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December 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 the Year of Chimps and Horses in Congress

The 113th Congress has had the lowest output, in terms of general lawmaking, since 1947. Yet despite the general dysfunction and partisan gridlock in Washington, we’ve made real progress on our key issues. During the first year of the session, we already had one major bill enacted that facilitates the retirement of hundreds of chimps from barren laboratories to natural sanctuaries, and laid substantial groundwork on a number of other issues, particularly a range of reforms to protect horses from cruelty, doping, and slaughter. As we wind down 2013 and head into the second part of the two-year Congress, we’re poised for significant gains on several priorities.
 
ChimpChimpanzee Sanctuary: A bill that made it over the finish line already in 2013 will help chimpanzees warehoused in barren laboratory cages. We celebrated the decision earlier this year by the National Institutes of Health to retire about 90 percent of the government-owned chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuary—where they can live the rest of their lives in peace—and to significantly scale back funding for chimpanzee research. But there was a hitch that had to be overcome: the law Congress enacted in 2000, establishing the national chimpanzee sanctuary system with a unique public-private partnership, imposed a cumulative ceiling on the funding that NIH could devote to the system. NIH was due to reach that limit in mid-November, which not only jeopardized the retirement of the government-owned chimpanzees in labs today who are slated for transfer to sanctuary, but also funding for the continued care of chimpanzees already living at the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven in Louisiana. This would be terrible for the animals and also for taxpayers, since retirement to sanctuary is less costly than keeping chimpanzees in labs. Fortunately, there was bipartisan support in Congress to solve this problem. On November 14—just under the wire before the cap was reached—the Senate gave final approval to a legislative fix passed by the House of Representatives just days earlier. S. 252 contains provisions amending the 2000 CHIMP Act to allow NIH the flexibility to continue using its existing funds for sanctuary care. Signed into law the day before Thanksgiving, this humane, cost-effective, common sense outcome gave us all something to cheer.
 
King Amendment: As a House-Senate conference committee finalizes its negotiations on the Farm Bill, we await resolution on the destructive provision that was folded into the House bill during committee, with minimal debate, at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642. No similar language is in the Senate Farm Bill, and opponents were denied the opportunity to have a floor vote to strike it during House floor debate. The King amendment could negate most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products. It aims to block state laws protecting farm animals and could also preempt laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes. A broad coalition of 89 organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, religious, and other concerns jointly signed a letter calling for the King Amendment—and any related language—to be kept out of final House-Senate legislation. An even broader list of more than 500 groups, officials, newspapers, and citizens have publicly stated their opposition, including letters by a bipartisan set of 23 Senators and 169 Representatives, the National Conference of State Legislatures, County Executives of America, Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, Mississippi and Arkansas Attorneys General, Iowa Farmers Union, Safe Food Coalition, professors from 13 law schools, and editorials in a number of papers such as USA Today, the Des Moines Register, and the Washington Post. The House-Senate conferees certainly should not include this intensely controversial provision or anything like it if they want to complete action on the Farm Bill early in 2014 as planned.
 
AnimalfightingAnimal Fighting: Both the House and Senate Farm Bills include provisions to strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an organized animal fight. The language of the free-standing animal fighting spectator bill—which enjoys the bipartisan support of 262 cosponsors combined in the Senate and House—was part of the Senate Farm Bill from the beginning, as introduced in the Agriculture Committee. For the House, related language was approved as an amendment during committee with a strong bipartisan vote of 28-17. We are hopeful that the animal fighting provision will be part of the final House-Senate package that may be done in January. This legislation is widely supported by nearly 300 national, state and local law enforcement agencies (covering all 50 states), including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and it would cost taxpayers nothing, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It already won approval in 2012 by the House Agriculture Committee and twice by the full Senate, but final action on the Farm Bill stalled last year. Forty-nine states already have penalties for animal fighting spectators, but we need to sync up the federal and state laws since many of these animal fighting raids are multistate and multijurisdictional. Closing this gap in the legal framework will help law enforcement crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting, including those who finance the activity with admission fees and gambling wagers, provide cover to animal fighters during raids, and expose children to the violence and bloodletting.
 
