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January 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Investigation Reveals Need for Action on Downed Animals

Humane advocates have argued for years that the slaughtering of “downed” animals—those who are too sick or injured to walk on their own to slaughter—should be banned.  There was another five-alarm call Wednesday, when The Humane Society of the United States released the results of an undercover investigation revealing that slaughter plant workers routinely tormented downed dairy cows in an attempt to get them to stand up—kicking them, jabbing them in the eye, ramming them with the blades of a forklift, and abusing them in other horrifying ways—and the beef from these animals is still entering the food supply, even the National School Lunch Program.

This very issue, in fact, has been playing out at the state and federal levels for quite some time. California several years ago passed a law banning the slaughtering of downed animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture forbids the use of meat from non-ambulatory animals in the school lunch program. In the summer of 2003, the House rejected—by a nail-biting vote of 199 to 202—an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill offered by Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) which would have stopped the processing of all meat from downed animals. The Senate had accepted a similar amendment by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), but it was stripped in conference committee from the final bill. 

Dairycow During the House floor debate, proponents pointed to the inhumane handling of animals and data from Europe showing that downers were 49 to 58 times most likely to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”). Opponents of the measure such as former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas)—now a lobbyist for the horse slaughter industry—said that downed animals were treated humanely and the meat was perfectly safe.

Just six months later, after Christmas 2003, they were forced to eat their words, when a downer cow in Washington State tested positive for BSE, and 44 nations closed their borders to U.S. beef, costing the industry billions of dollars. Because they had insisted on squeezing out every last bit of profit from a suffering cow, they were penny-wise and pound-foolish. Since that time, twelve of the fifteen cows who tested positive for BSE infection in North America have reportedly been downers. It’s clearer than ever that downers are more likely to be sick or diseased, and pose a potential public health risk.

In light of this overwhelming evidence, the USDA issued a final ban on the processing of most downers in 2007. The regulation, however, has a gaping loophole: Cows who are able to walk when initially inspected by USDA but then keel over and cannot stand up again can nevertheless be slaughtered, and the meat can be sold. And USDA’s lax enforcement of the downer regulation has made its oversight virtually meaningless. USDA inspectors may only conduct cursory observations, coming to check on animals just once or twice a day and disregarding their condition for the remaining hours.

As the investigation released Wednesday demonstrates, the current system is not enough to safeguard against extreme cruelty to animals and potentially tainted meat being funneled to school children. It's like saying we are going to keep all the terrorists out of airports, but only operate the metal detectors once or twice a day--and after a person walks through a single time they can then come and go at their leisure.

Mcarthur2 Like any major battle in the animal protection movement, the downer issue has been hard-fought and is still unresolved. It requires constant vigilance for good public policies to be enacted and enforced. The USDA needs to tighten its regulations and enforcement of the downer ban, and needs to do a better job of protecting food safety in general.

Fortunately, the reaction to Wednesday’s investigative report has been swift on Capitol Hill.  Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Majority Whip and one of the nation’s leading advocates for food safety, has written two letters to the USDA asking for an immediate investigation into the safety of ground beef being used in the National School Lunch Program. “The treatment of animals in this video is appalling, but more than that, it raises significant concerns about the safety of the food being served to our nation’s children,” Durbin said.  “The apparent slaughter of sick and weak animals not only appears to violate USDA regulations, but could be a danger to our nation's food supply."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Chairwoman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee which oversees the funding for USDA, released a statement calling on the agency to investigate.  She said, "It appears that USDA policies are allowing slaughtering and processing plants to use the National School Lunch Program as a dumping ground for bad meat. Because children are more vulnerable to becoming very ill and even dying from eating E. coli contaminated foods, we simply cannot continue to expose them to this risk." 

Responding to the allegations of cruelty in her home state, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), has sent two letters, one to the USDA urging swift action to close the loophole and make other needed changes, and one to California Attorney General Jerry Brown asking him to immediately initiate an investigation into "possible violations of state law that could endanger public health." She stated, "The videotape is even more concerning in light of the fact that meat processed from this facility is being used in school lunch programs and in programs for needy families and the elderly. Infants, children and the elderly are more likely to experience severe illness and hospitalization from E. coli and Salmonella than the rest of the population."

