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December 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

Audit Shows Lax Lab Enforcement

The HSUS and HSLF are at the forefront of legislative reforms concerning animal welfare, but it’s not enough to just pass laws—we must work diligently to ensure they are enforced and that there are consequences for those who don’t follow the rules. For animals in research, enforcement is unfortunately lacking and some laboratories are getting a free pass from even meeting the most basic standards of care.

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The audit says animals in research labs are not always receiving basic humane care and treatment. Photo: The HSUS

An audit released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General concluded that the agency’s enforcement actions under the Animal Welfare Act are weak and do not serve as a deterrent to future violations. The report also pointed to failures on the part of research facilities, concluding that “animals are not always receiving basic humane care and treatment” and that pain and distress are not always minimized when animals are used in experiments.

Weak enforcement of the AWA has been a significant and ongoing problem and, according to the audit, the situation has worsened in recent years. The HSUS and HSLF successfully worked with Congress in 2008, as part of the Farm Bill, to upgrade penalties for violations of the AWA—quadrupling the potential fine from $2,500 to $10,000 per violation (the relevant penalties hadn’t changed in more than 20 years). But we’ve been disappointed in the USDA’s failure to actually utilize these new maximum penalties.

The OIG uncovered that the USDA reduced penalties by 86 percent from the authorized maximum, even in cases that involved animal deaths and other egregious violations. This is in line with what The HSUS has been finding in its own investigations. Not long ago, for example, The HSUS submitted evidence to the OIG of a case in which the USDA assessed a penalty of only $10,000 when 30 monkeys died after being trapped in a hot room where temperature regulation failed and employees ignored alarms signaling the failure. This insignificant fine was not a deterrent for violations as the same company, less than a year later, sent a monkey through a cage washing machine and the animal was scalded to death. The fine for this repeat negligence was only $4,500. 

The USDA can revoke the licenses of puppy mills and roadside zoos, but with research facilities, fines are the only tool available to ensure compliance. If a fine is too low, the violation is seen simply as a business expense or minor nuisance. That’s why it’s so critical that the USDA impose meaningful fines against research facilities for serious animal welfare violations.

Violations related to Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs), which are responsible for review of animal research activities and protocols, were found to be the most common. These include inadequate searches for alternatives to painful procedures, no descriptions of procedures to ensure pain is avoided to the extent possible, and failure to follow approved protocols.

At one Maryland facility, the OIG observed that “researchers dropped chili pepper flakes into the eyes of an animal to induce tearing; the protocol called for carefully placing a few flakes on the cheek below the animal’s eyes.” If animals are going to be used in these experiments, then the IACUCs should at the very least ensure that researchers’ use of animals is in accordance with an approved protocol.

According to the OIG, nearly 45 percent of the research facilities visited also misreported the numbers of animals used, reported animals in the wrong pain category, or could not provide documentation to reconcile their annual report of statistics. The amount of pain and distress reported by research institutions is woefully inadequate, and the USDA should crack down on research facilities for misreporting.  Without accurate reporting, there is no transparency and no accountability.

We are all diligently working to move away from harmful animal use and toward the use of more effective non-animal alternatives to solve human health problems. Until that day comes, however, the public expects that while animals are used for research and testing, our nation’s basic animal care standards should be followed. These OIG findings should be a wake-up call for policymakers, and they should demand that there be consequences for facilities that fail to follow the law. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Highlights for Animals From the 113th Congress

The 113th Congress, spanning January 2013 to December 2014, may be remembered for its relative lack of productivity and growing polarization. In terms of general lawmaking, it appears this Congress enacted fewer laws, by a wide margin, than any other since at least 1947, the date to which the House clerk’s records go back.

Yet despite two years of gridlock, Congress delivered a number of important successes for animals in the past two years. There were some major setbacks and disappointments, too. But the successes in the areas of animal fighting, chimpanzee sanctuaries, horse slaughter, wildlife trafficking, fending off the King amendment, and more demonstrate that even when little else is getting done, animal protection can bridge partisan divides in Congress.

