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May 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

Super PAC Forms to Promote Animal Abuse

Every day, every minute, animals are at risk somewhere, whether they’re languishing in abusive puppy mills, confined in metal cages on industrial factory farms where they can barely move an inch, or caught up in some other enterprise that puts profit over animal welfare. And as much as we’ve gained ground in our efforts to help those animals, it’s still the case that there are wealthy special interests and hard-hearted individuals trying to keep them in the crates and mills to guarantee their further suffering. They work every day to perpetuate the status quo, and even to deregulate animal use industries so that they have nothing to fear and no accountability. They want just the appearance of legal protections for animals, or no laws at all. 

Michael Beckel of the Center for Public Integrity has reported that millionaire businessman Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Products, has formed a new Super PAC to oppose animal welfare. Lucas is perhaps the biggest pro-animal abuse money man in America. With his personal net worth of $300 million and his company’s annual revenue of $150 million, Lucas can fund a huge war chest and his new Super PAC can spend unlimited amounts on political ads in elections. 

He’s already demonstrated there's no limit to his hostility to animal welfare. In 2010, Lucas spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bankroll the opposition to Proposition B in Missouri, which voters approved to set common-sense standards for the care of dogs in large-scale puppy mills. Lucas then supported an effort in the Missouri legislature to weaken and repeal parts of the voter-approved measure, before it even had a chance to take effect. In 2012, Lucas and his group Protect the Harvest spent more than a quarter-million dollars opposing Measure 5 in North Dakota, which sought to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses. In 2013, Protect the Harvest even lobbied against a local ordinance in Crawford County, Indiana to require proper shelter of dogs and cats and another proposal in Harrison County to promote the spaying and neutering of pets to help reduce pet overpopulation.

MO_PUPPY_MILL_MARCH_2010
Missouri puppy mill dogs exposed to the elements

What kind of group defends puppy mills, fights meaningful anti-cruelty laws, and wants to deny companion animals a roof over their heads and protection from the elements? Protect the Harvest is even fighting against family farmers by pushing a new measure on the August ballot in Missouri, Amendment 1, which would prioritize the interests of foreign corporations and industrial factory farms over humane and sustainable agriculture, and prevent any future standards for the care of animals in agriculture, even for the "farming" of dogs in puppy mills.

Now, with the new Super PAC, we can expect more well-funded attacks from Lucas on animal protection efforts across the country.That’s why it’s more important than ever that the Humane Society Legislative Fund strengthen its own hand, so that it can stand up against such attacks, and expand its efforts to fortify the nation’s laws to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. With your help, we can continue our work to pass animal protection laws, educate the public, and elect humane candidates to office.

Please join us in fighting back against the anti-animal forces, and make a donation to HSLF today. Standing strong and standing together, we can overcome the attack by one millionaire on the animal welfare movement, the proper care of animals, and decency and mercy in society.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Closing Down the Downer Loophole

It’s been years in the making, but not a moment too soon, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has moved one step further on a rule to ban the slaughter of downer veal calves too sick, injured or weak to stand and walk on their own. Federal regulations already prohibit the slaughter of downed adult cattle for human consumption, requiring instead that sick or injured cows be humanely euthanized immediately. But there’s a loophole in the law that excludes calves and allows these young animals to be kept alive in suffering indefinitely, subject to unacceptable and callous cruelty.

This exemption encourages producers to starve newborn calves, denying them basic sustenance for days after they’ve been weaned, since they may yet bring in a buck even if they’re generally too weak to rise. It’s also an incentive for overt abuse, as slaughter plant workers beat, drag and prod the animals to try to get them to stand up and move them into the kill box. These were the very cruelties exposed in an HSUS undercover investigation at a Vermont slaughter plant in 2009, in which infant calves just a few days old—some with their umbilical cords still attached—were kicked, slapped, and repeatedly shocked with electric prods. They came to light once again at a New Jersey slaughter plant earlier this year, when another HSUS investigation revealed plant workers hitting and shocking calves, and dragging them by their tails and with chains around their necks.

Bushway Calf

In response to a legal petition filed by The HSUS more than four years ago and more than 50,000 public comments voicing support for that petition, the USDA has announced its intent to grant the request. But the administration has yet to propose a formal rule amending the regulations. We’re grateful for the help from many members of Congress who encouraged USDA to get on with the job. In joint letters, 72 members of the House, led by Reps. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and a dozen Senators, led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., called on USDA to stop dragging its feet and to prioritize and expedite this rulemaking effort to protect animal welfare and food safety.