Rep. Ackerman has called on the USDA to investigate all beef slaughter plants to ensure that they are not slaughtering downed animals, and is calling on his colleagues to finally pass the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act. The bill will close the loopholes in the current agency rule and will protect all downed animals, not just cattle, from cruel and abusive treatment.  “We are outraged and disgusted over the cruel abuses recorded at the Hallmark plant, and we fear that other beef slaughterhouses may still be processing downer cattle into the nation’s food supply in blatant violation of the law,” said Ackerman. “Congress and the American people need to urgently know the extent to which downer cattle are still being passed into America’s food chain.”

Sen. Akaka read a statement into the Congressional Record, describing the investigative video and also calling on lawmakers to pass the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act. "The video documents horrifying scenes of employees using electrical prods to shock animals, pulling them with chains, and carelessly driving over them with a forklift in an effort to bring sick or injured cows to their feet. These cruel actions amount to nothing less than torture. There was even a case of using a hose to forcibly spray water into a cow’s nose to get it to rise to its feet to avoid the sensation of drowning," he said. "The actions of this slaughterhouse, and possibly countless others, in violation of established laws, have put our most vulnerable and important assets in danger—our children."

New public policies are important as well. Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Chris Shays (R-Conn.) are calling for enactment of the Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act, which would require that all producers who sell meat, dairy, and egg products to the federal government meet a modest set of animal welfare standards. One of the requirements is that downed animals must be given veterinary care or humanely euthanized, rather than processed for slaughter. Any company that sells food to the school lunch program or other federal programs should ensure that animals get at least the most basic elemental humane handling. DeFazio captured what many of us felt upon seeing the graphic images: "I have been concerned about animal welfare since first coming to Congress, and I’ve heard some pretty gruesome tales," he said. "The video of how these animals were treated was abhorrent and shocking and I am ashamed that this could happen here in the United States."

We are grateful to these Congressional leaders for acting swiftly and forcefully to speak out for the protection of animals and food safety. Please take action today and help make sure that the public policy debate over downers comes to a close, and that no sick or injured animal ever again has to endure this torture for profit. 

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pet Turtles Pose Health Risk

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new report tracing a recent outbreak of Salmonella to the illegal sale of tiny pet turtles. Since May, at least 47 people across the country have become ill after handling turtles. Children had to be hospitalized with symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and vomiting. 

It’s a sobering confirmation of the importance of the longstanding ban on selling turtles with shells less than four inches long. We can only imagine how much worse the situation would be for public health and animal welfare if the sale of these small turtles was actually legal.

Is_turtle_080124_ms Although most reptiles carry Salmonella, turtles perhaps pose the greatest risk. Animals like snakes and iguanas pose an obvious threat of biting or scratching, but turtles are more likely to be perceived as safe and given by parents to their children. The turtles are also small enough for children to handle them, kiss them, and even put them directly into their mouths.

The media and the health community reacted strongly to the new CDC report. The Los Angeles Times noted that Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County’s public health director, had a simple piece of advice for parents thinking about buying a pet turtle: “Don’t.”

Consumer restraint, however, is not enough—we need strong public policies, too. Federal health regulations have prohibited selling small turtles in the United States since 1975, and the CDC reports that this measure prevented 100,000 children from contracting Salmonella in the first year alone. Yet, illegal sales still occur, with tragic consequences. A four-week-old Florida girl died last year from Salmonella exposure after a pet turtle was purchased at a flea market and given as a gift to her family.

Despite these dire warnings, some in Congress are attempting to roll back the prohibition on selling small turtles. The Senate version of the Farm Bill includes language that could allow the sale of these tiny creatures for the first time in more than 30 years. The turtle language was not included in the House version of the Farm Bill, and it should be dropped in conference just as similar language was dropped from the Food and Drug Administration reauthorization bill last year.

Turtles Turtle sellers talk about Salmonella-free turtles but the CDC says “no reliable methods are available to guarantee that a turtle is free of Salmonella.” According to the CDC, “Prohibiting the sale and distribution of small turtles likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis.”

The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, opposing the turtle language in the Farm Bill, had this to say: “There is no doubt in the minds of hundreds of public health experts in our associations that allowing small turtle sales will cause a repeat of the high levels of salmonellosis seen in children prior to the ban.”

