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December 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Look Back at the First Session of the 114th Congress

Federal lawmakers have concluded their work for 2015, and will pick up where they left off in mid-January. Washington saw plenty of gridlock this year, but there were also several important victories for animal protection, including bills that made it over the finish line or have the momentum to do so next year. Here’s my rundown of the advances for animals during the 2015 session:

Omnibus (Consolidated Appropriations Act) Highlights:

A number of the victories for animals came with the $1.1 trillion omnibus funding package, signed into law just before Christmas. With a number of critical animal issues in play, the bill was essentially a clean sweep on all of them, with gains in the following areas:

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Language in the omnibus prevents the resumption in the United States of horse slaughter for human consumption.Photo by Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse slaughter – The omnibus retains “defund” language that’s been enacted over the past several years to prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending funds for inspection of horse slaughter plants.This effectively prevents the resumption in the United States of horse slaughter for human consumption – a practice that is inherently cruel, particularly given the difficulty of properly stunning horses before slaughter, and dangerous because horses are routinely given drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans.

Federal protections for wolves and other endangered species – The omnibus rejects all the new riders in the House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct and that calls for science-based decision making to protect wildlife and plants in danger of extinction. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90 percent of American voters. With the extinction of species on earth now at its highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, this law is needed more urgently than ever. 

ARS research on farm animals – The omnibus contains strong language to address abuses uncovered by a New York Times exposé of the Agricultural Research Service’s Meat Animal Research Center. Language directs ARS to ensure that all of its research facilities comply with federal Animal Welfare Act standards, provides $400,000 for inspections, and withholds five percent of the ARS budget until specified animal welfare reforms are fulfilled. 

Alternatives to animal testing and stopping pointless experiments – The omnibus provides a $52.7 million increase for the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which works on developing alternatives to animal testing that are more humane, faster to perform, less costly to industry, and can provide more reliable results than animal experiments not predictive of the human experience. 

Maternal deprivation – The omnibus incorporates by reference House committee report language calling on the NIH to review (in consultation with outside experts) its ethical policies and processes for nonhuman primate research, language that already helped spur NIH to develop a plan to close down one of its primate facilities in Maryland where decades-long research had occurred involving maternal deprivation for infant monkeys.

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The omnibus rejects the House Interior Appropriations bill rider that would have blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on efforts to reduce trafficking in ivory products. Photo by iStockphoto

Ivory rule – The omnibus rejects the House Interior Appropriations bill rider that would have blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on efforts to reduce trafficking in ivory products. Illegal poaching of elephants has reached epidemic proportions, and extinction in the wild looms unless strong action is taken to curb demand. The United States is the second largest market for ivory products after China, and the U.S. and Chinese presidents committed publicly in September to take action in both countries to crack down on the ivory trade.

Wildlife trafficking enforcement – The omnibus provides not less than $80 million (a $25 million increase) under the U.S. Agency for International Development to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking, and bars any expenditures to train or assist military units or personnel that the secretary of state determines are credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking, unless the secretary reports that such expenditure is in the national security interests of the United States. Wildlife trafficking has become one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises internationally, helping finance organized criminal syndicates and terrorist groups such as the Janjaweed and Lord’s Resistance Army. 

Class B dealers – The omnibus denies funds for the USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats, often obtained fraudulently and kept in horrible conditions before being sold for laboratory experiments. These dealers have a long history of trafficking in stolen pets, misrepresenting themselves at animal shelters and in responding to “free to good home” ads.  The vast majority of research facilities long ago stopped relying on such dealers, and in recent years, NIH has prohibited funds for research involving cats and dogs acquired that way. The number of Class B dealers has gone from hundreds two decades ago to only two remaining currently.

Animal welfare enforcement – The omnibus maintains funding for the USDA to enforce and implement key animal protection laws, including the Animal Welfare Act that provides oversight for millions of animals at more than 10,000 sites, including puppy mills and other commercial breeding facilities, laboratories, zoos, and circuses; the Horse Protection Act dealing with cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds (deliberately inflicting pain on horses’ legs and hooves to achieve an artificial high-stepping gait and win prizes); the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act; the federal animal fighting law; and a program that encourages veterinarians, through student loan repayment assistance, to locate in underserved rural areas and USDA inspection positions.

