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Friday, June 29, 2018

Bipartisan approach yields results for animals in Senate farm bill vote

Today's blog is guest authored by the Humane Society Legislative Fund's new president, Sara Amundson.

By a vote of 86-11 last night, the Senate approved its bipartisan Farm Bill. Overall, it’s a much better package than what passed the House on June 21. For animals, the Senate bill contains two important measures and omits the worse provisions that could have been included. We are grateful for the leadership of Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Here’s a quick run-down of key points:   

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Jean Chung/For HSI

PRO-ANIMAL OUTCOMES

King Amendment – The Senate wisely opted not to include anything like the outrageous power grab that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tacked on the House Farm Bill to try to negate state and local laws regarding agriculture products. The King amendment—which is opposed by a diverse set of more than 220 groups from across the political spectrum—threatens to unwind countless duly-enacted measures to protect animals, consumers, and many other concerns, and it must be kept out of the final House/Senate Farm Bill.

Domestic Violence and Pets – At the behest of Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who sponsored the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S. 322, this essential language to protect pets and families was folded into the initial Farm Bill that Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow brought to committee a few weeks ago. It will extend current federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorize grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets (only 3 percent currently allow pets) or arrange for pet shelter. Many delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety, a legitimate fear considering up to 84 percent of women entering shelters reported that their partners abused or killed the family pet. The PAWS provision is not in the House Farm Bill, so we’ll need to work hard with a broad coalition of supporters to ensure it is in the final package.

Dog and Cat Meat – Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) successfully appealed yesterday to Chairman Roberts and Sen. Stabenow to add their amendment to prohibit domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption. It’s based on the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, H.R. 1406, which Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Dave Trott (R-Mich.), and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) introduced and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) got into the House Farm Bill during committee markup. The House and Senate provisions will prevent this appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthen our hand in seeking to end it worldwide. Around 30 million dogs and untold numbers of cats are subjected to this brutal industry globally every year, with animals often snatched off the street or stolen from loving families, still wearing collars as they are subjected to unspeakable abuse to end up on someone’s dinner plate. 

Dodged Bullets – In addition to keeping out anything like Steve King’s amendment, the Senate did not incorporate many harmful amendments that were filed, including:

  • Animal Welfare Inspections at Research Facilities – Senator Marco Rubio tried to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act’s modest requirement for annual inspections of animal laboratories and weaken enforcement, despite recurring problems cited by USDA’s Inspector General.
  • ESA Attacks – Several amendments to weaken Endangered Species Act protections were left out of the package, including amendments targeting prairie dogs, bald eagles, and sage grouse, and the “SAVES” Act  (S. 2778) offered by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing any foreign species as threatened or endangered under the ESA, which could allow invasive experiments on chimpanzees to resume and open the door to interstate commerce of elephant ivory.
  • Truck Driver Rest/Livestock – Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) tried to drastically expand already excessively long truck driving shifts, which would increase the risk of crashes that endanger everyone on the road and animals being hauled.

MAJOR MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

We are very disappointed that the Senate Farm Bill does not include two priority measures:

Checkoff – By a vote of 38-57, the Senate rejected the reasonable amendment offered by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to correct abuses by commodity checkoff programs such as those for beef, pork, and eggs. Based on the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741/H.R. 1753, the amendment would bring greater transparency and accountability and prevent checkoff dollars from being misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms and family farmer interests. It has strong support by more than 100 organizations representing over 250,000 family farmers and ranchers and many other interests, including the Heritage Foundation, National Farmers Union, R Street, Organization for Competitive Markets, Family Farm Action, National Taxpayers Union, American Grass-fed Association, National Dairy Producers Organization, and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Animal Fighting – The Senate failed to consider a bipartisan amendment led by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and cosponsored by Sens. Booker, Heller, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Kennedy (R-La.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) to clarify that federal prohibitions on animal fighting activity “in or affecting interstate commerce” are to be consistently applied in all U.S. jurisdictions including the U.S. territories. Mirroring the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, S. 2971/H.R. 4202, this amendment would protect animals from vicious cruelty, protect communities from criminal activity often linked to animal fighting such as drug trafficking and gangs, protect public health and the food supply from bird flu and other disease transmission, and enhance enforcement of federal animal fighting law across the country. Fortunately, an identical amendment was incorporated into the House Farm Bill by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51, so we will push for it to be sustained in the final House/Senate bill.

It’s hard to know how quickly things may move to the next stage, since the House and Senate are far apart on key controversies such as reforms to nutrition assistance programs. But with your help, we’ll be ready, and will redouble our efforts to ensure that Congress enacts a Farm Bill containing the best of both from the Senate and House versions—keeping the King amendment and other harmful provisions out and including the pro-animal provisions on pets/domestic violence, dog and cat meat, and animal fighting.

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