There also is no doubt that turtles suffer in the pet trade. Although they are marketed as low-maintenance pets, turtles have complex needs that are difficult to meet. Countless turtles die due to poor shipping methods and inadequate care. If they survive they can outgrow their tanks and their welcome. Turtles released from the pet trade have displaced native species in multiple states.

The prohibition on small turtle sales literally saves children’s lives and protects animals from harsh treatment. It represents three decades of good public policy and should not be changed. Please ask your legislators to keep the longstanding ban. And if you see illegal turtle sales at a pet store or flea market, report them to the FDA’s consumer complaint coordinators so they can investigate this violation of the law.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Recognizing Humane State Legislators

On Wednesday, I traveled to Hartford and presented two Humane State Legislator Awards to Reps. Dick Roy (D-119) and Diana Urban (D-43) at the Connecticut state capitol.  One of the most rewarding parts of my job is that I’m able to meet people who use their remarkable talents to help animals, and these two lawmakers are true champions for the cause.  The Humane State Legislator Award recognizes those who have initiated ground-breaking animal protection legislation and demonstrably advanced reform in the policy-making arena.

Humanesocietyaward2_3 Rep. Roy is Co-Chair of the Environment Committee, which is where most animal-related bills are assigned in Connecticut.  He’s a longtime friend of animals, and he’s a hiker who has been one of the leading opponents of Sunday hunting in the state.  Hunting on Sundays has been prohibited in Connecticut since colonial days, and it’s the one day a week when hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy the woods safely during hunting season.  Rep. Roy also introduced two important bills in his committee last year: one to prevent the twisted practice of shooting live animals remotely over the Internet with the click of a computer mouse, and the other to ban the cruel confinement of egg-laying hens in tiny battery cages on industrial factory farms.

“It is said that a society’s worth is measured by how they treat their most vulnerable,” said Rep. Roy. “I have always believed this to be true so I am honored to receive this award from an organization that I admire and respect and that shares my commitment to animal protection.”

Mike Markarian and Rep. Urban Rep. Urban is also a pioneer in the animal protection movement, and last year she successfully worked to pass a bill making Connecticut the fourth state allowing courts to include pets in protective orders in cases of domestic violence. Vulnerable people often stay in abusive households because they fear a pet would be harmed or killed by their abuser, and the new law will help keep people and animals safe.  Rep. Urban also introduced bills last year to stop the force-feeding of ducks and geese to fatten their livers for foie gras, and to stop the abuse of captive elephants in circuses.  She had previously led efforts to stop horse slaughter, promote humane education, and examine the link between animal cruelty and human violence.

“It is an honor to receive this award from The Humane Society of the United States on behalf of my work to protect and promote the welfare of animals,” said Rep. Urban.  “I also want to give credit to the incredibly dedicated advocates who work with me and The Humane Society of the United States.”

State legislatures passed more animal protection laws in 2007 than any other year in history.  It’s because we have skilled leaders like Reps. Roy and Urban who are fighting for humane and merciful public policies.  I was honored to visit with them both this week and to celebrate their work and their achievements for animals. 

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Weigh In with HSLF's Online Straw Poll

Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada have weighed in, but the race to the White House is still wide open for both Democrats and Republicans.  A number of states will be making their party nominations in the coming weeks, including more than 20 states on “Super Tuesday,” February 5th.

Dog But you don’t have to wait to register your opinion.  The Humane Society Legislative Fund wants to know which presidential candidate you support.  Please visit hslf.org and vote in our online straw poll today.

I’ve been writing in this blog about where the presidential candidates stand on animal protection issues, and about the role that animal advocates can play in the presidential race.  The candidates need to hear from you that the humane treatment of animals is an important policy issue.  And we want to hear from you, too, so we know which candidate appeals the most to animal advocates.

After you vote in our poll, please consider making a special donation to our “Victory for Animals in 2008” campaign.  In addition to helping us support our other programs, your contribution may be used to support humane candidates for state and federal office.

The presidential race is not the only election that matters for animals this year.  The Humane Society Legislative Fund will work to reelect leaders for the humane treatment of animals in Congress, and defeat candidates who are enemies of animal protection. 

We are also fighting to pass animal protection laws to stop puppy mills, horse slaughter, and other cruelties at the state and federal levels.  And we’re working to pass landmark ballot initiatives to stop cruel dog racing in Massachusetts and end the worst factory farming abuses in California.