Positive Steps

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Photo: Kent Gilbert/AP Images for The HSUS

Animal Fighting: The final Farm Bill signed into law in February 2014 (P.L. 113-79) includes a provision 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 freestanding animal fighting spectator bill 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 markup with a strong bipartisan vote of 28-17. It had already won approval in 2012 by the House Agriculture Committee and twice by the full Senate, but final action on the Farm Bill stalled that year.This legislation was 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 is the fourth upgrade to the federal animal fighting statute since 2002. Forty-nine states already had penalties for animal fighting spectators, but the provision was needed 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.

Chimpanzee Sanctuary: In late 2013, Congress passed a bill (P.L. 113-55) to help hundreds of chimpanzees warehoused in barren laboratory cages and facilitate their retirement to natural sanctuaries. Earlier that year, the National Institutes of Health announced its plans to retire about 90 percent of government-owned chimps 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, imposed a cumulative ceiling on the funding that NIH could devote to it. NIH was due to reach that limit in mid-November 2013, which not only jeopardized the retirement of chimps in labs slated for transfer to sanctuary, but also funding for the continued care of chimps already living at Chimp Haven in Louisiana. This would be terrible for the animals and also for taxpayers, since retirement to sanctuary is less costly than warehousing chimps 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 just days earlier. P.L. 113-55 amends 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 about.

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Photo: Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse Slaughter: For fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Congress reinstated a vital “defund” provision that had been in place from 2007 to 2011 barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspections at horse slaughter plants, effectively making it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption in this country.The agency itself requested this provision for the first time in the president’s recommended budget for FY14 and then renewed the request for FY15. The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills followed suit, with successful amendments offered during committee markup in both chambers both years.The omnibus spending package signed into law just last week (P.L. 113-235) will sustain this protection for horses until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2015. It is urgently needed, as some companies have been poised to open horse slaughter plants in the United States. 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. Horses suffer in long-distance transport and in the slaughter process. Rounded up from random sources, they have also been given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are not intended for and are actually prohibited from being introduced into the human food supply. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. Its agents 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. Combined with the recent announcement from the European Commission that it will ban the import of horsemeat from Mexico, maintaining the defund provision is a major one-two punch against the North American horse slaughter industry.  

Ivory and Wildlife Trafficking: The National Defense Authorization Act for FY15, also enacted last week (P.L. 113-360), contains a Senate provision adding authority for the Department of Defense to partner with civilian law enforcement on joint task forces to combat wildlife trafficking. The FY15 omnibus spending bill dedicates $55 million to combat wildlife trafficking, with at least $10 million of that directed to programs to protect rhinos from being poached for their horns, and it prevents the United States from assisting certain countries and military groups if they are found to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking. Harmful language that had been part of the House Interior Appropriations bill—to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from cracking down on the illicit trade in elephant ivory—was kept out of the final omnibus package. And the Senate committee reports accompanying the appropriations bills for the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security spoke of the seriousness of this problem and directed those agencies to report back on their actions to address it. We hope these provisions will provide some relief for many imperiled species by curbing the illegal trade in wildlife parts that has become a source of cash to finance terrorist networks and transnational organized crime. More than 30,000 African elephants are killed each year by poachers who typically hack the animals’ faces off, since that’s the easiest way to run off with the ivory. This vicious cruelty is destroying elephant populations.

Wild Horses: The FY15 omnibus includes language to encourage the Bureau of Land Management to consider new, more humane methods of wild horse population management, including $1 million for a related study, so that the agency can move beyond its current inhumane and costly system of round-ups and long-term penning. It also contains language prohibiting the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros for human consumption.

ELEPHANT_PHOTOS_203589Animal Welfare Enforcement: For both fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Congress again came through with needed funding for the USDA’s enforcement and implementation of key animal welfare laws—the Animal Welfare Act (which requires minimum standards of care for animals at breeding facilities, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other regulated facilities), Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as for programs to address the needs of animals in disasters and to incentivize veterinarians to practice in rural and inner-city areas and to apply for USDA inspection positions.The omnibus just signed into law preserves funding for each of these programs without any cuts, as requested by a bipartisan group of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives, despite intense competition for budget dollars.

