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June 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Way Forward on Horse Welfare

The Government Accountability Office released a new report yesterday, “Horse Welfare: Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter,” and some proponents of horse slaughter are using it as a rallying cry to re-open equine abattoirs on American soil. But the GAO report is a lot more nuanced than the horse slaughter industry suggests, and the report provides some good insights into better policy solutions for horse welfare. And it confirms what we have long known: that shipping horses long distances in double-decker trailers and killing them for food exports isn’t good for the horses.

The report indicates that since Congress blocked the use of tax dollars for USDA to conduct horse slaughter inspections in 2005, and since state legislation shut down the last remaining plants in Illinois and Texas in 2007, there have been anecdotal accounts of an increase in horse neglect and abandonment, and a decline in horse prices. Given that this time period has coincided with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the GAO can’t conclude whether these problems are due to a closure of U.S. horse slaughter plants or to the country’s financial crisis. However, the report clearly shows that the number of horses being sent to slaughter, more than 130,000 each year, has not changed all that much since the closure of the domestic plants (due to an increase in export of horses for slaughter to Canada and Mexico), suggesting that the same number of irresponsible owners—not more—are still sending their horses to slaughter.

Miracle_horse1 Industries that want to profit from horse slaughter, and the export of American horse meat to Europe and Asia, will claim that we need to re-open horse slaughter plants in the U.S. so that horses are not traveling long distances to Canada and Mexico, and that Congress should fund USDA oversight of horse slaughter, potentially adding millions of dollars to the federal budget and distracting agency inspectors from other food safety responsibilities. But when a handful of slaughter plants did operate in the U.S., horses still traveled long distances across the country in dangerous double-decker trucks, and the transport and slaughter processes involved were inherently inhumane. There’s no reason to believe that slaughter plants would spring up in every community to make the transport distances shorter, or that horses would evolve into a species that no longer has a flight response, which makes the stunning and slaughter process very difficult and clumsy. It’s like saying the U.S. should repeal its child labor laws because bad actors are using Mexican children to work in factories or transporting American children across the border to Mexico to work in response to U.S. law.

Instead, the GAO report offers a menu of options for lawmakers and regulators to consider, some of them very good: The report recommends that “Congress may wish to consider instituting an explicit ban on the domestic slaughter of horses and exports of U.S. horses intended for slaughter in foreign countries.” That’s the right response for Congress to stem the tide of American horses going over our borders for slaughter in Canada and Mexico and ensure that this inhumane practice doesn’t resume in this country. That’s exactly what the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act aims to do. The Senate bill, S. 1176, was introduced this month by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The House-passed agriculture spending bill retains the current de-funding provision to block funds for horse slaughter, and we’ll be working to make sure that the right language holds up in the Senate and that key members of the Appropriations Committee don’t attempt to subvert the House position when they hammer out the final bill in conference committee. Congress needs to ban exports of horses for slaughter, not try to create a new network of U.S. slaughter plants.

Miraclehorse3 The GAO report also confirms that the use of double-decker trailers in the transport of horses represents a significant threat to animal welfare, recommending that “USDA issue a final rule to protect horses through more of the transportation chain to slaughter.” Double-decker trailers are designed for animals such as cattle and pigs—shorter-necked species than horses, who require more headroom than double-decker trailers afford. Horses often throw their heads to maintain balance, and injure themselves easily in such vehicles. In 2006, a double-decker truck hauling 41 horses in Missouri crashed, killing 16 horses. In 2007, a double-decker carrying 59 horses in Illinois struck another vehicle after blowing through a stop sign. It took five hours to rescue the horses from this mangled truck, resulting in the death of nine of them; six died later due to injuries sustained. In both instances, the design of the trailers caused horses to lose parts of their legs or break their backs. A few were crushed under the weight of other horses falling on top of them.

Such a rule to prevent injury and death was first proposed by USDA in 2007, and we call on the agency to finalize it without delay, banning the use of double-decker trailers for the transport of horses to all points en route to slaughter.

In addition to policy solutions, more education of horse owners is needed. The cost of horse ownership has gone up significantly, at a time when the average horse owner’s ability to afford that cost has fallen drastically. This situation can only be resolved by greater outreach and information about the private responsibilities and expense of horse ownership, and the options available to struggling horse owners such as adoption and rescue groups. We also need a continued reduction in breeding of new horses while the economy is creating fewer, not more, horse owners—a practice that many responsible horsemen are currently following.

