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Farm Animals

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The 2017 congressional year in review for animals

As we begin the second session of the 115th Congress, let’s take a moment to look back at the highs and lows from the first session. While there were several bright spots, the new Administration and Congress produced a particularly dangerous set of challenges for animal welfare in 2017. The general governing philosophy of deregulation—put into practice at the departments of Agriculture and Interior and also in Congress—resulted in the targeting or outright repeal of a series of immensely important animal welfare reforms.

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With that said, there is also broad and deep support for animal welfare in the United States, and those bipartisan sentiments are particularly reflected among the rank and file in Congress. Six measures, all led by bipartisan teams, already garnered more than 200 House cosponsors, putting them in solid position to be considered on the suspension calendar reserved for relatively non-controversial items. More representatives—a whopping 184—joined in seeking animal welfare funding in 2017 than in any year since joint annual letters on this began in 2000. A few chairmen of key House committees have stonewalled even immensely popular policy reforms, while giving the green light to anti-animal votes. What positive measures got over the finish line were largely thanks to victories in the FY17 omnibus appropriations package signed into law in May. For 2018, we hope lawmakers will heed public demand to enact more legislation that protects animals and reflects our widely shared humane values.

Here’s a snapshot of major actions in 2017, with a list at the end detailing which legislators took the lead on the positive items.

Pro-Animal Measures Signed into Law

The FY17 omnibus bill (P.L. 115-31) contained a number of hard-won victories for animals, including:

  • Horse slaughter—Renewed the “defund” provision that effectively prevents horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil.
  • Wild horses—Restated the prohibition on sending wild horses to slaughter for human consumption, and clarified that the protection extends to those transferred to federal, state, or local governments to serve as work horses. Also directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review proposals from non-governmental organizations regarding managing wild horses and burros, and gave BLM six months to create a plan to maintain long-term sustainable populations on the range in a humane manner.
  • Wolves—Maintained Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves, omitting a harmful rider that would have legislatively delisted them in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
  • Animal testing alternatives—Increased funding by $4.3 million for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Computational Toxicology program to develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
  • Organics—Included no harmful language blocking a USDA rule on animal welfare standards for organic products.
  • Animal welfare funding—Sustained funding and provided some increases: $400,000 more to oversee animal welfare standards at USDA facilities conducting research on farm animals, $1.5 million more for veterinary student loan repayment, and $2.5 million more for the Office of Inspector General that helps enforce animal fighting prohibitions and the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
  • Class B dealers—Renewed the prohibition on USDA licensing of Class B random source dealers, who are notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means such as pet theft to sell them to research facilities.
  • Wildlife trafficking—Sustained level funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)’s Office of Law Enforcement and the agency’s International Affairs division to fight wildlife trafficking.
  • ESA funding—Provided important resources for conservation of whales, bats, and other imperiled species.
  • Pet declawing—Included committee report language urging HUD to notify all Public Housing Authorities that cat declawing is not required in public housing.

In addition, although the final FY18 appropriations package has not yet passed Congress, the House Appropriations Committee did approve helpful report language (considered done once reported, unless explicitly reversed in the final bill) on a number of issues:

  • USDA data purge—Urged USDA to promptly restore and resume posting of online searchable Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act enforcement records.
  • Predator poisons—Encouraged USDA’s Wildlife Services program to evaluate alternatives to M-44 cyanide bombs for livestock protection and overall safety.
  • Chimpanzee sanctuary—Encouraged NIH to expedite retirement of their chimpanzees and consider expanding the national chimpanzee sanctuary system.
  • Animal testing alternatives—Strongly supported EPA’s Computational Toxicology program, which seeks to reduce, and ultimately replace, animal testing. Also supported FDA’s Organ on a Chip program to replace animals for drug and other testing.

Furthermore, Senate Armed Services Committee report language accompanying the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 115-91) called for a National Academies study on modeling and simulation techniques (such as sophisticated mannequins) for medical training. These methods could replace the Defense Department’s use of live animals for medical training.

Anti-Animal Measures Signed into Law

Among the worst actions of the 115th Congress so far were votes by both the House and Senate to revoke a well-crafted rule by the FWS to prevent extremely cruel and unsporting trophy hunting methods on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska (H.J. Res. 69). And in the tax package that passed in December (H.R. 1), Congress overturned decades of protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), authorizing oil drilling and putting at risk an extraordinary diversity of wild animals in the nation’s largest refuge.