Alternatives to Animal Testing: The committee report accompanying the FY15 House Interior Appropriations bill contains language encouraging continued development of non-animal alternatives for chemical testing.

Captive Marine Mammals: The FY15 omnibus retains a House-approved floor amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill directing the USDA to study the effects of captivity on marine mammals and finalize a much-needed upgrade of its Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and cetaceans—a reform that has been languishing for nearly 20 years—so these rules will better address the animals’ physical and behavioral needs.

Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act: Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 113-143, signed into law in August) to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow veterinarians to transport, administer, and dispense medications outside of their registered locations. This will ensure that veterinarians can provide proper care to animal patients in rural or remote areas, including pets in disasters, cruelty cases, mobile spay and neuter clinics, animal sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and more.

Defending Against Harmful Measures

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Photo: Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

King Amendment: The final Farm Bill nixed the destructive provision that had been 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.The King amendment aimed to gut state laws protecting farm animals. By negating most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products, it could have preempted laws addressing intensive confinement on farms and a host of other animal protection concerns such as puppy mills, sale of horse meat, and shark finning, as well as laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes. Hundreds of public officials and organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, and religious concerns opposed the measure.This included nearly 200 Senators and Representatives, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the County Executives of America, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Mississippi and Arkansas attorneys general, the Iowa Farmers Union, the 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. This strong and unified opposition successfully fended off this controversial attack on states’ rights, food safety, and animal welfare.

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Photo: Alamy

Sportsmen’s Act: This sweetheart deal for millionaire trophy hunters and special interests was defeated in the Senate on a procedural vote. The Sportsmen’s Act would have carved out the latest in a series of loopholes in the law for wealthy hunters to import sport-hunted trophies of threatened polar bears (encouraging the killing of rare species around the world), opened sensitive federal lands to sport hunting and trapping, and stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect wildlife, habitat, and people from lead poisoning through exposure to toxic ammunition despite the ready availability of non-toxic alternatives (unfortunately Congress subsequently enacted a harmful provision on lead ammunition in the omnibus).

Otters: Language sought by commercial fisheries and the Department of Defense, to provide an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act that would allow them to harm sea otters off the southern California coast, was kept out of the final National Defense Authorization Act.

Ivory/Wildlife Trafficking: As noted above, Congress rejected a harmful rider that would have prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from restricting the devastating trade in elephant ivory—a crisis that cannot be resolved without our country adopting strong policy reforms, since the United States is considered the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

Setbacks

Of course, along with the successes, there were some major setbacks, with Congress caving in to extreme segments of the trophy hunting and factory farming lobbies, and working to block common-sense reforms.The omnibus package recently enacted includes terrible provisions seeking to block the EPA from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition, to interfere with Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse, and to discourage the USDA from trying to reform the corrupt beef check-off program that finances agribusiness lobbying against animal welfare improvements.That same massive spending bill also blocked the EPA from requiring reporting or the issuance of Clean Air Act operating permits for greenhouse gas emissions from animal agricultural sources—an act that the Los Angeles Times panned today in an editorial. We must redouble our efforts to correct these problems in the new Congress.

And some crucial measures were left unfinished, such as the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to end the cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses. With the overwhelming bipartisan support of 308 House cosponsors and 60 Senate cosponsors and endorsements by an extraordinarily broad coalition of veterinary, horse industry, animal welfare, and other groups, the PAST Act is ripe for final action. It was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee but blocked from Senate and House floor consideration by a few legislators doing the bidding of the horse sorers, who don’t want Congress upsetting the status quo that has been so profitable for them. There’s no excuse for not passing the PAST Act. It must be addressed as a priority in the upcoming year.

Congressional leaders also failed to allow votes on other critical reforms, such as the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, which would codify an agreement between animal welfare groups and the egg industry to improve the treatment of laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for egg farmers nationwide. Despite having the support of all major stakeholders, including veterinarians, consumers, and the industry actually impacted by the reform, lawmakers allowed petty caterwauling by the pork and beef lobbies to prevent egg producers from controlling their own destiny.