Wild horses – The omnibus restates the long-standing ban on the killing of healthy wild horses and burros and sale for slaughter, and directs the Bureau of Land Management to continue implementing reforms recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for more humane wild horse and burro population management, including reducing the number of animals rounded up and transferred to long-term holding pens and increasing the use of available humane fertility control methods.

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The omnibus incorporates language directing the USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals. Photo by iStockphoto

Marine mammals – The omnibus incorporates by reference Senate committee report language directing the USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals, including orcas, dolphins, and beluga whales.

Land and Water Conservation Fund – The omnibus contains a 47 percent increase in funding for this program that protects and improves habitat for wildlife and recreational access for nature lovers.

Pet food – The omnibus provides full funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which includes needed reforms for safe pet food.

Authorizing Bill Highlights:

Alternatives to animal testing – The Senate passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act by voice vote in December, reauthorizing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for the first time since it was signed into law almost 40 years ago. The Senate bill contains landmark provisions to reduce – if not eliminate – the use of live animals for chemical testing.  Each year, tens of thousands of animals are killed to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats, and dropped in their eyes, sometimes over a prolonged period, causing horrific deaths.  If these provisions are enacted, it will benefit animals, consumers, industry, and the environment by spurring the use of modern, science-based alternatives that are much more efficient and yield better safety decisions than antiquated animal toxicity testing. The House had already passed its version of TSCA, so we hope House-Senate conferees will hammer out their differences quickly in 2016 and, no matter what, retain the vital Senate language on animal testing.

Amtrak and pets – Congress enacted a transportation package with an amendment directing Amtrak to develop a program that allows passengers to carry their cats and dogs on board certain trains. This will create more opportunities for pets to remain with their families when they have no one to care for them during travel or need to permanently relocate. 

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House and Senate bills named after Cecil the lion were introduced to stop imports of trophies from endangered or threatened animal species. Photo by 500px Prime

Military working dogs – Congress also enacted a defense authorization bill with an amendment to facilitate the adoption of retired military working dogs by their former handlers and their families, law enforcement agencies, or other individuals who will humanely care for these animals. This provision honors the special bond between service members and their trusted dogs.

Wildlife trafficking – The House passed the Global Anti-Poaching Act by voice vote in November to make wildlife trafficking violations predicate offenses under the Travel Act, Money Laundering, and RICO statutes; designate major wildlife trafficking countries; authorize the U.S. Department of Defense to provide training and equipment to fight poaching on the front lines; and promote other needed reforms. Related bills introduced in the Senate have bipartisan support – the Wildlife Trafficking Enforcement Act and the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act. In the House, the Targeted Use of Sanctions for Killing Elephants and Rhinoceros (TUSKER) Act would provide for trade sanctions against countries involved in illegal trade of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. House and Senate bills named after Cecil, the lion killed by a U.S. trophy hunter, were also introduced to stop imports of trophies from endangered or threatened animal species. We are hopeful that both chambers will reach agreement to pull together key elements of these various bills and enact needed reforms early in 2016.

New and reintroduced priority bills – We are halfway through the 114th Congress, and there is already overwhelming bipartisan support for other priority animal protection legislation. With the momentum building for these bills, we are hopeful they will get over the finish line in 2016, including:

  • Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act – to strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 (which banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, or impaling of live animals) to prohibit those same extreme acts of malicious animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce, or on federal property (213 House cosponsors and 31 Senate cosponsors).
  • Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act – to make it harder for abusers to prey on their battered partners and their pets by: 1) allowing pets to be protected across state lines when restraining orders are issued in domestic violence and stalking cases; and 2) authorizing grant money so that domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets (currently only three percent of these shelters allow pets) or help arrange for pet shelter (185 House cosponsors and 27 Senate cosponsors).  
  • Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act – to amend existing federal law to better crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses and certain other breeds to force them to perform an unnaturally high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows (246 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors).
  • Humane Cosmetics Act – to phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the United States, as is the case for more than 1.7 billion consumers who live in countries that have already undertaken such action, including the European Union and India (145 House cosponsors).
  • Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act – to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption (184 House cosponsors and 29 Senate cosponsors).
  • Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research (AWARE) Act – to permanently close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that exempts farm animals used for agricultural research at federal government facilities, and ensure that these animals receive the basic care required under the law (83 House cosponsors and 10 Senate cosponsors).
  • Big Cats and Primates as Pets – to protect public safety and animal welfare, the Captive Primate Safety Act (66 House cosponsors) would bar the interstate trade in chimpanzees and monkeys as pets, and the Big Cat Public Safety Act (50 House cosponsors) would prohibit private ownership of dangerous big cats such as tigers and lions as pets. 

There were dozens of other bills introduced demonstrating the broad interest in animal protection among lawmakers and the public. This year’s results demonstrated that it is still possible to get good things done for animals and that our issues continue to transcend the partisan divide. We look forward to a robust second session of the 114th Congress beginning in January and to the renewed engagement of advocates across the country.  It is this engagement that makes all the difference to our success.

Ask your lawmakers to act on these priority bills»

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top 10 State Legislative Victories for Animals

As the year winds down to a close, I’m pleased to report that 159 new animal protection laws have been enacted this year at the state and local levels. That continues the surge in animal protection policymaking by state legislatures, and in total, it makes about 1,200 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 in 2015.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Animal Fighting
We continued our successful campaign to fortify animal fighting statutes around the country, with Utah becoming the 42nd state to enact felony penalties for illegal cockfighting—further shrinking the number of states where cockfighting penalties are merely a slap on the wrist and the cost of doing business. After a multi-year battle in one of the toughest cockfighting states, the Tennessee legislature nearly unanimously increased penalties for attending an animal fight or bringing a child to an animal fight. And both Pennsylvania and Vermont closed a loophole in their laws by banning the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia such as the razor-sharp knives strapped to roosters’ legs.

Wildlife Trafficking
California closed a loophole in its longstanding ban on the trade in elephant ivory and also banned trade in rhino horns, helping to crack down on international wildlife traffickers and dry up the demand for illegal wildlife products in the U.S., the world’s second largest retail market for ivory after China. Washington state voters overwhelmingly passed an even more comprehensive wildlife trafficking initiative, banning the trade in the parts of ten imperiled species, including elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, and pangolins; the ballot measure passed in all 39 counties and with more than 70 percent of the statewide vote. And we succeeded in stopping an attempt to repeal California’s longstanding ban on importing or selling kangaroo parts.

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The HSUS

Puppy Mills
New Jersey and Virginia passed consumer protection laws that prohibit pet stores from selling puppies from some of the worst puppy mill operators in the United States. The new rules ban the sale of dogs from large-scale commercial dog breeders with severe Animal Welfare Act violations. The Virginia law also cracks down on the unregulated sale of dogs and cats at flea markets, parking lots and rest stops. Louisiana, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania also strengthened their statutes regulating puppy mills, and a number of cities and counties restricted the sale of puppy mills dogs.

Dogs in Research
California, Connecticut, and Nevada all passed legislation requiring that healthy dogs and cats used in laboratory experiments must be made available for adoption by rescue groups rather than euthanized.

Gas Chambers
North Carolina’s ban on the use of gas chambers to euthanize homeless dogs and cats in animal shelters took effect in 2015, and the Kansas legislature mandated that regulations banning the use of gas chambers be promulgated. At least ten chambers closed in 2015, many of them through the work of The HSUS and its volunteer advocates, including the last known operational chambers in Nevada, Michigan, and West Virginia. Since we began our campaign to end the use of gas chambers on dogs and cats in shelters across the United States back in 2013, more than two-thirds of the chambers in existence have been closed, and there are now only seven states with known chambers still in active use.

Shark Finning
Texas became the tenth 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.

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Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse Tripping
Virginia passed legislation to ban a cruel rodeo event called horse tripping, which involves roping the front legs of a galloping horse, causing it to crash violently into the ground. Utah passed a law requiring the state agriculture department to educate the public about the hazards of horse tripping, and requiring that a report be filed with state officials whenever horse tripping occurs on publicly-owned facilities, such as county fairgrounds.