The horse slaughter industry, along with their allies in the agribusiness lobby and some veterinarians aligned with industry, are the ones who have blocked legislation to stop long-distance transport of horses to foreign countries for the purpose of slaughter, and have created the major problem identified by the GAO report. These horse exports exist only because of their obstructionism, and Congress can solve this aspect of the problem by passing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. It’s time for all sides to come together and act with great haste to close our national borders to the horse slaughter pipeline.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Mixed Bag for Animals in Congress this Week

There is good news and bad news from the U.S. Congress on animal protection issues that reached the House floor this week as part of the debate over agriculture spending for Fiscal Year 2012. The horses dodged a bullet, while taxpayers and wildlife took a hit.

First, the good news: We beat back attempts to add funding to the federal budget to allow horse slaughter plants to re-open in the U.S., and the “de-funding” provision that currently prohibits USDA from using its resources to inspect horse slaughter plants remains intact in the House-passed bill. Every year since 2005, the appropriations bill has included such a provision, which ensured the permanent closure of the last remaining equine abattoirs in Illinois and Texas and has prevented other cruel horse slaughter plants from opening around the country, since horse meat cannot be processed for human consumption without USDA’s active involvement.

Miracle_horse1 Several lawmakers aligned with the horse slaughter industry tried to strip this provision from the bill, which could have cost U.S. taxpayers an additional $5 million annually to subsidize government inspections of foreign-owned horse slaughter plants. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., offered an amendment to set up a so-called “fee-for-service” scheme—allowing horse slaughter operators to cover the costs of their own inspections—but such a program still would have required USDA spending to establish and maintain, and would have been an expansion of federal government responsibility. The inspector fees paid by private industry would not cover all expenses—leaving U.S taxpayers to shoulder the remaining burden. And with cuts to the overall food safety program, horse slaughter would usurp the same inspectors who would otherwise be at livestock slaughterhouses, overseeing the humane handling and food safety regulations for American consumers.

After seeing the lack of support for allowing horse slaughter, Rep. Lummis withdrew her amendment. We are especially grateful to Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Dan Burton, R-Ind., for speaking out on the House floor and fighting to make sure that horse slaughter remains prohibited on American soil. The position of the House-passed bill is that no funds can be used for horse slaughter, and we’ll be working to make sure that language holds up in the Senate and that key members of the Appropriations Committee don’t attempt to subvert the House position when they hammer out the final bill in conference committee.

Coyote Now, the bad news: The House rejected an amendment to save taxpayers $11 million by reducing federal spending on lethal predator control—through toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, and aerial gunning—as a subsidy to wealthy livestock ranchers in the West. The vote was 132-287, with 29 Republicans and 103 Democrats supporting the amendment, but 207 Republicans and 80 Democrats opposing. We are grateful to the lawmakers who advocated for this common-sense cut in inhumane and wasteful spending, especially Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.—you can watch a video of Rep. DeFazio’s speech on the House floor—and we are sorely disappointed that a majority of their House colleagues did not join them in saving tax dollars and saving animals.

With many lawmakers talking a good game about reducing the federal deficit, it’s the height of hypocrisy that they would vote to retain an $11 million taxpayer-subsidized wildlife extermination program for agribusiness. The millions of dollars spent by federal agents shooting from helicopters and setting out indiscriminate traps and poisons—which kill not only predators but also non-target animals such as family pets and endangered species—often exceed the value of ranchers’ losses due to predation. And all this killing doesn’t even work effectively to protect livestock, since other predators just move into the vacant territory. Common-sense non-lethal methods like the use of guard animals, penning, and shepherding are cheaper and more effective in reducing livestock predation, but ranchers have no incentive to use these methods as long as the federal government keeps paying for unlimited lethal control.

While the amendment was narrowly targeted just to lethal control for the livestock protection program, and would have retained critical funding for public safety and other needs, lawmakers wanting to keep agribusiness on the government teat obfuscated the issue by ranting about geese at airports and other Wildlife Services functions, and the NRA and the Farm Bureau weighed in, advocating for millions of dollars in federal spending to exterminate wildlife.

USDA data show that less than one percent of livestock are killed by predators. And with the constant calls for smaller government and more personal responsibility in the private sector, it only makes sense that livestock producers and property owners—not U.S. taxpayers—should be financially responsible for protecting their property from damage attributed to wildlife. We will continue our efforts to reform the antiquated Wildlife Services program, and bring much-needed balance to the government’s approach to solving wildlife conflicts. I hope you will find out how your representative voted, and contact him or her to express your thanks or disappointment.