As we look ahead to the new Congress, we take stock of the many challenges still facing animals. But we also take a moment to celebrate the significant victories and draw strength from them, knowing that the public demand for a more humane future can still yield real results in Washington. Together, we can and must keep the momentum going—and gear up for the new session of Congress to convene in January, where we will once again advance a mainstream and common-sense agenda to close the gaps in the legal framework and protect animals from cruelty and abuse.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Top 14 in ’14

As the year winds down to a close, I’m pleased to report that 136 new animal protection laws have been enacted this year at the state and local levels—the largest number of any year in the past decade. That continues the surge in animal protection policymaking by state legislatures, and in total, it makes more than 1,000 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 14 state victories for animals in 2014.

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 secure felony cruelty statutes in all 50 states. With South Dakota’s action, every state in the 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.

Ivory and Rhino Horn

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Paul Hilton/for HSI

New Jersey and New York became the first two states to ban the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horns. The new policies will help to crack down on international wildlife traffickers and dry up the demand for illegal wildlife products in the northeast, which is the largest U.S. market for ivory and a main entry point for smuggled wildlife products.

The action by the states also helps build support for a proposed national policy in the U.S., the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

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 it 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 in which 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, laying the groundwork for an eventual end to this sick type of animal fighting between dogs and foxes.

Breed Discrimination

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Meredith Lee/for The HSUS

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 two years, but the Maryland legislature 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. For their part, South Dakota and Utah prohibited any local government in those states 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.

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 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.

Cockfighting
Louisiana, the last state to ban cockfighting, fortified its 2007 anti-cockfighting statute. The newly revised statute increases the first-offense penalties for cockfighting, tightens the definition of birds used for fighting, and bans the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia, to help law enforcement crack down on this staged animal combat. It’s a sign of the changing times that the last state to have legal cockfights now has one of the strongest anti-cockfighting laws on the books.

Pet Protective Orders
Iowa, New Hampshire, and Virginia strengthened 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
Minnesota, one of the top puppy mill states, passed long-overdue legislation to regulate large-scale commercial dog and cat breeders, requiring them to be inspected and meet standards of animal care. Virginia passed “Bailey’s Law”—named for a beagle puppy suffering from respiratory and intestinal infections after she was unknowingly purchased from a puppy mill—requiring that pet stores must inform consumers about the sources of their dogs. And Connecticut prohibited pet stores from purchasing dogs or cats from breeders with certain Animal Welfare Act violations.

Shark Finning

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Vanessa Mignon

Massachusetts became the ninth state (along with three U.S. territories) to ban the trade in shark fins. These state laws help to dry up consumer demand and crack down on the brutal practice of hacking off the fins of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to die slowly in the ocean—just for a bowl of soup.

Cost of Animal Care
Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont strengthened their animal cruelty statutes by shifting the financial burden of caring for animals lawfully seized from situations of cruelty, abuse, and neglect from county governments and nonprofit shelters to the animals’ owner, saving animals and tax dollars. Instead of leaving local taxpayers and nonprofit organizations to foot the significant cost, the owner, who’s legally responsible for the animals’ care, is held accountable under these revised statutes.

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.

Wolf Hunting
The citizens of Michigan voted by wide margins to reject two laws enacted by the legislature to open a hunting season on wolves. The ballot measures stopped the wolf hunt in 2014 pending the outcome of the election, and then voters not only repealed a pro-wolf hunting statute, but also repealed a measure that transfers authority to the Natural Resources Commission to declare hunting seasons on protected species. This was the first statewide vote on wolf hunting in any state since wolves were stripped of their federal protections in six states, and it sends a message to decision makers across the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies about how regular citizens feel about the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Horse Slaughter, Wildlife Trafficking, Other Issues at Stake in Spending Bill

Congressional appropriators unveiled a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill last night, to continue funding the federal government for fiscal year 2015 and avoid a shutdown when the current budget expires tomorrow. There was no shortage of animal issues at stake in the giant package, which resulted from tense negotiations with many policy concerns in play. If the House and Senate pass the omnibus bill this week, there will be a number of good outcomes for horses, elephants, and other creatures, but also some harmful provisions for animal welfare.