Captive Wildlife
With Nevada being one of only five states in the country with no restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous wild animals as pets, the state’s largest county—with two million residents, more than 70 percent of the state’s population—has taken action. Clark County now bans the possession of tigers, bears, chimpanzees, and other dangerous wild animals. We hope this sets the stage for a statewide policy regulating the 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. Arizona also banned the private ownership of primates as pets, and the West Virginia legislature adopted implementing regulations to ban wild and dangerous animals as pets. The cities of Austin, Texas and Richmond, Virginia both passed ordinances banning the use of bullhooks on elephants.

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Shaun Lowe/iStock

Large Carnivores
A number of western states took action to reduce or prevent the trophy hunting of cougars. South Dakota reduced “harvest limits” on the declining mountain lion population, Nebraska halted its plans for a mountain lion trophy hunt for 2016, and Colorado rejected proposals that would have killed up to 50 percent of mountain lions in certain areas of the state, and would have allowed electronic calls to be used by trophy hunters in order to lure in and shoot mountain lions at close range. We defeated bills in Oregon and Washington that would have resumed hound hunting of cougars, and Gov. Jay Inslee nixed a Washington plan that would have raised cougar hunting quotas by up to 100 percent in some areas. The California Fish and Game Commission voted to ban the trapping of bobcats statewide for their fur pelts.

Antibiotics
California became the first state to crack down on the overuse of antibiotics to keep livestock in unsanitary, crowded conditions on factory farms. Unnecessary use of antibiotics has been linked to the development of antibiotic resistant infections, which affect at least 2 million Americans each year and cause at least 23,000 deaths. This legislation, backed by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, requires a veterinarian’s order for all antimicrobials sold over the counter for use in farm animals via the Veterinary Feed Directive.

Friday, December 18, 2015

With Omnibus Bill, a Big Year of Progress for Animals, Especially in Research

The U.S. House this morning passed the $1.1 trillion spending package for 2016, which includes a number of important provisions to prevent the opening of U.S.-based horse slaughter plants, retain Endangered Species Act provisions for gray wolves, and allow restrictions on the domestic ivory trade to protect elephants from poaching. But the provisions in the omnibus spending bill also cap an incredible year of exciting progress at the federal level for animals used in research.

Capitol
iStock Photo

In the wake of The New York Times exposé of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center conducting ghoulish experiments on farm animals—with animals dying in steam chambers, of deformities, or left to starve or freeze to death—Congress took action to improve the welfare of animals at USDA Agricultural Research Service facilities including U.S. MARC. The omnibus bill withholds 5 percent of the ARS budget until the agency certifies it has updated its animal care policies and has a fully functioning Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The language also assigns additional funds to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to provide much needed oversight at ARS facilities using animals in agricultural research.

The bill cracks down on the unscrupulous Class B dealers rounding up cats and dogs from random sources—including flea markets, free to a good home ads, and even stolen pets—and funneling them into research labs. A provision strips the funds made available for licensing the two remaining Class B dealers, which cannot conduct business without renewal of an annual license. The National Institutes of Health has already stopped funding research involving dogs and cats from Class B dealers, and this additional action could close out the issue which has long been a concern of animal advocates.

In a tough budgetary climate with competition for federal dollars, the omnibus bill also provides an additional $53 million dollars to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the NIH. The NCATS program invests in the development of non-animal approaches, such as the human-on-a-chip program, which are more human-relevant and ultimately more effective than relying on animals. It’s this kind of enhanced funding that will help lead us away from animal testing in the future. 

In addition, the report accompanying the bill also calls for NIH to review the ethical policies and procedures regarding the use of primates in controversial maternal deprivation studies. It has spurred the agency to develop a plan to close down one of its own facilities in Maryland where the decades-long experiments on infant monkeys have been carried out. This is a positive step by NIH, and another marker of our progress on research issues.

