inspected, and also require exercise for dogs at all commercial breeding facilities (Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Bill Young, R-Fla., and Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and David Vitter, R-La.);

  • Pig_gestation direct federal agencies, as part of their procurement specifications for the military, federal prisons, school lunches, foreign aid, and other programs, to purchase pork, veal, and egg products only from sources that raise the animals without intensive confinement (Reps. Diane Watson, D-Calif., and Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.);

  • close the loophole that allows slaughter of downed calves and otherwise strengthen the USDA ban on slaughter of downed animals (Reps. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., and Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii); and

  • prohibit the use of animals for Armed Forces training in the treatment of severe combat trauma injuries and chemical and biological casualties (Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif.).


On another disappointing front, key funding provisions awaiting final approval for FY11 were lost when Congress abandoned its annual appropriations bills and instead passed a “continuing resolution” in December 2010 to keep the government funded until March 4, 2011.  Items lost included:

  • Tn horse an urgently needed $400,000 increase (boosting funding that has remained static since the 1970s) to strengthen USDA’s enforcement of the Horse Protection Act’s ban on cruel “soring” of show horses. This funding was requested by President Obama and championed by Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., along with the support of 131 representatives and 40 senators who sought this in a group letter they co-signed requesting animal welfare funds for USDA; 

  • a $3.6 million increase in funding for USDA’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, also requested by President Obama;

  • a prohibition on the Department of Interior spending funds to destroy healthy wild horses and burros or allow their sale for slaughter, language supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.;

On the positive side, some good provisions for animals may still be operative, since they were contained in committee report language that was filed before the continuing resolution passed, and these agencies can follow these committee requests: language promoting alternatives to animal testing through the NIH (sought by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio); an FDA review of antibiotic resistance and the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals (championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.); an NIH investigation of potential violations by a federally-funded laboratory of the agency’s moratorium on breeding of chimpanzees for research (included by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa), and a speedier phase-out by NIH of federally-funded research using random-source dogs and cats from Class B dealers, notorious for obtaining animals through pet theft and other disreputable means (also led by Sen. Harkin).

Also on the plus side, because the continuing resolution holds the line on most decisions made in the prior year’s appropriations bills, it should maintain the FY10 prohibition on USDA spending money to inspect or allow horse slaughter for human consumption. But it also may unfortunately maintain an FY10 prohibition on EPA collecting greenhouse gas emissions data from the largest factory farms, as the agency had earlier announced plans to do.

It remains to be seen how the 112th Congress will resolve the federal budget for the balance of FY11, from March 4 through September 30, 2011, or address future spending. With considerable attention to reducing the deficit, we see new opportunities to rein in indefensible subsidies for long-standing federal programs that waste tax dollars and cause enormous animal suffering in the process. 

For that and other matters in the new Congress, stay tuned and please join us, as we redouble our efforts to promote an animal protection agenda.


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