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March 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

Lawmakers Speak Up for Animals in Spending Bills

Against a backdrop of election year politics and partisan fights in Congress, lawmakers are moving forward to fund the federal government and all its programs. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been holding hearings and are preparing to mark up the individual bills designating funds for agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, and others whose budgets have a direct impact on animals. 

Last year’s omnibus spending bill included a number of big wins for animals, and many of those same issues are still in play this year. We need to send the strongest possible signal to the leaders of the key subcommittees that animal protection matters. That’s why it’s so important that a bipartisan group of legislators has stepped up to request needed provisions and oppose harmful riders. Here are some highlights:

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Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Animal Welfare Enforcement Funding: 169 Representatives and 38 Senators requested funds for USDA to enforce key animal welfare laws including the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as programs to address the needs of animals in disasters and to encourage veterinarians to locate their practices in underserved rural areas and to take up USDA inspector positions. More Senators helped seek this animal welfare funding than last year, and it’s the highest number in the House ever since we began working on these annual letters in 2001. Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., marshalled the support of their colleagues on these letters. This multiyear effort has resulted in a cumulative increase of $185 million over the past 17 years for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, and a doubling of USDA inspectors on the ground and specialists to support them in ensuring basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

Horse Slaughter: 96 Representatives and 23 Senators jointly urged inclusion of the “defund” language that prohibits the USDA from spending federal dollars on inspections of horse slaughter plants and keeps such plants from reopening on U.S. soil. Led by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Frank Guinta, R-N.H., these letters are also a considerably stronger showing than last year’s House and Senate letters seeking the defund provision. 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.

Wildlife Trafficking and Ivory: 86 Representatives and 17 Senators requested enforcement funding for various agencies working to combat wildlife trafficking and voiced opposition to any rider that would block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on its proposed rule to crack down on illegal trade in elephant ivory. These strong letters were championed by Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Peter King, R-N.Y., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. The biggest ivory-selling markets in the world are in China and the U.S., and these sales are fueling the slaughter of elephants thousands of miles away. It’s simply shocking that some politicians are trying to block the Obama administration from cracking down on elephant poachers and ivory traffickers.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Endangered Species: 73 Representatives called for robust funding to support the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on Endangered Species Act listing, planning and consultation, species conservation and restoration, and recovery efforts. Two freshmen legislators, Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., led the charge here on behalf of ESA protections. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90 percent of American voters. This bedrock environmental law that calls for science-based decision making has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct. We will also be working hard to defeat poisonous riders to delist species and weaken the ESA.

As the appropriators gear up to make their initial decisions on how to allocate resources among many competing requests and whether to include provisions that could help or harm animals, we hope they will heed the remarkable bipartisan support demonstrated in these letters, which reflect the broad public mandate for animal protection policies.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Veal Slaughter Plant Closed, Time to Finish the Job on Downer Calves

Catelli Bros., a veal and lamb slaughter plant in New Jersey, quietly announced this week that it will no longer slaughter animals. This is the same location where, two years ago, an HSUS investigation revealed abusive handling and inhumane slaughter practices, including still-conscious calves struggling while hanging upside down on a conveyor belt, calves being shot numerous times before reaching unconsciousness, a truck driver dragging a downed calf with a chain around the animal's neck, and plant managers twisting calves’ ears and pulling them by their tails. The investigation also documented employees shocking, hitting, and spraying calves with water. The exposé led to a weeks-long shutdown of the plant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

The latest news in this story is a reminder, though, of unfinished business at the USDA: The agency has yet to finalize a rule, seven years in the making, to ban the slaughter of downed veal calves.

Unfortunately, what happened at Catelli Bros. was not an isolated case, but rather another instance of abuse and mishandling in the calf slaughter industry. Back in 2009, a similar HSUS investigation at Bushway Packing, a Vermont veal facility, revealed that calves only a few days old—many with their umbilical cords still hanging from their bodies—were unable to stand or walk on their own. The infant animals were kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment. The USDA shut the Vermont facility down and the case resulted in a cruelty conviction.

The USDA should be commended for its swift response in both New Jersey and Vermont when these abuses came to light. But there is something even more important at stake, and that is the need for a strong federal policy to protect young calves and prevent and discourage these abuses before they occur. That can be done by closing a loophole in the current downed animal regulations that invites cruelty by allowing these animals to be slaughtered for food if they can be made to stand.

Following the 2009 investigation in Vermont, The HSUS filed a legal petition asking the USDA to require that calves brought to slaughter unable to rise and walk be promptly and humanely euthanized and excluded from the food supply. More than 50,000 people wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack supporting the change. And last May, the USDA finally released a proposed rule to close this loophole.

Without a clearly-stated ban, current regulations create an incentive for workers to do everything they can—kicking, beating, prodding, and dragging—to force downed calves to slaughter. The proposed rule would reduce immense suffering and bring regulations for downed veal calves in-line with those already in place for downed adult cows.

In fact, one of President Obama’s first actions on animal welfare when he took office in early 2009 was to close a loophole that allowed the slaughter of mature downed cattle too sick or injured to walk on their own, in the wake of the Hallmark investigation that resulted in the largest meat recall in U.S. history and schools in dozens of states pulling ground beef off their lunch menus. Now, in his final year in office, President Obama can finish the job on this long-awaited rule and apply the same protections to young calves.

We’re grateful for the help from many members of Congress who encouraged USDA to implement this policy. In joint letters last year, 92 members of the House, led by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and 14 Senators, led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., wrote to USDA in support of the proposal and urged the agency to finalize this rulemaking effort as soon as possible to protect animal welfare and food safety.

It’s just common sense that young, vulnerable calves should have the same protections under the law already given to adult cattle. The USDA has acknowledged that this regulatory loophole needs to be closed, and it shouldn’t wait for another investigation to uncover even more abuses. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to take a consistent approach to animal welfare and to make final the rule and plug this downer loophole.

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