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Jenny Desmond/For The HSUS

All of this exciting news in the omnibus bill comes in addition to other major federal actions on animal research issues in 2015. In a banner year for chimpanzees, we have seen NIH grant retirement to the remaining 50 government owned chimps and get out of the business of funding invasive chimp studies. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins acknowledged there is virtually no research that requires the use of these animals and under his leadership the agency has made major advances on the issue. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed captive chimps as endangered, in response to an HSUS legal petition, making it extremely difficult for anyone to use chimps as exotic pets or for invasive biomedical research. The Hill called our campaign to get chimps out of labs one of the top 10 lobbying campaigns of the year.

And just last night, the U.S. Senate passed S. 697, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, by voice vote. The bill would improve the science behind chemical testing, encourage better safety decisions to protect the environment and human health and would reduce—if not eliminate—the use of animals. Each year, tens of thousands of animals are killed to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats and dropped in their eyes. This breakthrough bill would help make chemical testing smarter, faster and more reliable for regulatory decision-making and protect animals’ lives.

We are urging members of the House-Senate conference committee to accept the Senate animal testing language when they finalize the chemical safety bill. And we are urging the Senate to pass the omnibus bill and the President to sign it into law, with so much at stake on such a wide range of animal protection issues. Together these actions will mark a big period of progress for animals, but especially so for animals in research.

Here is a run-down of all the animal protection items included in the omnibus package: 

Horses_istock_270x240_Gary-Alvis
Gary Alvis/iStock

Horse slaughter – omnibus retains “defund” language that’s been enacted over the past several years to prohibit USDA from spending funds for inspection of horse slaughter plants. This effectively prevents the resumption in the U.S. of horse slaughter for human consumption—a practice that is inherently cruel, particularly given the difficulty of properly stunning horses before slaughter, and dangerous because horses are routinely given drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans.

Federal protections for wolves and other endangered species – omnibus rejects all the new riders in the House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that has prevented 99% of species under its care from going extinct and that calls for science-based decision making to protect wildlife and plants in danger of extinction. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90% of American voters. With the extinction of species on earth now at its highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, this law is more urgently needed than ever. 

ARS research on farm animals – omnibus contains strong language to address abuses uncovered by a New York Times exposé of the Agricultural Research Service’s Meat Animal Research Center. Language directs ARS to ensure that all of its research facilities comply with federal Animal Welfare Act standards, provides $400,000 for inspections, and withholds 5% of the ARS budget until specified animal welfare reforms are fulfilled. 

Alternatives to animal testing and stopping pointless experiments – omnibus provides a $52.7 million increase for NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which works on developing alternatives to animal testing that are more humane, faster to perform, less costly to industry, and can provide more reliable results than animal experiments not predictive of the human experience. 

Maternal deprivation – omnibus incorporates by reference House committee report language calling on the NIH to review (in consultation with outside experts) its ethical policies and processes for nonhuman primate research, language that already helped spur NIH to develop a plan to close down one of its primate facilities in Maryland where decades-long research had occurred involving maternal deprivation for infant monkeys.  

Ivory rule – omnibus rejects the House Interior Appropriations bill rider that would have blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on efforts to reduce trafficking in ivory products. Illegal poaching of elephants has reached epidemic proportions, and extinction in the wild looms unless strong action is taken to curb demand. The U.S. is the second largest market for ivory products after China, and the U.S. and Chinese presidents reached an agreement in September to take action in both countries to crack down on the ivory trade.

Wildlife trafficking enforcement – omnibus provides not less than $80 million (a $25 million increase) under the U.S. Agency for International Development to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking, and bars any expenditures to train or assist military units or personnel that the Secretary of State determines are credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking, unless the Secretary reports that such expenditure is in the national security interests of the U.S. Wildlife trafficking has become one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises internationally, helping finance organized criminal syndicates and terrorist groups such as the Janjaweed, Lord’s Resistance Army, and al-Shabaab. 

Class B dealers – omnibus denies funds for USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats, often obtained fraudulently and kept in horrible conditions before being sold for laboratory experiments. These dealers have a long history of trafficking in stolen pets, misrepresenting themselves at animal shelters and in responding to “free to good home” ads. The vast majority of research facilities long ago stopped relying on such dealers, and in recent years, NIH has prohibited funds for research involving cats and dogs acquired that way. The number of Class B dealers has gone from hundreds two decades ago to only two.

