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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Preliminary Victories and Setbacks on Federal Animal Welfare Issues

During the last 24 hours on Capitol Hill, there have been some major debates on animal protection—with some preliminary victories and setbacks. Here’s my report from Washington:

Horse Slaughter: The House Appropriations Committee today approved, by voice vote, an amendment offered by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., to block spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect U.S. horse slaughter plants in Fiscal Year 2013. The spending prohibition had been in place since 2005, but was not renewed last year by a joint House-Senate conference committee, leading to concerns that horse slaughter plants could reopen within the U.S. at the cost of about $5 million annually to U.S. taxpayers.

Horses_in_pen_270x224“When more than 80 percent of the American population opposes this practice, it is high time we put an end, once and for all, to industrial horse slaughter,” said Rep. Moran. “Horses hold an important place in our nation’s history and culture, treasured by all for their beauty and majesty. They deserve to be cared for, not killed for foreign consumption.”

During debate, Rep. Moran noted that the Appropriations Committee cut back funding for USDA’s meat facility inspections by $9 million below Fiscal Year 2012, and he argued against expanding USDA responsibilities to inspect horse meat shipped to foreign countries that would come at the expense of funding for inspections of food consumed by U.S. citizens. Additionally, U.S. horse meat may also contain chemicals harmful to humans if ingested. Unlike farm animals raised for their meat, horses are routinely given powerful medications, including the anti-inflammatory pain killing drug phenylbutazone.

We will be working to maintain the Moran amendment on de-funding horse slaughter when the appropriations bill goes to the House floor and when it’s finalized. But the end-game for us is to push for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., which now has 165 co-sponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate. Only that bill will halt live exports of American horses for slaughter.

Farm Bill: The Senate last night reached agreement on a package of 73 amendments that will be allowed to be considered as part of the Farm Bill debate. Unfortunately, Senate leaders did not allow either of the major animal welfare amendments to get a vote: the amendment by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight, or the amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and a bipartisan group of senators to improve the treatment of egg-laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for the egg industry.

Hens_batteryThe animal fighting legislation has virtually no opposition, and the egg industry legislation is the result of collaboration and problem-solving by all the major stakeholders, so it’s shocking that neither of these issues is proceeding to be debated and voted on as the Senate considers the Farm Bill this week. It can only be because some special interests from the pork and beef lobbies are so extreme that they object to any progress on animal welfare, even when it has absolutely nothing to do with their industries. Senate leaders really let us down by capitulating to extremists in denying consideration of these amendments.

On the positive side, the Senate package also does not include a harmful amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that would allow the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies and block efforts to get toxic lead out of ammunition. But that legislation, like the others, is not done, and we may hear from Sen. Tester again on this issue. And there will be votes allowed on some amendments to limit government subsidies to industrial factory farms, such as the amendment by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to lower payments for crop insurance, and the amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to give small farmers the opportunity to decline to participate in industry check-off programs that often favor Big Agribusiness over family farms.

We are hopeful that if the House takes up its version of the Farm Bill in coming weeks, there will be another opportunity to have animal welfare amendments considered. We will be working hard to pass the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, which has the support of animal protection groups, veterinary groups, consumer groups, and the egg industry—please contact your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators today and ask them to help pass this critical legislation.

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