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May 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TSCA Reform Could Save Millions of Animal Lives

The House of Representatives today debated H.R. 2576, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, a compromise bill produced after months of negotiation between key parties in the House and Senate to modernize and reform the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The House will vote on the bill tonight and the Senate is expected to take it up as soon as tomorrow. 

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Photo courtesy of iStock Photo

We are strongly urging lawmakers to pass the legislation, because tucked into this massive final package is a huge win for animals: unprecedented language that could save hundreds of thousands of rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and other animals from suffering and dying in laboratory experiments in the very short term to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. My colleague Wayne Pacelle wrote about the prospect of this advance in detail in The Humane Economy, and now this moment is upon us.

These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats and dropped in their eyes. The new bill would dramatically reduce—if not eliminate, in some cases—the use of animals in these tests, and would also improve the science behind chemical testing, and encourage better safety decisions to protect the environment and human health. It makes chemical testing smarter, faster, and more reliable for regulatory decision-making, and will provide momentum to continually update the science and reduce animal use.

When it comes to human and environmental health, our historic animal testing-based approach is fundamentally flawed; the science incorporated into the original TSCA decades ago has stymied EPA’s ability to regulate chemicals. To generate screening data for a single chemical, it currently takes three years and $6 million, and the results are often highly variable, difficult to interpret (leading to years of argument and dispute), and not easily applied to regulatory action (often leading the agency to ask for more and more data, nearly all of which is inconclusive)—hence EPA has regulated only a handful of chemicals in 40 years.

Because of the failure of this testing approach, the National Academies of Sciences was asked to come up with a better way. The approach NAS recommended capitalizes on our vast knowledge of chemistry and biology and modern technology to design highly reliable tests that measure chemical effects on critical biological pathways. This revelation has resulted in an emerging consensus among scientists and regulators around the world, including the EPA, that this forward-looking approach is the best regulatory framework for the future. It will be much less costly, faster, and yield more reliable results. This new scientific approach will also be far more humane, as it involves a shift away from animal testing. By requiring the reduction of animal use, H.R. 2576 spurs the implementation of the best available science, which will dramatically improve EPA’s ability to responsibly and more efficiently regulate chemicals and more meaningfully protect the American public from hazardous substances.

Toxicity testing is a particularly cruel use of animals, often involving poisoning until death or some disease state is achieved. It is important to note that 95 percent of animals used in research, including chemical testing, are not protected by law in the U.S. (mice, rats, and birds are specifically excluded from provisions of the Animal Welfare Act). This is in dramatic contrast to the situation in the world’s largest economy, the European Union, where all vertebrates (and some non-vertebrates) are protected in all scientific uses. The European Commission requires that non-animal methods are preferred, and every procedure using animals must be submitted for approval by the government. In addition, the European Union’s toxic chemicals law stipulates reduction of animal testing as an overarching principle, and requires use of all approaches not involving animals first, with animal testing only as a last resort. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act provides the first such protection for animals used in testing in the U.S.

We are immensely grateful to the many members of Congress who pushed for the animal testing language to be included in the final package, especially Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., David Vitter, R-La., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who developed and advocated for the strong anti-animal testing language in their version of the bill. There is still time to contact your members of Congress and urge them to vote yes on H.R. 2576. This is a landmark opportunity to save millions of animals while addressing key health and environmental concerns.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Will the Next Interior Secretary be a Trophy Hunter?

If Donald Trump, Jr. gets his way, there could be a slayer of elephants and leopards and other rare wildlife appointed as Secretary of Interior in his father's administration.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The Environment & Energy Daily last week noted that candidate Donald Trump doesn’t claim to know much about hunting or the outdoors, and has largely deferred on those issues to his son, Donald Jr., who is organizing outreach to sportsmen for the campaign. The younger Trump mused that he would like to be Secretary of the Interior, and in a January interview with Petersen’s Hunting, said:

“So you can be assured that if I’m not directly involved I’m going to be that very, very loud voice in his ear. Between my brother, and myself no one understands the issues better than us. No one in politics lives the lifestyle more than us.”