Animal welfare enforcement – omnibus maintains funding for USDA to enforce and implement key animal protection laws, including the Animal Welfare Act that provides oversight for millions of animals at more than 10,000 sites including puppy mills and other commercial breeding facilities, laboratories, zoos, and circuses; the Horse Protection Act dealing with cruel soring of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds (deliberately inflicting pain on horses’ legs and hooves to achieve an artificial high-stepping gait and win prizes); the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act; the federal animal fighting law; and a program that encourages veterinarians, through student loan repayment assistance, to locate in underserved rural areas and USDA inspection positions.

Wild horses – omnibus restates the long-standing ban on killing of healthy wild horses and burros and sale for slaughter, and directs the Bureau of Land Management to continue implementing reforms recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for more humane wild horse and burro population management, including reducing the number of animals rounded up and transferred to long-term holding pens and increasing the use of available humane fertility control methods.

Marine mammals – omnibus incorporates by reference Senate committee report language directing USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals, including orcas, dolphins, and beluga whales.

Land and Water Conservation Fund – omnibus contains a 47% increase in funding for this program that protects and improves habitat for wildlife and recreational access for nature lovers.

Pet food – omnibus provides full funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which includes needed reforms for safe pet food.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Government Pork: May the Farce Be With You

Here are some pretty painful examples of your government at work. Monkeys on a treadmill, sheep in microgravity, and a fight club for shrimp? All of that and more amounts to a smackdown of American taxpayers.

Wastebook-senflake
Photo courtesy of Wastebook: The Farce Awakens

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is asking these serious questions in a humorous and eye-catching way. Today he released Wastebook: The Farce Awakens, highlighting 100 examples of questionable federal spending amounting to more than $100 billion. A number of the projects targeted by Flake deal with animal issues, such as bizarre laboratory experiments that may have some appeal with federal agencies but have limited scientific value and leave a trail of animal victims behind.

For example, $8 million of taxpayer funding was awarded to the Southwest Primate Research Center, located in Texas, which used part of the grant to study 12 marmoset monkeys forced to run inside an exercise ball on a treadmill. One of the monkeys vomited and three defecated in the exercise ball, and another monkey died during week 11 of the treadmill study. Surely no scientific breakthroughs came from it all.

This is the same primate research center housed at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, which was the subject of an HSUS undercover investigation into mistreatment of primates who suffered unnecessary injuries and even death. The Wastebook report notes, “Over the past decade, the facility has collected nearly $70 million in grants and contracts from various federal agencies. During this same period, the center has also been slapped with fines totaling more than $30,000 by the federal government for a number of violations, including performing a necropsy on a baboon that was still alive. USDA identified 14 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the center over a two year period.”

Sheep-istock-240x220
iStock photo

In another example, NASA spent $1.2 million to study the effects of microgravity in sheep. Flake writes, “The sheep aren’t floating around inside an anti-gravity chamber or on the International Space Station. Instead, the back leg of each sheep was put in a brace that kept it from bearing weight, simulating the effects of microgravity.” After weeks of this confinement, surgeons removed part of each animal’s leg and then put them back in the brace to see how they recovered in simulated microgravity. The researchers found that “the sheep’s bone density decreased” and the “weakened bone could break more easily.” This type of research, which involves actively harming animals on the government dime, seems to have limited—if any—practical value and there are likely much more useful learnings to be had from astronauts spending actual time in space. Flake notes that extensive research on the same subjects has already been done by NASA involving humans. 

Flake also targets a $60 million boondoggle in which the National Pork Board funnels check-off dollars—a tax paid by every pig farmer supposedly for marketing efforts—to a D.C. lobbying group. Flake writes, “In a very unusual deal, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is bringing home the bacon from a government sponsored board for the sale of the slogan ‘The Other White Meat,’ which was put out to pasture years ago.” Flakes notes that the “deal guarantees payments to a lobbying organization over two decades” for a slogan that is no longer even being used.

