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Thursday, July 09, 2015

House Action is a Mixed Bag for Animals

Yesterday was a mixed day of results for animals on Capitol Hill, with some setbacks and some progress on a number of different fronts for companion animals, wildlife, and farm animals. 

What good news there was came in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee.

A provision of the bill sends a strong message that grisly, taxpayer-funded experiments on farm animals at federal research facilities will not be tolerated. It prevents the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from receiving five percent of its appropriations ($56 million in federal funding) until it certifies in writing to both the House and the Senate that it has updated its animal care policies and that its facilities will be subject to regular inspections.

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A provision of the bill sends a strong message that grisly, taxpayer-funded experiments on farm animals at federal research facilities will not be tolerated. Photo by iStockphoto

The New York Times exposed gruesome experiments at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, including pigs locked in steam chambers until they died, calves born with “deformed vaginas” and tangled legs, and sheep bred to produce lambs without any human assistance, with the newborns left to starve, freeze, or, get battered to death by hail. The congressional committee, in a report that accompanied the legislation, said that it was “disturbed” to read the Times article and “continues to be deeply disappointed in the department’s response and must take action to ensure the welfare of all animals used in research at ARS facilities.”

In another victory, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., succeeded in including language in the bill to deny funds for USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats for use in research, often obtained from animal shelters, flea markets, or “free to a good home” ads (and sometimes from pet theft). The 1966 Animal Welfare Act was intended to stop the illegal sale of family pets for use in experimentation. However, nearly 50 years after the passage of this landmark legislation, the AWA still fails to reliably protect either pet owners or animals from Class B dealers. The animals are routinely deprived of veterinary care, sufficient food, clean water, safe and sanitary cages, and protection from extreme weather, as well as being subjected to experimentation.

The House committee bill also contains good news for animals in terms of funding for critical animal welfare laws. Thanks to strong bipartisan support, funding for USDA to enforce and implement these key laws was sustained and even modestly increased in some cases. In such a tough budget climate with so many programs competing for finite dollars, we are pleased that lawmakers understand it’s possible to achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts such as these have the funds they need.

Here’s a rundown of what the House committee bill provides for key programs:

  • Animal Welfare Act: $28,410,000 ($400,000 increase) for USDA enforcement of the important law that sets basic standards for care of animals at more than 10,000 sites across the country—including puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling circuses, and airlines.  The increase is designated for inspections and oversight of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service facilities involved in research on animals.
  • Horse Protection Act: $697,000 (current funding level) for USDA enforcement to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds  (deliberately inflicting severe pain and cooking chemicals into the horses’ legs and feet to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes). 
  • Investigative and Enforcement Services: $16,224,000 (current funding level) for this USDA division whose responsibilities include investigation of inspectors’ findings regarding alleged violations of the AWA and HPA and the initiation of follow-up enforcement actions. 
  • Office of Inspector General: $95,643,000 ($617,000 increase) for this office that handles many areas, including investigations and audits of USDA’s enforcement efforts to improve compliance with the AWA, HPA, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and regulations to protect downed animals.
  • Humane Slaughter: Helpful committee report language (restated from previous years) directing the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that funds provided for Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforcement will be focused on overseeing compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas, and that all inspectors receive robust national training.
  • Veterinary Student Loan Repayment: $5,000,000 (current funding level) for this program that helps ease the shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural communities and in government positions (such as those overseeing humane slaughter, AWA, and HPA rules), by repaying student debt for those who choose to practice practice in underserved areas and in the vital government divisions devoted to veterinary inspection and oversight.

Without adequate funding for enforcement, the laws and rules we work to enact are mostly just exhortations. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily working to build the enforcement budgets for these and doing this work provides a critical service to the broader movement to protect all animals. Over the past 17 years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the AWA by 205 percent (a cumulative total of more than $157 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 123 AWA inspectors, compared to about 60 during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of facilities with animals under their care.

There was a major setback in this same committee, however, when it failed to adopt an amendment to prevent the slaughter of horses for human consumption on U.S. soil. The amendment, offered by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., resulted in a tie vote, 24-24, with the measure not passing. Several longtime Republican supporters of this provision reversed their votes in committee and instead sided with the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

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We will not waver in our efforts to protect American horses. Photo by The HSUS

The fight is not over, as we prepare for similar amendments on the House floor and in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and we will not waver in our efforts to protect American horses. 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.

In other bad news, the Interior Appropriations bill which was on the House floor this week, includes harmful riders that would block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from any rulemaking to address the ivory trade and elephant poaching, and would force the removal of wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming from protections under the Endangered Species Act. Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., offered an amendment to strike the ivory rider, and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., sponsored one to block the weakening of the Endangered Species Act for wolves and other species. Both amendments unfortunately failed on largely partisan votes.

It’s shameful that so many lawmakers pandered to the NRA and sided with ivory sellers and elephant poachers, when close to 100 elephants are being butchered every day for their tusks. There is an epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, claiming as many as 35,000 elephants each year throughout their range, and threatening extinction of the species. The biggest ivory-selling markets in the world are in China and the United States, and these sales are fueling the slaughter of elephants thousands of miles away.  African armed militia groups massacred hundreds of elephants with the sale of the animals’ tusks financing murderous activities of al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Janjaweed, so this is a national security issue as well as a humane issue.

It’s also shameful that lawmakers continue to try to punch holes in the Endangered Species Act, and strip protections from wolves, with the public and the courts being shut out of the process. They would hand over wolf management to states in which more than 1,700 wolves have been killed in the last few years with the aid of leghold traps, snares, packs of hounds, bait site, clubs, and firearms. If members of Congress can dictate wolf management by legislative fiat, it opens the door for any politician or special interest group to do the same for a species they don’t like.

See how your U.S. representative voted on the ivory amendment and the wolf amendment. If they voted “aye” please thank them for standing up for animals, conservation, and national security, and if they voted “no” please let them know how disappointed you are. Also, please ask them to oppose the final passage of the Interior bill, which includes these harmful provisions.

We will continue to watch the appropriations process closely and keep you posted on the fights over horse slaughter, ivory trade, wolves, and other critical animal issues. 

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