Horse Slaughter: The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills include identical language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspections at horse slaughter plants, language added during committee markup in both chambers. This provision, requested for the first time by the agency itself in the president’s budget, would reinstate a prohibition that had been in place from 2007 to 2011. It is urgently needed, as some companies are about to open horse slaughter plants in the U.S. It makes no sense for the federal government to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to oversee new horse slaughter plants at a time when Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility. The shocking discovery of horse meat in beef products in Europe underscores the potential threat to American health if horse slaughter plants open here. Moreover, horse slaughter is cruel and cannot be made humane, and the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. Horses are shipped for more than 24 hours at a time without food, water, or rest in crowded trucks in which the animals are often seriously injured or killed in transit. Horses are skittish by nature due to their heightened fight-or-flight response, and the methods used to slaughter them rarely result in quick, painless deaths; they often endure repeated blows during attempts to render them unconscious and sometimes remain alive and kicking during dismemberment. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. We’re pressing to have the horse slaughter provision sustained in the omnibus bill that Congress plans to act on by January 15 to avoid another government shutdown.  
 
Animal Welfare Funding:  The House Agriculture Appropriations bill would restore funds cut last year in some accounts, and the Senate bill would actually provide substantial increases requested in the president’s budget for USDA to enforce and implement key animal-related laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. Final resolution is expected by January 15 as part of the omnibus bill, and we hope the Senate’s higher figures will prevail. We’ve consistently boosted funding for animal welfare enforcement, even in a competitive climate for budget dollars, and it has a real impact for animals on the ground. Today there are 136 inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, and other regulated facilities, more than doubled from just 60 in the 1990s.
 
HorseHorse Soring:  The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act has gained major momentum with the bipartisan support of almost 300 cosponsors in the House and Senate, and a successful hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This legislation boasts a lengthy list of endorsements, including the American Horse Council and 48 other national and state horse groups; the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and veterinary medical associations in all 50 states; many animal protection groups; and others. The PAST Act amends an existing federal law, the Horse Protection Act of 1970, to better rein in the cruel practice of “soring”—in which unscrupulous trainers hurt Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to make it painful for them to step down, so they will display an extreme high-stepping gait that wins prizes at horse shows. Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to “cook” those chemicals deep into the horse’s flesh for days, attaching heavy chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting bolts, screws or other hard objects into sensitive areas of the hooves, cutting the hooves down to expose the live tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. More than 40 years ago, Congress tried to stop this abuse, but the Horse Protection Act is too weak, and rampant soring continues, according to a 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General that recommended reforms incorporated in the PAST Act. This legislation is not expected to add costs to the federal government; it will simply enable USDA to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient and effective way. The only ones opposing this non-controversial legislation are those who are already breaking federal law, committing heinous cruelty, cheating to win unfair advantage at horse shows, and profiting from it. That subset of the show horse world doesn’t want Congress to alter the status quo. But many others in the show horse world are strongly advocating the PAST Act to deal with morally repugnant behavior that is giving their industry a major black eye, hurting attendance at shows, driving away corporate sponsors, and driving down horse sale prices.
 
Horse Racing:  The House Energy and Commerce Committee also held a compelling hearing on the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle testified in favor of the legislation. A powerful New York Times exposé examined 150,000 horse races from 2009 to 2011, reporting that minimal oversight, inconsistent regulations, and rampant doping of horses has led to a stunning “average of 24 horse deaths on racetracks around the country every week.” According to Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Racing Board, “It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through. In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.” This is tragic for the horses and also often the jockeys, who can suffer serious injuries, paralysis, or death from being thrown. The legislation would ban doping of racehorses, and give the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent body that has helped root out doping in other professional sports, the authority to oversee and enforce the new rules. Rather than having different rules with respect to medicating of horses in every state where tracks operate, there would be a consistent national policy.
 
Taking stock at the mid-point of the 113th Congress, we celebrate the enactment of the chimpanzee legislation, and redouble our commitment to finish the job for these other pressing priorities that are poised for action. The animals are counting on us, and despite the general dysfunction in Washington, there is tremendous potential on many fronts. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The King Grinch Who Stole State Ag Laws

You don’t need the glow of Rudolph’s red nose to see that only a Grinch would go after rules that guarantee families get healthy Christmas trees. But Capitol Hill’s reigning Grinch, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, is determined to spoil Christmas for both young and old. He’s the author of a controversial and overreaching amendment to the pending Farm Bill—it amounts to a federal takeover that would block states from setting standards for agriculture products.