PIGS-HSLF-ISTOCK-Shaun-Lowe-240x220
Shaun Lowe/iStock

The Wastebook report notes, “While the arrangement surely makes NPPC lobbyists as happy as pigs in mud, it has raised the eyebrows of the farmers who are being treated as piggybanks to pay the fees….A coalition of small hog farmers and the Humane Society of the United States have joined forces to file a lawsuit to undo the deal and recoup the millions of dollars already paid for the defunct ‘other white meat’ slogan.” It’s an example of how cozy Washington is with special interests in Big Ag, who are unlawfully spending federal dollars to lobby against animal welfare, the environment, and family farmers.

As Congress approaches its self-imposed deadline this Friday to reach agreement on a spending package to keep federal agencies operating or face another government shutdown, it’s a good time to consider reductions in spending that harms animals and wastes taxpayer money. Despite rhetoric about favoring smaller government, Congress has allowed many needless programs to continue. We are grateful to Sen. Flake for calling out these wasteful and misguided projects, and we urge other lawmakers to seize the opportunity to save animals and save tax dollars.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Scores of Scientists Stand Up for Wolves

With our ballot referendum, educational, and litigation successes, we’ve blocked some massive killing of wolves in the Great Lakes states and in Wyoming, sparing hundreds of wolves from trapping, hounding, and trophy killing. But a faction in Congress is trying to nullify these efforts by seeking to remove federal protections for wolves. Hostile lawmakers are now attempting to include an anti-wolf policy rider into a massive end-of-year spending bill. We’ve got to stop it.

Wolf-blog-istock
iStock Photo

It was no surprise when a handful of old-school biologists and former government types sent a letter recently advocating for the delisting of wolves and the resumption of trophy hunting and trapping. But it was notable that in response, a much larger group of 70 independent scientists and scholars this week called upon the Obama administration and Congress to retain critical federal protections under the ESA for gray wolves. A few weeks ago, 25 U.S. Senators and 92 U.S. Representatives also wrote to the Obama administration and urged it to shelve any plans for delisting specific species, such as the gray wolf, or gutting the ESA in a the final spending package.

The scientists who favor continued federal protection for wolves—including a number of internationally renowned wildlife biologists—invoked a compelling scientific case for their position. Their letter also addresses public attitudes, citing recent polling showing that an overwhelming 90 percent of American voters support the ESA. The public also maintains a positive attitude toward wolves, and support for them has been increasing over the past few decades. Our winning ballot measures in Michigan last year demonstrated that even in a wolf range state, there is enormous support for protecting wolves.

Once wolves lose federal protections, they are subject to reckless and overreaching state management plans, including wolf hunts utilizing unsporting and barbaric methods, such as steel-jawed leghold traps, cable snares, baiting, and hound hunting. State management hasn’t worked and has been disastrous for wolves, and that’s why federal oversight is still needed. The authors of the second letter draw attention to several scientifically questionable components of state management, including the sustainability and science behind legal wolf hunting plans and accuracy and bias in wolf population counts.

Finally, the scientists explain why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been unsuccessful in each of its attempts to delist wolves, noting that the biological status and management of wolves do not meet standards required by the ESA for delisting. The best available science shows that wolf populations have not recovered, as explained in numerous peer-review articles and supported by published evidence, repeated judicial opinion, and congressional intent.

When a species is delisted, there is an administrative process for the public and wildlife biologists to weigh in, and when the science doesn’t justify delisting—as it hasn’t in the case of wolves—then judicial review can overturn the decision. It’s not an appropriate role for Congress to intervene while those administrative rulemaking and judicial review processes are playing out.

Most Americans value and appreciate wolves, and wolf-watching tourism drives tens of millions of dollars annually into local economies. We must do everything we can to protect these creatures and the ecosystems that rely on them, and not allow politicians to force delisting by legislative fiat on behalf of special interest groups.

Right now, members of Congress are having closed-door negotiations about which policy riders to include in the final omnibus spending package. Please let your legislators know that you oppose riders delisting wolves (or any other species) in the spending bill (you can find their contact information here). Please also let President Obama know that you would also like him to reject these harmful riders by clicking here to send him a tweet.

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