The House sided with big agribusiness again in rejecting an amendment offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., by a vote of 154-262, to cap the federal subsidies for industrial factory farms and the corn and soy operations they rely on for animal feed. Excessive commodity subsidies keep animal feed artificially cheap and encourage massive factory farm development, while driving out smaller, more humane, sustainable farms. With major cuts in government programs across the board, it’s a shame that a majority of House lawmakers want to continue subsidizing the killing of coyotes and other wildlife, and the direct hand-outs to large-scale producers, with taxpayers footing the bill.

In other congressional news, two new animal protection bills were introduced this week: The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, S. 1211, by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, would phase out routine, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed, a reckless practice that serves as a crutch to support overcrowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions on factory farms, while spurring development of antibiotic resistance that undermines the effectiveness of these drugs for treating sick people and animals. And the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, H.R. 2210, by Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Brad Sherman, D-Calif., would bar Internet hunting and the interstate commerce in exotic mammals for canned hunts where tame, drugged, captive animals are shot for trophies inside fenced pens. We’ll be working to pass these measures in Congress, and I hope you will check out “Animal Planet Investigates” on Monday, June 20, at 9 p.m. EDT/PDT to see a new HSUS undercover investigation into canned hunts and why this public policy is so badly needed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Celebrating Congressional Pets

It was a "bi-paw-tisan" event that brought "Re-pup-licans" and "Demo-cats" together last evening on Capitol Hill. Hundreds of people and dozens of dogs gathered in suspense as we handed out awards—and treats—and announced the winners of the second annual Congressional Pet Photo Contest, sponsored by HSLF and The HSUS. (Click here to see video.)

With all the critical policy issues facing animals in Congress, including votes this week on federal funding of lethal predator control and horse slaughter, it was a pleasure to take time to celebrate the human-animal bond and the wonderful pets who bring joy and enrichment to the lives of members of Congress and their staff. More than 230 beloved dogs, cats, and horses were entered into the photo contest, and every single one of them touched our hearts.

I loved hearing the stories of how these pets came into the lives of their families and brought so much happiness to the people around them—from Eva and Oberon, cats rescued from the streets of Washington, D.C., to Cali and Koda, dogs who come to work and brighten the days of their coworkers in Congress.

I’d like to thank our judges—Lisa LaFontaine of the Washington Humane Society and Dr. Gary Weitzman of the Washington Animal Rescue League—and all of you who voted online for the People’s Choice Award.

Here is a list of the winning entries. (Click on each name to see the picture.)

People's Choice Award Winner: Liberty – Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.

MEMBER CATS

MEMBER DOGS

  • Rising Star Puppy: Bandit – Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga.
  • Elder Statesdog: Ketcham – Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisc.
  • Barker of the House: Cali – Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.
  • Canine Paw-jority Leader: Koda – Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.

HORSE AWARD

  • Steed of State: Silent Thunder – Amy Smith, House Transportation Committee

STAFF CATS

  • Rising Star Kitten: Eva – Ashley Shillingsburg, office of Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa.
  • Elder Statescat: Oberon – Barbara Pryor, office of Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
  • Feline Paw-jority Leader: Jack – Leah Seigle, office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
  • House Cat: Ike – Lindsay Hamilton, office of Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y.

STAFF DOGS

  • Rising Star Puppy: Baci – Ray Zaccaro, office of Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif.
  • Elder Statesdog: Shadow – Cherie Homa, office of Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.
  • Canine Paw-jority Leader: Buckley – Josh Brekenfeld, Senate Rules Committee
  • Barker of the House: Crimefighter – Christopher Schuler, office of Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C.

Monday, June 13, 2011

House to Vote on Funding Predator Control, Horse Slaughter, Ag Subsidies

The U.S. House of Representatives begins debate tomorrow on the annual appropriations bill to fund the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Fiscal Year 2012. We expect several important issues related to animal welfare to come up, with potentially wide-ranging impacts on how taxpayer dollars are used for predator control, horse slaughter, and agriculture subsidies.
 
The USDA’s Wildlife Services program—initiated 80 years ago with the passage of the Animal Damage Control Act of 1931—is as outdated as they come. This antiquated program has been wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and recklessly killing animals with steel-jawed leghold traps, toxic poisons, aerial gunning, and other inhumane methods. The poisons, particularly Compound 1080 and M-44 sodium cyanide devices, are so deadly and indiscriminate that they have killed family pets like Bea while she was on a hiking trip on public land in northern Utah, and Bella just yards from her family’s doorstep in central Texas.

Take Action There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts, providing training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past, exterminating wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill.