King says he’s targeting a California law requiring more humane treatment of egg-laying hens. But his amendment is so broad it impacts all the Whos in Whoville, not just those in the Golden State. It applies to the manufacturing of any agricultural product—even Christmas trees and reindeer.

ReindeerIn Alabama, it’s illegal to import Christmas trees, or ornamental pine foliage, from any state that has pine shoot beetles, unless the trees and foliage have been quarantined. Oregon prohibits selling a Christmas tree that’s infected with disease. Georgia sets standards for Christmas trees sold at farmers markets. Washington requires any diseased Christmas tree to be condemned so that consumers won’t have to worry about the quality of the tree in their living room.

Surely these states should have the right to set standards to protect consumers who want good, healthy Christmas trees to mark the holiday season. Who wants a sick Christmas tree to ruin that special morning as families gather round to celebrate and exchange gifts?

And what about Rudolph and his friends? Connecticut requires that any reindeer imported into the state be free from tuberculosis, brucellosis, and chronic wasting disease. The King amendment could nullify Connecticut’s law that protects reindeer farmers from receiving infected animals from other states. When Santa lands his sleigh on your rooftop, you want him spreading good cheer, not bovine tuberculosis.

Congress will come back in January and the Farm Bill will be one of the first items on the legislative agenda. A conference committee will determine whether the King amendment makes it into the final package. If ever there was a need for the Whos in Whoville to stand strong in a good cause, it’s now. Every good Who needs to stand up and be counted if this radical and sweeping attack on state sovereignty is to be defeated, and the Grinch sent home to Mount Crumpit.    

With the defeat of the King amendment, families can continue to hang ornaments and lights on healthy Christmas trees, and Santa can continue to have healthy reindeer to fly him around the globe—delivering gifts to good little boys and girls and lumps of coal to those who would strike down even the most basic standards of care for animal welfare, food safety, and the environment.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cruelty to Donkeys, Fleecing of Taxpayers

There is more fallout today from the Michigan wolf hunt scandal, in which lawmakers and state officials spread fabricated stories about wolf incidents, even as most of the depredation on livestock occurred at one farm that left cattle carcasses out to attract wolves. That farmer has now been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly allowing two “guard donkeys,” paid for by taxpayers, to starve to death.

According to an MLive story by reporter John Barnes published today, Upper Peninsula farmer John Koski “is accused of neglecting two donkeys provided by the state that died. A third was removed from the farm because of ill health, officials said. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.”

WolfAdditionally, the report notes, “Koski has collected nearly $33,000 in cattle-loss compensation from the state for that same period, more than all other farmers combined. The donkeys cost an additional $1,650 total. A $1,316 electric fence provided by the state to protect cows while calving also disappeared...”

State officials have apologized for their false statements that led to the opening of the wolf hunt, and they acknowledge that Koski’s poor management practices have accounted for more than 60 percent of all wolf depredation of livestock in Michigan. Yet they stubbornly continue to argue that the wolf hunt should continue—with at least 20 wolves already killed this year—and they continue to try to carry off an end-run around Michigan voters just to get their way.

There are fewer than 700 wolves in Michigan, and they are just beginning to recover from the brink of extinction. It’s already legal to kill problem wolves in the rare instances when livestock or pets are threatened. And most of the wolf incidents—those not made up out of whole cloth—have occurred on a single property, where the negligent owner pocketed tens of thousands of dollars, refused to use fencing provided by the state, left dead cattle unburied to draw the predators to a free meal, and now has been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly starving animals to death.

The state legislature made a mistake in authorizing this cruel and unnecessary wolf hunt. And when more than 250,000 Michigan voters signed petitions to put the wolf hunting issue on the ballot, the legislature passed a second law to override the people. They wrongly gave the power to seven, unelected members of the Natural Resources Commission, who are political appointees and not experts. They are not accountable to the voters and their decisions cannot be challenged.