Over seven and a half years of the Obama administration, the Department of the Interior has been perhaps the most active federal agency on animal welfare issues, actively restricting trophy hunting of some of the world’s most imperiled animals. 

What an appalling turnaround it would be to put the persecutors of wildlife in charge of U.S. policy on these issues.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shut down imports of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Interior Department officials also listed African lions as threatened, dramatically restricting the imports of trophies from lions killed abroad at places like South African’s canned hunts.

This same agency also listed captive chimpanzees as endangered, leading to the end of chimps in laboratory experiments. They also classified eight species of large constrictor snakes, including Burmese pythons and anacondas, as injurious under the Lacey Act, prohibiting the trade in these snakes as pets. The administration made wildlife trafficking and elephant poaching a priority issue, and proposed a rule to close loopholes in the U.S. ivory trade, the second largest retail market after China.

What will that record look like in the next administration, and what if it’s under President Trump?

Donald Jr. and his brother, Eric, made headlines for being involved in trophy hunting, posing with a dead leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures—even holding the tail of an elephant. The lifestyle they are living—spending their fortunes to travel the world and amass heads and hides of the rarest and most majestic animals on earth—is more on par with the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the wealthy dentist who shot Cecil the lion) than it is with rank-and-file sportsmen or conservationists.

It’s not an issue of partisanship, and no Republican or Democratic president is ever going to be perfect on animal issues. The Obama administration, while making a great deal of progress for wild animals on a broad range of subjects, also took several harmful policy actions, such as working to remove federal protections for wolves and grizzly bears and turn over management to hostile states.

But the risk of having a globe-trotting trophy hunter at the top job at Interior, or having the ear of the president, is a real one. The administration is responsible not only for policies involving hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands, but also wildlife law enforcement, international treaties on trade and conservation, and import policies for wild animal parts and trophies.

A Trump presidency could set the stage for rolling back wildlife protections and implementing policies to advance trophy hunting around the world and here at home. It’s something animal advocates should pay attention to as they evaluate the candidates. 

Friday, May 06, 2016

White House Hopefuls and Down-Ballot Candidates Can Connect with Voters on Animal Protection

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both still running on the Democratic side, but the overall field in the 2016 race for the White House has narrowed considerably since HSLF reported in January on the candidates’ animal protection records. Ted Cruz and John Kasich officially suspended their campaigns, with Donald Trump all but locking up the Republican presidential nomination.

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Mark Bacon/Alamy Stock Photo

While the elections and candidates are dominating public discussion and media coverage, animal welfare issues have been an important part of our recent national discourse too. With Ringling Brothers performing its last show with elephants last weekend, SeaWorld announcing an end to its orca breeding program and sunsetting that part of its business model, Walmart pledging to source all of its eggs from cage-free sources, Armani ending its use of animal fur, and hundreds of chimpanzees being retired from private laboratories to sanctuaries—all spurred on by public demand for more humane treatment of animals—it’s clear animal protection issues are important to the voting public.

This week Hillary Clinton published an animal welfare statement highlighting the humane issues she plans to tackle as president, as well as her strong record on animal protection in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State. She pledged to crack down on abuses such as wildlife trafficking, puppy mills, and horse slaughter, and to support a federal anti-cruelty statute and more humane treatment of farm animals. A group supporting Bernie Sanders had previously published a summary of his positions and actions on animal welfare. Like Clinton, he’s had a strong and compelling record in the U.S. Senate, demonstrating his concern for the issues as well as his leadership. Donald Trump has yet to release a campaign statement on animal issues, but when he has associated himself with animal welfare, it has not always been positive.

There are 25,000 animal welfare groups in the country, nearly two-thirds of Americans have pets, and there are felony-level penalties for animal cruelty in every state. Opposition to animal cruelty is now a universal value, and presidential candidates and down-ballot candidates really stand to miss an opportunity when they don’t speak to this constituency and its concerns. It may not ever be a daily talking point for major candidates, but it’s a genuine opportunity to speak to a vast constituency of interested citizens and break out of the predictable set of orthodox positions that the Democrats and Republicans have already divvied up.