Please help us continue our critical efforts to pass humane laws and elect humane lawmakers.  And please tell your friends who care about animals to vote in our online poll, so we can hear from them, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The History of America's 'First Pet'

The primary season is in full swing, but we may have to wait for months before the question on everyone’s mind will be answered: Will a dog or cat occupy the White House? Could it be Seamus, Jet, Sonic, Sam, Coco, or Oreo?

The Humane Society Legislative Fund has asked the presidential candidates for their positions on important animal welfare policy issues. But we also want to find out who’s got what kind of animals, where they came from, and what they’re like. And when it comes to spaying and neutering, veterinary care, and related topics, the power of a president’s example as a responsible caregiver can be significant.

180pxbarney_oval_office Just about every president has had a pet of some kind, and since the Civil War especially, pets have been a fixture at the White House. Most presidents have been dog owners, and more than fifty dogs have occupied its hallowed hallways. Most of the early cats there were “barn hands,” with Abraham Lincoln the first president to bring one indoors.

Incumbent and aspiring presidential pets have tremendous symbolic impact during political campaigns. Warren G. Harding’s Airedale terrier, Laddie Boy, campaigned with him for office in 1920. He was the first animal known to stump actively on the campaign trail and to appear in campaign literature.

Some believe that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier, Fala, “swung” the election of 1944, after opponents made innuendoes to the effect that the president had sent a navy destroyer to the Aleutian Islands just to bring home his pet, accidentally left behind. FDR played the situation to his advantage in a speech: “These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala.”

Fdr_fala Fala is perhaps the best known of all presidential pets—he followed FDR everywhere, becoming part of the president’s public image. The faithful dog is buried near FDR in Hyde Park, N.Y., and is enshrined by his side at the FDR Memorial, one of my favorite spots by the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Whenever I visit, I’m grateful to Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who pushed for Fala to be included at the memorial site.

Richard Nixon may have saved his political career in 1952 with his “Checkers” speech, given as he tried to defend himself against charges of accepting illegal campaign contributions. In it, he stated his refusal to return a cocker spaniel given to his family as a gift, stating “the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.”

In 1996, there was an amusing public debate moderated by John McLaughlin on the polarizing issue of whether a dog or a cat would make the best first pet. Leader Dole showed up to represent the dogs and Socks Clinton sent a statement on behalf of the cats. Cats defeated dogs by a 58% to 42% vote, with 15,000 humans voting.

With another vote looming, a number of the current candidates have pets, and here’s what we know so far: On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has Seamus, a Lab, who is great nephew to former First Dog Buddy. (Former First Cat Socks went to live with Clinton friend Betty Currie.) John Edwards has a Golden retriever and chocolate Lab, and Dennis Kucinich has three rescued shelter dogs: Harry the beagle-basset, Lucie the beagle, and George the cocker spaniel. Barack Obama does not currently have pets, but has promised his daughters they can get a dog when the campaign ends.

On the Republican side, John McCain has the most animals: Sam the English springer spaniel, Coco the mutt, turtles Cuff and Link, Oreo the black and white cat, a ferret, three parakeets, and thirteen saltwater fish. Mike Huckabee has Jet, a black Lab, and Sonic, a Shih Tzu.  Mitt Romney’s family recently lost Marley, a Weimaraner. And Rudy Giuliani does not currently have pets, but at Gracie Mansion he had adopted Goalie, who was bred to be a guide dog for the blind but had cataracts that prevented him from passing his exam.

Once the final votes are cast, we’ll know who’s going to be the First Dog or Cat.  We’re not picking any favorites yet, but it’s clear that White House pets will continue to fascinate Americans and help us celebrate the human-animal bond. With two-thirds of households now including pets—in red states and blue states—the First Family can truly bring the country together by sharing their home with animals.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Presidential Files: Hillary Clinton’s Experience on Animal Protection Issues

After winning the New Hampshire primary and Nevada caucuses, Sen. Hillary Clinton has largely made it a race between her and Sen. Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.  Like Obama, Clinton has been a strong supporter of animal protection issues, and has brought something unique to the debate over animal welfare in presidential politics.  She recently responded to a questionnaire from the Humane Society Legislative Fund, in which she outlined her experience on animal welfare policy as First Lady and then as U.S. Senator. 