Lethal control is often ineffective at protecting livestock, since other predators simply move in to the vacant territory. In some cases the money spent to kill predators is a greater cost than the value of the livestock losses sustained by ranchers. There are much more cost-effective and humane, non-lethal methods available, such as the use of llamas and other guard animals, lighting, penning, and other proven approaches. But ranchers have little incentive to employ these solutions if taxpayers are willing to continue subsidizing lethal removal of wildlife for them. If policymakers are serious about cutting spending and reforming wasteful government programs, here’s a great place to start.

Three champions of animal protection, Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., will offer an amendment to cut $11 million from USDA’s budget and curb the taxpayer subsidy for lethal predator control. The Campbell-DeFazio-Peters amendment leaves funding for legitimate concerns, such as airport safety, but it halts the fleecing of American taxpayers as a subsidy for wealthy ranchers and begins to shift the agency toward a greater balance with cost-effective and non-lethal solutions.

When the agriculture spending bill was previously considered in committee, an amendment by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., was adopted to de-fund USDA inspections at horse slaughter plants. Every year since 2005, the appropriations bill has included such a provision, which ensured the permanent closure of the last remaining equine abattoirs in Illinois and Texas and has prevented other cruel horse slaughter plants from opening around the country.

Remarkably, we expect horse slaughter proponents to offer amendments on the House floor to repeal this important de-funding prohibition, which could cost U.S. taxpayers about $5 million annually to subsidize government inspections of foreign-owned horse slaughter plants. Adding millions of dollars to the federal budget to inspect foreign-owned horse slaughter plants would be a step backwards for America’s iconic horses and a waste of tax dollars.

We also anticipate amendments dealing with the multi-billion-dollar federal subsidies for industrial factory farms and the corn and soy operations they rely on for animal feed. Excessive commodity subsidies keep animal feed artificially cheap and encourage massive factory farm development, while driving out smaller, more humane, sustainable farms. Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., have been leading the charge for caps on farm payments to large-scale producers, and we hope the House will begin to wean big agribusiness off the government trough.

Please contact your U.S. Representative today at (202) 225-3121, and send an email, and urge him or her to: 1) support the Campbell-DeFazio-Peters amendment to cut funding for lethal predator control, 2) support efforts to limit agriculture subsidies, and 3) oppose any amendment to allow horse slaughter plant inspections. At a time when so many lawmakers are focused on deficit reduction, we can save millions of taxpayer dollars and save animals by reforming harmful government programs.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Progress for Farm Animals in Ohio

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has denied a permit for an Iowa-based agribusiness company, Hi-Q Egg Products, to construct a new battery cage facility confining six million egg-laying hens, which would be in addition to the nearly 27 million already in cages in the state. It’s a proposal that was vehemently opposed by Union County citizen groups, animal welfare advocates, environmentalists and family farmers who didn’t want the industrial operation and its accompanying air and water pollution. It’s a positive development that the company has retreated on its request and said it won’t appeal the agency’s decision, although there is concern over a bill in the Ohio legislature, HB 229, that would make it easier for new factory farms to evade the need for local approval in the future.

battery cage
The HSUS
Egg laying hens confined in a battery cage

One element of the carefully-crafted agreement on animal welfare issues reached last summer by The HSUS and Ohio agricultural leaders was an immediate moratorium on the construction of new battery cages, where hens are crammed into spaces so small they can barely move an inch for their entire lives. The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, in fact, has approved a package of farm animal welfare rules reflecting all of the agricultural elements of the agreement—a ban on new battery cage construction, a phase-out of all veal crates for calves and gestation crates for breeding pigs, a ban on transporting downed cattle too sick or injured to walk to slaughter, and standards for the humane euthanasia of sick animals on the farm—along with a phase-out for tail-docking of dairy cattle. During the process, there was concern that the veal rule would be weakened, and calves would be allowed to be confined in crates for the first half of their lives, but after hearing from more than 4,700 Ohio residents, the board voted unanimously to restore the original crate ban. This entire package of agency regulations is now awaiting final approval by a legislative committee.

The non-agricultural elements of the animal welfare agreement are not as far along in the process, but we hope they will be soon. We expect legislation to be introduced shortly in the Ohio legislature to strengthen the state’s anemic penalties for illegal cockfighting—among the weakest in the nation—and to set standards for the care of dogs in large-scale puppy mills. An emergency rule banning the private acquisition of dangerous wild animals as pets—big cats, bears, primates, wolves, alligators, crocodiles, and large constrictor and venomous snakes—has expired, but the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is working with stakeholders to develop new permanent regulations.