Horse Slaughter:The omnibus bill forbids spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on inspections at U.S. horse slaughter plants. The provision—which was approved by both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees as amendments offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.—maintains the ban on domestic horse slaughter for human consumption. Coupled with the news that the European Commission has suspended imports of horsemeat from Mexico (where 87 percent of the horses killed for EU exports come from the United States) due to food safety concerns, there really is no rationale for not banning the horse slaughter trade.

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The HSUS
A horse bound for slaughter.

Americans do not want to see scarce tax dollars used to oversee a predatory, inhumane enterprise. The horse slaughter industry doesn’t “euthanize” old horses but precisely the opposite: It buys up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting its intentions, and kills them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. We don’t have dog and cat slaughter plants in the United States catering to small markets overseas, and we shouldn’t have horse slaughter operations for that purpose, either.

Ivory Trade: Fortunately, the omnibus bill jettisoned a reckless provision from the House Interior spending bill seeking to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from any new attempt to limit the illicit trade in elephant ivory. The administration is expected to announce a proposed rule that would institute a near-complete ban on the commercial sale and import of elephant ivory in the U.S. This proposed national policy would build on the actions of the states to dry up the demand for ivory here in our country, arguably the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

Transnational criminal syndicates and Africa-based terrorist groups are using the illegal wildlife trade to finance their nefarious operations. It’s shocking that some short-sighted politicians would jeopardize the fate of the largest land mammal in the world and undermine our own national security to interfere with the administration’s efforts to address this crisis—just so that someone gets an opportunity to sell ivory trinkets.

Wildlife Trafficking: In addition to not blocking efforts to crack down on elephant poaching, the omnibus bill also takes proactive steps to address the illegal wildlife trade. The bill dedicates $55 million to combat wildlife trafficking, with at least $10 million of that directed to programs to protect rhinos from being poached for their horns. It also prevents the U.S. from assisting certain countries and military groups if they have been found to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking.

Conservation and Biodiversity: Other wildlife species also benefit under the provisions of the omnibus. The bill apportions funds for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, migratory bird protection, endangered species preservation, wildlife refuges, domestic wetlands, and international biodiversity conservation efforts. At a time when many wild creatures are being pushed to the brink by habitat loss and other pressures, these programs are critical to maintaining a healthy and vibrant planet for future generations.

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Ruthanne Johnson/for The HSUS
The omnibus bill spells good news for burros.

Wild Horses and Burros: The omnibus bill prohibits the Bureau of Land Management from spending funds on the killing of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros, or on the agency’s sale of wild horses and burros to kill buyers. It also allows BLM to enter into multi-year contracts with private entities for the long-term care and maintenance of wild horses and burros. And finally, it allows the U.S. Forest Service to transfer funds to BLM to remove and adopt out wild horses and burros on national forest lands.

Importantly, the committees encourage the BLM to consider new, more humane methods of wild horse population management and to request funding for a pilot program in fiscal year 2016, in accordance with recommendations from the National Research Council (of the National Academy of Sciences) and others. The current wild horses and burro program is a fiscal and animal care disaster, with the BLM stuck on a treadmill spending millions of tax dollars essentially running captive horse shelters. It’s time for a better pathway, to keep the population numbers in check through fertility control on the range, as a more humane alternative to costly round-ups and long-term horse care.

Animal Welfare Funding: The omnibus bill allocates continued funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, federal animal fighting law, and programs to aid animals in disasters and address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and low-income areas—all at the same levels or slightly higher than fiscal year 2014. Over the past several years, Congress has recognized the need to boost funding for animal welfare enforcement, even in a competitive climate for budget dollars, and that funding has a real impact for animals on the ground. Today there are more than double the number of inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, and other regulated facilities, compared with inspector levels in the 1990s.
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., marshaled the bipartisan support of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives on joint letters calling for these funds.