It’s just common sense that young, vulnerable calves should have the same protections under the law already given to adult cattle. We are pleased to see USDA moving a step closer on protecting downer veal calves from these terrible abuses. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to finalize the rule and shut down this downer loophole.  

 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Super Tuesday for Animals

It took less than ten minutes after the Kentucky polls closed last night for Sen. Mitch McConnell to be declared the victor in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate over challenger Matt Bevin—about the same amount of time birds with razor-sharp gaffs strapped to their legs will last in a cockfighting match. Bevin’s campaign was derailed by cockfighting, and he lost ground after speaking at a rally organized to legalize the blood sport in Kentucky, getting trounced by a statewide margin of 25 points in what was originally supposed to be a competitive race.

In fact, Bevin lost by even wider margins and underperformed against his statewide totals in some of the most notorious cockfighting counties in the state. In Clay, Edmonson, Floyd, Laurel, and Pike Counties — home to some of the state's largest cockfighting pits, with names like the Big Blue Sportsmen’s Club, which features arena-style seating, a full-service restaurant, and laminated membership cards — Bevin lost by a range of 31 to 60 points. The cockfighters don’t seem to be much of a voting bloc, and politicians have nothing to gain by catering to these organized criminals who commit unspeakable cruelty to animals.

Cockfighting Gaff
Example of the razor-sharp knives strapped to fighting birds. Photo Credit: The HSUS/Alex Gallardo

In Louisiana, the last state to ban cockfighting, it used to be conventional wisdom among some politicians that you couldn’t go against the cockfighters, and there are even some lawmakers who still defend the sport as “chicken boxing.” But just yesterday, the state legislature took another step in the right direction by giving final passage to a bill that fortifies Louisiana’s 2007 anti-cockfighting statute. If signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, it will increase the first-offense penalties for cockfighting, tighten the definition of birds used for fighting, and ban the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia, to help law enforcement crack down on this staged animal combat. It’s a sign of the times that the last state to have legal cockfights may soon have one of the strongest anti-cockfighting laws on the books.

In other election news, Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue are headed to a runoff in the Republican primary for the open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia. We were pleased to see Rep. Paul Broun place fifth among the GOP candidates, getting only 9.6 percent of the vote. Broun described himself as a volunteer lobbyist for Safari Club International before coming to Congress, and during his time in office, he has had one of the most extreme anti-animal records, opposing the most modest efforts to prevent cruelty and abuse, and going out of his way to attack animal protection. Shockingly, he was one of only three lawmakers to vote against legislation in 2010 to ban the trafficking in obscene animal “crush” videos, in which scantily clad women in high heels crush puppies, kittens, and other small animals to death for the sexual titillation of viewers. Good riddance to him, since he gave up his House seat for his failed Senate run.

Paul Broun and Matt Bevin may be the poster boys for a new premise in politics:  Being soft on animal cruelty can be fatal to your prospects.

 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Top 10 (So Far) in 2014

We’re just over a third of the way through 2014, and 42 new animal protection laws have already been enacted this year in the states. It continues the surge in policymaking at the state level, and in total, it makes more than 900 new policies in the states since 2005, across a broad range of subjects bearing upon the lives of pets, wildlife, animals in research and testing, 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 10 state victories for animals so far in 2014.

Cockfighting Rooster
Photo by The HSUS/Alex Gallardo

FELONY CRUELTY: South Dakota became the 50th state with felony penalties for malicious animal cruelty. In the mid-1980s only four states had such laws, and it has long been a priority goal for The HSUS and HSLF to have felony cruelty statutes in all 50 states. With South Dakota’s action, our entire nation now treats animal abuse as more than just a slap on the wrist. The bill also made South Dakota the 41st state with felony cockfighting penalties, leaving only nine states with weak misdemeanor statutes for staged animal combat.

EXOTIC PETS: West Virginia became the 45th state to restrict the private ownership of dangerous exotic animals such as big cats, primates, bears, wolves, and large constricting and venomous snakes. The new policy is a major step forward for animal welfare and public safety, and leaves just five states with virtually no restrictions on reckless individuals who keep dangerous predators in their bedrooms and basements and threaten the safety of the animals as well as the community at large.

FOX PENNING: Virginia passed legislation restricting cruel fox pens—staged competitions where wild-caught foxes are trapped and stocked inside fenced enclosures to be chased down by packs of dogs. Lawmakers reached a compromise to phase out existing pens and prohibit new ones from opening, setting the stage for an eventual end to this sick type of animal fighting between dogs and foxes.