In her questionnaire response, Clinton indicates her support for every major animal protection bill in Congress, and says she will work with executive agencies to implement humane policies and adequate funding and enforcement for animal welfare laws.  “I believe animal welfare is an important issue to Americans, and I would work to address these problems when I am President, as I have during my time in the Senate,” she wrote. “From preventing dog fighting to preventing horse slaughter to addressing global warming, I will work to ensure that these issues get the attention and support they deserve.”

In her seven years in the U.S. Senate, Clinton has been a consistent supporter of animal protection, scoring 100 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 108th Congress, and 100+ for the 109th Congress.  She is currently a co-sponsor of legislation dealing with horse slaughter and animal fighting, and she previously co-sponsored legislation to stop the processing of “downer” livestock and to crack down on abusive puppy mills where dogs are cruelly confined and treated like production machines.  She has also signed letters requesting more funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step up enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law.

Cow One thing that stands out about Clinton’s record is that she has taken a leadership role in efforts to stop the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals.  The same drugs used to treat illness in people are often used in massive quantities on factory farms—not because the animals are sick, but in order to build up immunity so more animals can be crammed together in overcrowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions.  Because these drugs are pumped into the food we eat, they lose their effectiveness when they’re needed most.

Clinton spearheaded efforts in Congress to study the effects of certain antibiotics in animal feeds and to prohibit the USDA from buying chickens for the federal school lunch program that have been injected with cipro-like antibiotics called fluoroquinolones.  Her successful efforts on the antibiotic issue have helped people and animals, and have informed her outlook on the broader issues related to the production of animals on industrial factory farms. “I also believe it is good that there is a growing market for food that is produced with better living conditions for animals,” she wrote.

In advance of the Iowa caucuses, Clinton was criticized by small farmers for selecting Joy Philippi, an industrial hog farm operator and past president of the National Pork Producers Council, as her co-chair of “Rural Americans for Hillary.”  Philippi’s industry trade group had lobbied against some environmental standards for factory farms, and had fought against modest animal welfare reforms such as banning two-foot-wide gestation crates for breeding pigs.  Given Clinton’s leadership on factory farming issues and her call for local control over where Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) can be located, selecting the face of corporate agriculture to represent her campaign seemed like an incongruous choice. But this one possible misstep shouldn’t negate Clinton’s positive actions in fighting industrial factory farms, and her support for the Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act is a tremendously important statement. 

When she served as First Lady, Clinton wrote a book, “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy,” featuring many of the letters that children had sent to the First Pets, and gave the proceeds to the National Park Foundation.  It was a dual indicator of the importance of celebrating animals in our culture: our fascination with the pets who share our homes, and with the wild animals who share our environment.  Clinton’s other famous book from that era, “It Takes a Village,” was based on the African proverb that it takes an entire community to raise a child.  But it could easily be applied to animal protection, too.  It takes all of us working together to create a more humane world for people and animals.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Spectators at Dogfights are Criminals, Too

Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C. have begun their 2008 legislative sessions, and eight legislatures will convene later this year.  One animal issue is already hot on the agenda, and we can thank Michael Vick.  The Humane Society Legislative Fund expects 25 states to tackle legislation to crack down on animal fighting this year, and Congress is also working to upgrade the federal anti-dogfighting law.

While there are various deficiencies in current dogfighting statutes, one particular problem has drawn fire.  In four states—Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, and Montana—it’s still legal to be a spectator at a dogfight.  In 19 states attending a dogfight is a felony offense, and in 27 states it’s only a misdemeanor, punishable in some cases by just a $50 fine and no jail time. 

From Georgia to Iowa to Missouri, lawmakers across the country are now working to close this gaping loophole, and take a bite out of those bloodthirsty psychopaths who fuel this criminal industry.  The Oregonian this week endorsed Senate President Peter Courtney’s felony spectator bill (S.B. 1072), noting that “police who raid a dogfight have an extremely difficult time figuring out who should be charged with felony violations and who should be charged with misdemeanors. That’s the case because every violator at the bust claims to be there as a spectator.”