Anti-Wildlife Measures: As with any major compromise package, there are harmful provisions, too. The bill blocks any agency expenditures to regulate the use of lead in ammunition or fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act or any other law, notwithstanding the devastating effects of lead on wildlife, people, and habitat from such exposures and the ready availability of non-toxic alternatives. This provision is especially troubling, and it’s something politicians have tried before in the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” as a hand-out to the extreme segments of the hunting lobby even though many responsible sportsmen already use non-lead ammo and it’s been required for all waterfowl hunting for more than two decades.

The package also increases funding for the USDA’s misnamed “Wildlife Services” program, which kills predators with traps, poisons, aerial gunning, and other cruel and indiscriminate methods (methods that kill many non-target animals including pets and endangered species) as a government subsidy to private livestock ranchers. The program is fraught with a lack of transparency and public accountability.

It also blocks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from taking action to list populations of the greater sage-grouse or Gunnison’s sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act—a disturbing pattern, as happened previously with de-listing of grey wolves, of Congress trumping scientific decision making on the conservation of threatened and endangered species with its political will.

But, on balance, there are more good than bad provisions for animal welfare included in the omnibus bill, and it would move the ball forward for horses, elephants, rhinos, and many other creatures.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Victory for U.S. Horses: European Commission Suspends Horsemeat Imports From Mexico

The European Commission has suspended the import of horsemeat from Mexico to the European Union due to food safety concerns, and it’s a decision that has huge implications for the slaughter of American horses for human consumption. Killer buyers export tens of thousands of horses from the United States to Mexico each year, often outbidding horse owners and rescue groups, just so the animals can be inhumanely butchered, shrink-wrapped, and air-freighted to diners in Belgium, France, Italy, and other EU nations.

In fact, according to an audit published last week by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office, 87 percent of the horses slaughtered in Mexico for export to the EU came from the United States. The audit paints a grim picture of serious animal welfare problems both during transport and on arrival at the slaughter plants, with controls on the effectiveness of stunning the horses described as “insufficient” during slaughter.

Horses for slaughter
Horses wait in pens at the U.S. border before being transported to Mexico for slaughter. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The auditors reported that “horses of US origin were regularly found dead in slaughterhouse pens due to trauma or pneumonia shortly after arrival,” and that many rejected horses had livers indicating trauma and injury during transport. They recounted finding two injured horses (“one with open wounds above both eyes, the other lame”) who “had been left in pens under full sun…and had been present in the pens without veterinary treatment for at least two days.”

Even though the European Commission requires lifetime veterinary records for EU horses intended for food, EU regulators have allowed third parties, such as Canada and Mexico, to meet a lower food safety standard, wherein they submit affidavits stating that horses have not been given drugs prohibited in the EU, and cover the horses' veterinary history for only six months.  But the audit found that even this watered-down food safety requirement is virtually an impossible standard to meet.The auditors “found very many affidavits which were invalid or of questionable validity, but were nonetheless accepted,” and flatly noted “the requirement, that they be identified and traceable for a period of at least 180 days prior to dispatch for slaughter, cannot be respected.”

Because American horses are icons and companion animals, and not raised for human consumption, they are given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are never intended for the food system—ranging from common painkillers such as “bute” for treating ailing or lame horses, to cocaine and cobra venom, and other forms of “doping” in the horseracing industry.These random-source horses are rounded up by bunchers, and regardless of whether they’re ultimately killed in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, there is no system to track medications and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure that their meat is safe for human consumption. It’s a free-for-all when this doped-up meat is peddled to foreign consumers.

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. And these are the special interests that have been lobbying so hard to use our tax dollars to bring back horse slaughter in the United States, and to block legislation forbidding the export and long-distance transport of horses for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.