BREED DISCRIMINATION: After the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that pit bulls were “inherently dangerous,” it ushered in a disgraceful era of canine profiling in which families with pit bull-type dogs were forced to choose between their homes and their beloved pets. It took the Maryland legislature two years, but they finally passed legislation to address the problem, agreeing that public safety is best served by holding dog owners equally liable if their dog injures someone, regardless of the dog’s breed. Additionally, Utah passed a bill that prohibits any local government in the state from enacting breed-discriminatory legislation.

VEAL CRATES: The Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission was established to consider rules on animals in agriculture, and the panel decided to ban veal crates by 2018, making Kentucky the eighth state to end the cruel confinement of veal calves in small crates where they can’t turn around.  While this is welcome progress, the commission unfortunately punted on other important issues such as gestation crates for breeding pigs and tail docking of dairy cows.

ATTACK OF THE DRONES: After news that a hunter in Alaska used a remote-controlled drone to locate and kill a moose, wildlife officials in Alaska, Colorado, and Montana acted swiftly to ban drone hunting of wildlife, joining Idaho and Wisconsin which had existing statutes. Other states should follow suit before this unsporting idea of using drones to locate and chase down animals catches on.

Tiger

Rescued tiger at Black Beauty Ranch

GREYHOUND RACING: Colorado banned greyhound racing, which hasn’t been active in the state since 2008, while Arizona passed legislation to require reporting of greyhound injuries at Tucson Greyhound Park, where a dog died in March after bumping an electrified inside rail. Iowa lawmakers passed a compromise bill, which is now on Gov. Branstad’s desk, to end or reduce greyhound racing at certain tracks, eliminate slot machine subsidies for dog racing, and set up a retirement fund for greyhound breeders. 

PET PROTECTIVE ORDERS: Iowa and Virginia both passed legislation to strengthen their states’ protections for victims of domestic violence and their beloved family pets. The bills allow pets to be included in protective orders, helping to ensure that abusers do not succeed in controlling, manipulating, or keeping the human victims of their cruelty and violence in dangerous situations by threatening their pets with harm.

PUPPY MILLS: Connecticut and Virginia strengthened laws to protect dogs from abuse in large-scale commercial puppy mills. “Bailey’s Law” in Virginia—named for a beagle puppy suffering from respiratory and intestinal infections after she was unknowingly purchased from a puppy mill—requires that pet stores must inform consumers about the sources of their dogs. The Connecticut bill, now on Gov. Malloy’s desk, would prohibit pet stores from purchasing dogs or cats from breeders with certain Animal Welfare Act violations.

BESTIALITY: Alabama passed legislation banning the sexual abuse of animals. It was previously one of 14 states with no laws on the books prohibiting bestiality.

With many state legislative sessions still in progress, we hope to build substantially on these numbers in our effort to fortify the legal framework for animals.

 

 

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A Doggone Fur by Any Other Name

The Federal Trade Commission today announced that it was doubling down on the industry-coined name “Asiatic raccoon” by refusing to update it to the proper English name “raccoon dog” in its amended fur labeling regulations. As part of the Truth in Fur Labeling Act passed by Congress in 2010, which closed a loophole in the federal labeling law and now requires fur-trimmed apparel to be labeled with the species of animal and country or origin, the FTC was also required to consider updates to its official Fur Products Name Guide describing the names of species or type of animal to be used on labels. The decision to retain the fraudulent term “Asiatic raccoon” in the guide is a disappointing one that will continue to cause consumer confusion and deception in the marketplace.

The Fur Products Labeling Act spells it out clearly: “The names used shall be the true English names for the animals in question, or in the absence of a true English name for an animal, the name by which such animal can be properly identified in the United States.” And by every reputable source, including ITIS.gov, a leading authoritative database on taxonomy established by several U.S. federal government agencies, the only correct common name for Nyctereutes procyonoides is the “raccoon dog.” The species is taxonomically identified as a member of the Canidae (dog) family and not a member of the Procyonidae (raccoon) family.

B7P1A0_164161
A raccoon dog in the wild. Photo by Alamy.

In fact, the agencies that actually deal with animals have used the correct term for decades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service referred to the species as the raccoon dog when it was listed as injurious under the Lacey Act in 1982, and continues to do so in its publications on the wildlife trade. The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses the name raccoon dog when it reports commodity data on fur imports and products. At zoos where the animals are on display, and on nature specials ranging from PBS to BBC, the public knows them mostly as raccoon dogs. 