It's worth noting that major corporations in every sector of the economy have also embraced animal welfare issues—whether it’s Walmart, McDonald’s, and dozens of others in food retail; cosmetic companies like Lush and the Body Shop; fashion giants like Armani and Hugo Boss; or PetSmart and Petco in the pet industry. It’s a mainstream sensibility, and with so many of these company policies validating that idea, it’s not a risk but an opportunity for candidates to take a stance on these issues. It’s a particularly good opportunity to speak to women and suburban voters, who have particularly strong inclinations on animal issues.

And the public is not just paying attention to what the candidates say on paper, but also to what they do off the campaign trail. The three Clinton family members, especially Chelsea, have been deeply involved in anti-poaching work and spoken out against the ivory trade, as a matter of animal welfare and economic development for African nations. Donald Trump’s sons, on the other hand, have been involved in trophy hunting of African wildlife, shooting leopards and other rare animals in Africa. Their behavior smacks more of the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the dentist who shot Cecil the lion last July) than it is about Joe Sixpack from West Virginia or Pennsylvania, who is killing deer for meat and filling the freezer. This issue has the potential to cement negatives for Trump among millions of humane-minded people, especially women, who would be offended by this kind of animal killing for such gratuitous purposes.

The animal welfare movement is no longer a niche movement. Our collective voices are powerful and influential. So make sure you’re paying attention to what the candidates are saying about humane issues—because if it’s important to you, it should be important to them.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Lawmakers to USDA: Make a Bigger Splash on Marine Mammal Rule

After almost 20 years of inaction, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally proposed in February an update of its standards of care for marine mammals in captivity. But the proposed standards are weak, and need to be strengthened substantially.

There’s been such positive momentum recently on the issue of marine mammals in captivity, with SeaWorld ending the breeding of orcas and sunsetting that part of its business model, and a federal court blocking the import of 18 wild-caught beluga whales for display purposes. But the remaining marine mammals held in captive settings need improved standards for their handling, care and housing. As announced, the proposed standards do include some positive changes. We are very disappointed, however, that many of the standards remain unchanged from decades back, and some are even weakened. We are not alone in our concerns.

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Movies such as “Blackfish” have raised public consciousness of the plight of marine mammals in captivity. Photo by iStockphoto

Last week, seven Senators and 14 Representatives led by a strong team from California—Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Jared Huffman and Adam Schiff—sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack thanking him for taking some positive steps, but urging USDA to go further in the final marine mammal regulations.

Specifically, the letter expresses concern that the proposal leaves unchanged the standard for tank sizes that has been in place since 1984. Alarmingly, for some species such as beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins and killer whales, the proposed changes might even result in accepting smaller tanks. The USDA proposal ignores advice from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which called on USDA to use more precautionary calculations in setting minimum tank sizes.

The legislators also object to the exemption afforded to industry to get around salinity requirements, by allowing seals and sea lions kept in fresh water to simply be given salt supplements and saltwater eye baths.  USDA stated in its proposal that it “expects this will minimize additional costs and renovations at existing facilities.”  But the fact is, the agency should keep foremost in its sights and regulations the welfare of these animals, not just what will increase profitability.

Regarding the new standards for what used to be known as swim-with-the-dolphin programs (now to be called interactive programs), the letter points out that the USDA proposal would actually reduce some protections for marine mammals and the public, explicitly removing the requirement for a buffer zone that gives the animals a safe place to which to retreat while remaining in the program. The proposed changes would also increase the amount of time that dolphins are forced to be available for interactions with the public.

Movies such as “Blackfish” and “The Cove” have raised public consciousness of the plight of marine mammals in captivity, and the issue is now part of our national discourse. We are grateful to USDA for issuing these long-awaited regulations for captive marine mammals, but urge the agency to ensure that the final rules are aligned with public expectations of the conditions in which these magnificent creatures are held and the manner in which they are treated. With our allies in Congress lending a powerful voice for the welfare of captive marine mammals, along with thousands of individuals who have submitted public comments, we hope that the agency listens.

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