Federal law currently prohibits the inspection of horse slaughter plants on American soil, and we’re hoping that “defunding” provision will be extended when congressional appropriators release the “cromnibus” package this week. And ultimately, we must pass the free-standing Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to provide a more lasting and comprehensive solution and to halt the export of horses to our North American neighbors. As the European Commission audit makes clear, the horse slaughter industry is reckless, unsafe, and inhumane, and those who profit by rounding up and butchering companion horses for their meat should stop defending it as some sort of altruistic act. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Defense Bill Takes Aim at Wildlife Trafficking

As poaching of animals rages on in Africa, threatening the very existence of some of our planet’s most iconic species, we in the United States must do still more to tackle the issue of wildlife trafficking both at home and abroad.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported in August that poachers killed an estimated 100,000 elephants in just three years across Africa—a shocking average of 90 elephants a day. Last month, South Africa announced that 1,020 rhinos have been killed there so far this year, already surpassing the number of animals killed in 2013.

Elephant_istock_270x240
istock.com

The stakes are high, not only for these imperiled species but also for African governments and local communities whose economic livelihoods and natural heritage have been brutally robbed and where the rule of law has been compromised—because of poaching—as well as for our own national security interests.

Transnational criminal syndicates and Africa-based terrorist groups are using the illegal wildlife trade to finance their nefarious operations. At $8-10 billion per year, the illegal wildlife trade ranks as the fourth most lucrative criminal activity internationally, behind only narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.

President Obama issued an executive order last year that declared wildlife trafficking a matter of national interest and announced a national strategy to address the increasing pressure on imperiled species and the growing connection between poaching and global terrorism.

Many members of Congress also recognize the urgency of the current poaching crisis. To better address the security challenges posed by the illicit wildlife trade, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes language authorizing the Department of Defense to partner with civilian law enforcement on joint task forces to combat wildlife trafficking.

This provision will aid in the disruption of wildlife trafficking networks, through strengthened and improved coordination among the intelligence, military, judicial, customs and law enforcement agencies. The House yesterday passed the NDAA package by a vote of 300-119, and the Senate plans to take up the legislation next week.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, has introduced another bill to turn up the heat on poachers: H.R.5454, the Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants in their Range (TUSKER) Act. The legislation would force countries that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) has identified as significant source, transit, or destination countries for illegal ivory to immediately enter into consultation with the U.S. And if any country fails, it will face trade sanctions by the U.S. under the Pelly amendment.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to announce a proposed rule that would institute a near-complete ban on the commercial sale and import of elephant ivory in the U.S. This proposed national policy would build on the actions of the states to dry up the demand for ivory here in our country, arguably the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

Collectively, these are important actions by foresighted policymakers who are representing the values of the American public and seeking to save some of the most iconic species on the planet from the brink of extinction. But as with many issues, there are myopic politicians who try to stand in the way of progress, and some members of Congress are intent on undermining domestic efforts to save elephants from the blood ivory trade.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Reps. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Jeff Miller, R-Fla., introduced the so-called “Lawful Ivory Protection Act” (S.2587/H.R.5052) which would handcuff the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prevent the administration from carrying out any new action to restrict the ivory trade. The House Interior spending bill for fiscal year 2015 also includes language that would block funding for any new agency attempt to limit the illicit trade in ivory. (The fate of this pro-trafficking language will be determined when the House and Senate work out a final appropriations bill.)

How can these members of Congress side with those who profit in ivory trading over beleaguered elephants and fragile African government partners and communities? How can they lament the ability of someone to resell a gun or a guitar with a little bit of ivory on it, without regard for the fate of the largest land mammal in the world or our national security?

At this critical time, we must do everything in our power to curb wildlife trafficking and turn back the tide on the elephant poaching crisis. It is an urgent and pressing struggle, one that must be waged and won in the course of the next few years.

As Matthew Scully wrote in The Atlantic, “This is ground we cannot afford to surrender, the final refuge of animals who mourn their own, and deserve more than to be let go and mourned by us. We would miss the elephants, forever, with only regrets and recollections to fill the space, these grand, peaceable fellow creatures whose final, bloody departure from the earth would warrant a rebuke of Old Testament proportions: ‘What is this that thou hast done?’”

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