Everywhere, that is, except on fur garments. The fur industry knows it has an public image problem with this canid whose mistreatment at the hands of the fur trade—including being skinned alive in Chinese fur markets—has been well documented, so they’ve invented their own term to describe it as some other species. As early as 1950, Arthur Samet’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of Furs candidly reports how despite knowing the true name of the animal, the fur trade should use a different “guise,” suggesting how the “Asiatic raccoon” came to be listed in the Name Guide in the first place: “Is this fur bearer, raccoon, fox, wolf or dog? As fur men we may resent the truth of zoological study which reveals this fur bearer as a ‘Dog.’ Yet because of its raccoon likeness, zoologists call it the Raccoon Dog. Think not, however, that our Asiatic raccoons will go to the dogs. In spite of the fact that the fox and wolf and dog are all in one family of ‘dogs’, the world’s ‘Fur Trade’ will continue to recognize the name of the raccoon as the old standby.”

Moreover, in rejecting the name raccoon dog, the FTC argued that consumers must be familiar with the term “Asiatic raccoon” by now, since the industry has been using it for several decades. But even that name has not been used with any consistency, and raccoon dog fur is the most falsely advertised and mislabeled fur in the marketplace. It’s often passed off as raccoon, coyote, or faux, and even the industry sometimes calls it by other names such as “Finn raccoon” or “Tanuki.”

The Fur Products Name Guide was intended to put a stop to this type of confusion, and bring some consistency and transparency to fur labels so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions in the marketplace. The law specifically forbids “trade names” or “coined names,” and here’s an example of the FTC bending over backwards to accept an industry name made up out of whole cloth, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and common English usage. A raccoon dog isn’t a raccoon, just as a kangaroo rat isn’t a kangaroo—and the FTC should know the difference. 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Eating with a Conscience in Congress

U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., yesterday announced that he and his staff are participating in Meatless Mondays in both his Washington, D.C. and San Fernando Valley offices, to raise awareness of how food choices impact public health, the environment, and animals.

“Eating right is a good way to encourage a healthier worker and a healthier working environment,” said Cárdenas. “All good nutrition choices begin with moderation and I think skipping meat one day each week is a great way for my staff and I to send a message to the Valley that smart choices can be made anywhere.

Mango-and-black-bean-salad
Black bean, mango, and avocado salad.

“The environmental impact of curbing meat consumption is important as well. It should come as no surprise that factory farmed animals create more carbon and methane than vegetable and fruit production. No one who is concerned about climate change should be able to accept the status quo, where our agribusinesses and food consumption are concerned.”

It’s a great example of leadership by Cárdenas on an issue that is important to so many Americans. And it’s especially welcome in the wake of what can only be described as intolerance and dogma by other members of Congress on the issue. Just last year, when Capitol Hill cafeterias promoted more meat-free options on Mondays, Big Agribusiness groups protested and killed the program. Ag state lawmakers similarly complained when the U.S. Department of Agriculture mentioned Meatless Monday in a newsletter.

These are the same Big Ag groups that talk about consumer choice and options in the marketplace, but in their view, having a few hearty vegetable dishes available for government staff is the worst thing to happen in a dining hall since the Red Wedding. They say they want no regulation and want the government to stay out of their business, yet they are more than happy to hold out their hands for millions of dollars in federal subsidies, and force their own ideology on government cafeterias and agencies. When it comes to labeling and transparency about their products, they want to keep consumers in the dark.

But it’s a conversation we should be having, as more Americans are thinking about their food choices and deserve the opportunity to make informed decisions in the marketplace. Per capita meat consumption is higher in the U.S. than virtually any other nation, and even the American Meat Institute recommends USDA guidelines for healthy and balanced eating that would mean 130 pounds of meat per year per person—a 35 percent reduction from the current average of 200 pounds per person per year. The high demand for meat is unsustainable, forcing animals into inhumane confinement in factory farms, and driving family farmers out of business and off the land.

There is so much that lawmakers and opinion leaders can do to help drive this public discussion around eating with a conscience. We hope they will join Rep. Cárdenas in promoting Meatless Mondays, and get involved in other ways, whether it’s supporting farmers who provide a good living environment for their animals, promoting transparency in agriculture and information-sharing in the marketplace, or advocating for public policies to curb the worst abuses by Big Ag.

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