Dogfighting But some folks still don’t get it.  At a hearing this week on Maryland’s S.B. 44 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, several legislators expressed skepticism at the idea of making dogfighting attendance a felony.  They agreed, of course, that dogfighting is a terrible crime, but didn’t seem to think that simply watching a dogfight should be met with tough penalties.

Like any underground crime, dogfighting only thrives because people spend money on it.  And these individuals don’t walk into a bar on Main Street and accidentally stumble across a dogfight.  They seek out the criminal activity at secret locations, and they often need passwords to enter.  They pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling bets, generating the bulk of the revenue for this illegal enterprise. And they provide cover for dogfighters, who blend into crowds for a slap on the wrist at the first sign of a police raid.

Dogfighting spectators are not innocent bystanders—they are willing participants in organized crime who are there for their own amusement and gambling profits and because they are titillated by the bloodletting.  Take away the spectators and you take away the profit.  Our laws should be tough enough to stop people from financing the torture of dogs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Progress for Animals on the Campaign Trail

I've been asking animal advocates to raise the question of animal protection when they see candidates stumping on the campaign trail, and I was thrilled today to see that a supporter from Nevada took the issue to heart. 

At an event for Barack Obama in Las Vegas today, a woman asked the candidate for his position on animal rights. Her question made the news and I hope it encourages other candidates to make statements on animal welfare and prompts other voters across the country to put this important issue on the political radar screen.

Because one person took the time to ask a question, Obama commented on the importance of animal protection and his support for specific policy reforms such as legislation to ban horse slaughter for human consumption.  "I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other," he said. "And it's very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals." 

While some presidential candidates like Mike Huckabee are talking about their personal preference for eating horse meat, other candidates are now talking about protecting horses from the cruel slaughter industry.  But if no one asks the questions, they won't have a word to say about animal protection.

Editor's Note: While the Associated Press story reports that Obama "has been endorsed repeatedly by the Humane Society," the Humane Society Legislative Fund has not yet made any endorsement in the presidential race, and The Humane Society of the United States does not endorse political candidates.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Put an End to Dangerous Monkey Business

Congress returns to Washington today after winter recess, and one of the issues on the agenda will be the trade in pet primates.  Every month that goes by, the need becomes more urgent: Just before the holidays, a convenience store clerk was attacked and bitten by a customer’s pet monkey in North Carolina.  Two months earlier in Missouri, a pet monkey bit two children in a public park.  In both cases, the monkeys’ owners ran off.

Chimpanzee Unfortunately, such incidents are not uncommon as “pet” primates have become a reckless and dangerous fad in America. It’s estimated that there are 15,000 nonhuman primates—chimps, macaque monkeys, and others—in captivity in the U.S. They are often purchased as infants, readily available for sale on a number of Internet sites.

Cute baby monkeys become aggressive as they grow older, and these animals can be highly dangerous. The average pet owner quickly learns that he or she cannot provide the appropriate housing, veterinary care, or diet that primates require. At least a hundred people have been injured by captive primates in the last decade—29 of them children.

Primates are highly intelligent and social animals who live long lives. They have complex social and psychological needs, but are often kept confined alone in cages. In order to render the animals less dangerous, owners often mutilate them by removing their teeth.

The threat to public safety is perhaps eclipsed by the public health time bomb just waiting to explode. Primates can spread dangerous diseases such as monkey pox, tuberculosis, and herpes-b. Nearly every macaque monkey in captivity carries the deadly herpes-b virus.

Macaque Recognizing the serious risks, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.) and Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced the Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 1498 and H.R. 2964. The bill will ban the interstate commerce in apes, monkeys, lemurs, marmosets, and other nonhuman primates for the pet trade. A number of states and communities already prohibit private ownership of primates as pets, but the patchwork of local laws and the interstate nature of the primate pet trade call out for a federal response.

The Senate bill passed the Environment and Public Works Committee in July, and has been awaiting further action.  Identical legislation passed the Senate unanimously in 2006, and should be a no-brainer this time around.  But some lawmakers have suggested that the new law will cost additional funds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce it.  In reality, federal agencies are not going to put additional staff at the borders to check for monkeys.  Fish and Wildlife agents don’t get line items for enforcement of specific laws, but rather a pot of enforcement money to use at their discretion.  There’s no obligation for the agency to spend anything, but the law would provide an additional tool for law enforcement agents if they find violators who are selling animals across state lines, and it would discourage the sale and transport of dangerous wildlife.