The cruelty charges filed against Koski provide one more example of why Michigan’s wolf hunt is based on a pack of lies. The politicians and state officials apparently cannot be trusted, but the voters can. Join Keep Michigan Wolves Protected to help set things right and stop this abuse of power.  

Monday, December 09, 2013

Top 13 in ’13: State Animal Protection Laws

It’s been a remarkable year of policymaking at the state level, with legislatures so far passing 107 new animal protection measures. A handful of states are still in session and the number may climb, but in total, it makes more than 800 new policies in the states since 2005, across a broad range of subjects bearing upon the lives of pets, wildlife, animals in research, and farm animals. That is tremendous forward progress, closing the gaps in the legal framework for animals, and ushering in new standards in society for how animals are treated. I’d like to recap what I view as the top 13 state victories for animals in 2013.

LEAD AMMO: California adopted the first statewide requirement for lead-free ammunition when shooting animals. Millions of animals are poisoned by lead left behind by hunters, and more than 130 species are affected. We hope this gain provides inspiration to other states and to federal agencies to make the switch to non-lead ammunition. Lead has been prohibited in waterfowl hunting since 1991, and it’s long past time to require the same in the case of other species.

SharkSHARK FINNING: The Atlantic Ocean states of Delaware, Maryland, and New York banned the trade in shark fin products, making a total of eight states and three U.S. territories that have taken action to reduce the demand for shark fins. Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins—often cut off at sea while the animals are still alive, left to die slowly in the oceans—just for a bowl of soup.

ANIMAL CRUELTY: North Dakota became the 49th state to adopt felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals (leaving South Dakota as the only holdout). Alabama strengthened its cruelty law, by extending felony penalties to animals other than dogs and cats. Ohio upgraded its penalties for cruelty committed by kennel owners and operators. And Pennsylvania and Tennessee passed bills requiring that alleged animal abusers pay the costs of care for holding their animals until trial, so those costs are not a burden on nonprofit or municipal animal care agencies.

PuppymillPUPPY MILLS: Vermont passed legislation requiring commercial dog breeders to meet basic standards of animal care, and strengthened the state's “pet lemon law” so consumers who purchase sick puppies will have additional remedies for reimbursement for reasonable veterinary expenses. West Virginia also passed a law to crack down on puppy mills, and require licensing and inspection of large-scale commercial dog breeders that were previously unregulated.

EXOTIC PETS:  Arkansas banned future private possession of most primates—including chimpanzees, baboons and macaque monkeys—as exotic pets. All but six states now have laws on the books to prevent people from having large, powerful wild animals as pets, since it almost always turns out badly for the animals, and it can result in terrible harm to human beings.

SPAY/NEUTER: Maryland established a fund that could generate close to $1 million annually for spaying and neutering dogs and cats, with a focus on low-income residents. The new law will make competitive grants available to animal shelters and rescue groups to facilitate and promote spay/neuter services, and to help reduce pet overpopulation and drive down euthanasia rates.

ANIMAL FIGHTING:  Nevada fortified its anti-cockfighting statute, making it a felony on the first offense. Previously, under a loophole in the law, only repeat offenders could be charged with felonies, and many cockfighters viewed the anemic penalties as simply the cost of doing business. Now, 40 states have felony penalties for cockfighting, and 37 of them are for the first offense, helping to crack down on this staged animal combat and associated criminal activities.

HorseHORSE TRIPPING: Oregon and Nevada banned the cruel sport of horse tripping, where galloping horses are roped by the front legs, causing them to violently trip and fall. Supporting the measures were broad coalitions that included horse owners, veterinarians, riding groups, and mainstream rodeo fans.

GAS CHAMBERS: Texas passed a statewide ban on the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers as a method of euthanasia in animal shelters. Mississippi ended its use of the chambers without enacting a statute, and a number of other states are following suit.  

POACHING: Stepping up the national battle against poachers, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island passed legislation required to join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. The national law enforcement network prevents wildlife violators who have lost their hunting, trapping or fishing privileges due to illegal wildlife crimes, such as poaching, in member states from circumventing those license revocations in another state.