In short, nearly a year after the Ohio agreement, we’re well on our way toward seeing implementation on a wide range of animal welfare policies, and we’re on track to raise Ohio’s ranking from one of the worst states on animal welfare to one of the better ones. As Steve Hoffman wrote in the Akron Beacon Journal, “There is still work to do, but so far there has been give-and-take.” Working together to find solutions has elevated the political reputation of the animal welfare movement in Ohio, and has already resulted in victory for millions of animals.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Key Committee Action on Horse Slaughter, Ag Subsidies, and Animal Welfare Funding

The House Appropriations Committee last evening approved its version of the agriculture spending bill for Fiscal Year 2012, and sent it to the full House of Representatives for consideration, likely in a few weeks. The committee-passed bill included funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement of important animal welfare laws, and successful provisions to bar horse slaughter and cut subsidies to massive factory farms.

On the funding issues, in a very tough budget climate with so many lawmakers focused on deficit reduction, many important programs were competing for dollars. The HSUS and HSLF worked with Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., to mobilize a sign-on letter, and won the bipartisan support of 125 representatives and 34 senators requesting modest funding levels that are critically needed to implement and enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act, the federal animal fighting law, and programs to help prepare for the needs of animals in disasters and to address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and inner-city areas and public health practice. Here’s where the funding levels stand in the House committee version of the bill (the Senate bill has not yet been taken up in committee):

$500,000 for the Horse Protection Act: This is level funding from the previous year, and has been stagnant at that level for years since the passage of the 1970 law to combat horse “soring,” the intentional use of caustic chemicals and sharp objects on horses’ hooves and legs to give them an artificial, high-stepping gait in show competitions. We had advocated for $900,000, which was President Obama’s request to improve enforcement of this four-decades-old law. That said, the funding could have been cut, like so much else in the bill, so it’s important that it is at least consistent with previous levels, although inadequate to crack down on this widespread cruelty.

Puppy mill $22 million for the Animal Welfare Act: This is $65,000 above FY 2011 levels, to provide inspections and oversight of the federal animal care standards at thousands of large-scale puppy mills, research laboratories, circuses, zoos, and other licensed facilities.

$14.5 million for Investigative and Enforcement Services: This is $545,000 above FY 11, for USDA to carry out investigations and appropriate enforcement actions for violations of various laws, including those related to animal welfare.

$80 million for the Office of Inspector General:  This is a cut of more than $8 million from the FY 11 budget for USDA’s enforcement arm to undertake and sustain effective investigations in various areas, including enforcement of federal animal fighting laws, the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and downed animal rules.

Cow Humane Methods of Slaughter Act: The committee included report language directing the Food Safety Inspection Service, “to the maximum extent practicable, to ensure that the inspectors hired to improve enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act are dedicated to overseeing compliance with humane handling rules.” We wanted such a directive, to place an even greater emphasis on the importance of humane slaughter enforcement, in light of recent HSUS investigations revealing lax oversight.

$4.2 million for Veterinary Student Loan Forgiveness: This is a small cut from the $4.8 million in FY 11, but will help continue to address the serious shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural and inner-city areas, as well as in government positions at USDA, by forgiving veterinary student debt for those who choose to practice in one of these underserved areas.

In addition to the program funding, the committee approved two important amendments last evening that will help promote animal welfare as well as fiscal responsibility:

Horse Slaughter: Every year since 2005, the agriculture spending bill has included a provision de-funding USDA inspections at horse slaughter plants, which led to the closure of the last remaining equine abattoirs in Illinois and Texas and has prevented other cruel horse slaughter plants from opening around the country. Remarkably, the bill produced by the House subcommittee omitted this important de-funding prohibition, and could have cost U.S. taxpayers about $5 million annually to subsidize government inspections of foreign-owned horse slaughter plants. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., offered an amendment to restore the horse slaughter de-funding provision; he spoke passionately at the committee meeting in support of this amendment to save horses and save tax dollars, as did Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and the committee approved it by a bipartisan vote of 24 to 21, with 16 Democrats and eight Republicans supporting the pro-horse position. Adding millions of dollars to the federal budget to inspect foreign-owned horse slaughter plants would have been a step backwards for America’s iconic horses and a waste of tax dollars. We’ll be working to make sure the Moran provision is retained in the final bill.

Factory farm Agriculture Subsidies: If lawmakers really want to reduce the deficit, they must confront the multi-billion-dollar federal subsidies for industrial factory farms and the corn and soy operations they rely on for animal feed. The House bill takes a major step in the right direction, as the committee approved an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on a voice vote, to limit farm payments to producers with income of $250,000 or less—down from the current cap of $750,000 for on-farm income and $500,000 for off-farm income. Much more needs to be done in this area, but the Flake amendment sends a strong message that it won’t be business as usual for big agribusiness at the government trough.

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