The Captive Primate Safety Act is similar to a bill that Congress passed unanimously in 2003, prohibiting the interstate commerce in tigers, lions, and other dangerous big cats for the pet trade. Like the big cats bill, the primate bill will crack down on the exotic pet industry but will have no impact on zoos, medical research, or other federally licensed facilities. The legislation has been endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the major animal protection groups.

We need to end this dangerous monkey business. Primates belong in the wild, not in our parks and convenience stores. For our own health and safety—as well as the animals’—Congress should act swiftly and pass the Captive Primate Safety Act before the next child is mauled by a chimp.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Saying Goodbye to a Leader for Animals, and Welcoming New Leaders

In 2007, state legislatures passed 86 new laws to protect animals.  Louisiana and New Mexico became the last two states to ban cockfighting.  Illinois shut down the nation’s only operating horse slaughter plant.  There were bills on animal cruelty, disaster planning, exotic pets, Internet hunting, and other subjects.  And there were path-breaking issues, as Oregon’s state legislature became the first to ban confinement of breeding pigs in gestation crates, and New York’s became the first to ban the electrocution of animals on fur farms and require the labeling of all fur-trimmed garments. 

These advances were made because we have lawmakers in all 50 states who champion bills to protect animals.  Among all the other important policy issues they face, these individuals have found the time and the heart to recognize that animals matter, too, and that animal issues are worthy of their time and talents in the public policy arena.

Britt We were saddened to lose one of our leaders, when Maryland’s Democratic Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt passed away over the weekend.  Sen. Britt was a longtime civil rights advocate, but she was also a leader in the fight for animals.  She was the main sponsor of two animal protection bills last year, seeking to ban gestation crates in factory farming and ban the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and wire neck snares for recreational trapping and commerce in fur pelts.  Before her death, she was preparing to introduce a bill in the 2008 session to require the labeling of fur apparel, to protect consumers from being deceived into buying animal fur that’s falsely advertised as “faux,” and a separate bill to ban the force-feeding of ducks and geese in order to fatten their livers for foie gras.

Sen. Britt was a great advocate and public servant, and she exemplified the best of the human spirit.  The people and animals of Maryland are better off because she chose to spend her time and use her skills in the legislative arena. 

As we lose some of our leaders in state lawmaking for animals, we look to new leaders to carry the mantle.  I was heartened last week to see a new bill on a new issue introduced in Indiana.  State Rep. David A. Wolkins, the top Republican on the House Environmental Affairs Committee, introduced legislation to stop the stocking of tame pheasants for “put-and-take” hunting.  Although at least 19 states raise hundreds of thousands of exotic pheasants in factory farms and release them for sport hunters, it’s not a subject that has often come up in state legislation.  Thanks to Rep. Wolkins, it could become another path-breaking reform for animal protection.

Ringneckedpheasantta2 Ring-necked pheasants are native to China, and don’t occur naturally in the United States.  The birds are hand-raised in boxes and pens, and don’t develop any survival skills.  Often their beaks are cut off and blinders are placed over their eyes to prevent them from pecking each other. State wildlife agencies release the birds by the truckloads and hunters line up in parking lots waiting for the delivery of these tame targets.  The pheasants are almost certain not to survive the hunting season: If they somehow manage not to get shot, they die of starvation or exposure to the elements. 

Even the National Park Service stocks tame pheasants, which was the subject of a successful lawsuit by The Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals that halted the practice on Cape Cod for the last four years.  Vice President Dick Cheney famously gunned down dozens of stocked pheasants at a captive hunting ranch in Pennsylvania, and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee shot a pheasant with the television cameras in tow just days before the Iowa caucuses.

Hunting enthusiasts usually justify their sport by pointing out a management necessity such as controlling wildlife populations.  But there’s no compelling need to breed birds in factory farms and release them in parks or fields to be shot, knowing they can’t fend for themselves. It flies in the face of wildlife management and any hunter with an ethic of sportsmanship and fair chase would no sooner shoot an egg-laying hen.

It’s a worthy subject for legislation, and a common-sense reform that we hope to see advanced in other states.  Legislative success requires the right policy issues and the right leadership—in the animal protection movement, we’re fortunate to have both. 

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