TRAPPING: Hawaii banned the use of barbaric steel-jawed leghold traps and restricted the use of snares and other body-crushing traps in residential areas where pets fall victim and often attempt to chew off their own limbs to escape the painful devices.

CHAINING DOGS: Connecticut and Illinois put limits on the tethering of dogs outdoors during extreme weather, and Oregon restricted the time duration and length of tether for the chaining of dogs. Oregon’s law also set new standards for providing adequate shelter and bedding for dogs, an important upgrade that eliminates ambiguity and uncertainty in the existing law.

AG-GAG: Animal advocates have succeeded so far this year in preventing the passage of so-called “ag-gag” bills in all 11 states where they were introduced in 2013—Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming and Vermont. The legislation was written and advanced as part of an attempt to block undercover investigations by animal protection groups, mainly at factory farms. These investigations expose illegal and unethical activity at such facilities and are an important part of bringing factory farming abuses to light.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Good News for Predators and Whales

There are two pieces of good news for animal advocates coming today from the Obama administration.

CoyoteFirst, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General announced that it will proceed with an independent audit of the agency’s much-criticized Wildlife Services program. I had written back in September that the planned audit was in jeopardy, because the agency was limited by budget constraints on how many audits it could conduct in the coming year. I had argued it was penny-wise and pound-foolish to forgo the Wildlife Services review, because the program wastes tens of millions of tax dollars and an audit could provide recommendations for conducting the work of solving wildlife conflicts in a more humane, effective, and cost-efficient way.

A key issue OIG will investigate is whether Wildlife Services can justify its wildlife damage management activities, and whether those actions have been effective. Wildlife Services kills a vast number of animals (nearly 3.8 million were killed in Fiscal Year 2011) as a subsidy for private agricultural businesses and other special interests. Its lethal predator control program, in particular, primarily benefits an extremely small proportion of private ranchers and big game management interests and focuses almost entirely on costly, inhumane, and indiscriminate methods, such as aerial gunning and the use of highly toxic poisons and steel-jawed leghold traps. In many cases, the costs of killing predators are higher than the financial losses caused by the predation itself, and non-lethal methods have demonstrated better long-term outcomes.

OIG will also look at the controls over cooperative agreements and assess Wildlife Services’ information system for reliability and integrity. The review will follow up on the implementation of prior audit recommendations, such as accountability for hazardous materials and equipment. Wildlife Services, as a whole, is an outdated model, with its mass killing of coyotes, bears, mountain lions, wolves, and other predators, and needs to be brought into the 21st century with more balance, transparency, and accountability.

Second, the National Marine Fisheries Service has finalized a rule to require permanent seasonal speed restrictions for ships in high-use habitat of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. This outcome came in response to a legal petition filed by The HSUS and others as part of an ongoing effort to protect this vulnerable species from a variety of threats. I wrote last week that the rule was set to expire on December 9, and the shipping industry has been putting pressure on the administration to implement another automatic “sunset” provision and continually re-evaluate these speed limits every five years. The final rule rightly rejected the continual expiration of the speed limits.

RightwaleThe rule, now permanent, requires that ships 65 feet or greater in length slow to 10 knots (about 11 miles per hour) in the southeast from Florida through South Carolina, where the whales give birth during the winter. Ships are required to slow during the spring and early summer in the waters off New England, which are an important feeding area for mothers and newborns. From New York through South Carolina, ships are required to slow during the whales’ seasonal migration.

In the five years the speed limits have been in place during the trial period, there have been no whale deaths within 40 miles of any of the protected areas. That’s a huge win for whales, at minimal cost to the industry. Making the rule permanent will continue to save the lives of right whales, and with only 450 animals remaining in this species, we must do everything possible to ensure their survival.

We are grateful to the Obama administration for taking stock of the Wildlife Services program, and for making the ship strike rule permanent. We are also thankful to the members of Congress who weighed in with the administration to encourage favorable action on these important issues. Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., called for a thorough investigation of Wildlife Services, while Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Reps. DeFazio, Bill Keating, D-Mass., and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., urged the adoption of permanent ship speed restrictions. When reasonable and science-based pathways are available, it’s the right thing to do. This pair of actions will provide an opportunity to develop a new way forward to curb excessive killing of wildlife, and protect a critically endangered species from unnecessary harm.

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