Poised for Action

A number of bills highlighted in the 2017 Humane Scorecard have overwhelming bipartisan cosponsor lists and are ripe for floor action:

  • Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act—H.R. 1847 has 277 cosponsors.
  • Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act—H.R. 909 has 246 cosponsors; S. 322 has 36 cosponsors.
  • Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act—H.R. 1494 has 268 cosponsors; S. 654 has 37 cosponsors, and was unanimously approved by the full Senate in December.
  • Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act—H.R. 113 has 204 cosponsors; S. 1706 has 30 cosponsors.
  • Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act—H.R. 1456 has 230 cosponsors; S. 793 has 31 cosponsors, and passed by voice vote in May in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
  • Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act—H.R. 1406 has 224 cosponsors. In related action to this domestic bill, in November the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved by voice vote a resolution (H. Res. 401) condemning the global dog and cat meat trade and urging nations around the world to take action to end it.
  • Humane Cosmetics Act—H.R. 2790 has 167 cosponsors.

Several exciting new bills were also introduced in 2017:

  • Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, to ensure animal fighting prohibitions apply everywhere in the U.S., including U.S. territories.
  • Horseracing Integrity Act, to establish national standards and enforcement of rules against doping, which poses life-threatening risks for racing horses and jockeys.
  • Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, to prevent checkoff funds from being used to lobby against family farmer-supported policies including animal welfare initiatives.
  • Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act, to address the USDA purge by requiring the agency to resume posting online searchable inspection reports and other enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act.
  • Puppy Protection Act, to require stronger humane standards for dogs at breeding facilities.
  • Welfare of our Friends (WOOF!) Act, to prohibit licensing or relicensing of dog dealers (and those closely connected to them) who have had their licenses suspended or revoked.
  • Help Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act, to shift the costs of caring for animals seized in animal fighting cases from taxpayers to those responsible for harming the animals, and to expedite adoption of the rescued animals.

Congress deferred final action until January 19 on FY18 appropriations legislation that will determine a host of crucial issues including horse slaughter, wild horse management, ESA protections for gray wolves, extreme hunting methods on National Park Service lands in Alaska, funding to eliminate animal testing, and enforcement of key animal welfare laws. During floor debate on the FY18 bills, the House passed several positive amendments, which must also be resolved in the final House/Senate package:

  • A $2 million increase for the Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program that awards grants to nonprofits providing therapeutic service dogs to veterans and active duty personnel facing physical injuries and emotional scars from their military service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, blindness, loss of limb, and paralysis.
  • A $5 million increase for equine assisted therapy under the Veterans Affairs’ Adaptive Sports Grant Program for veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI, military sexual trauma, and other psychological wounds.
  • A prohibition on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expenditures for any experiment that causes significant pain or distress to dogs.

Throughout the year, many legislators weighed in on behalf of animals via letters directed to the Trump Administration or congressional leaders. Their letters spanned a broad range of topics including horse soring, trophy hunting, USDA’s data purge, ESA and anti-environmental riders, horse slaughter, wild horse management, Marine Mammal Commission funding, Fur Products Labeling Act enforcement, the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival, VA experiments on dogs, poultry slaughter line speeds, and relicensing under the Animal Welfare Act.

Farm Bill

Congress is due to take up the next multi-year Farm Bill, which presents a prime opportunity for animal protection provisions within USDA’s jurisdiction. A group of 40 Republican and 40 Democratic representatives wrote to House Agriculture Committee leaders in August urging that the bill include animal protection measures, as did each of the last three Farm Bills.

We are also on the lookout for hostile moves, particularly Rep. Steve King’s expected efforts to attach his anti-states’ rights legislation, H.R. 3599, which could nullify state laws covering everything from intensive confinement of farm animals to puppy mills and dog meat, along with food safety, environmental, labor, and other concerns. We will need to rally to defeat this enterprise-threatening legislation.

For that and all our work, we depend on you to make your voice heard. Each one of us must continue to show that these issues are important to Americans and deserve a vote. If they reach the floor, we can win resoundingly and demonstrate the potential for bipartisan action even in these fractured times. Thank you for staying engaged, and let’s keep urging Congress to get the job done.

Reference—Lawmakers Who Led on Animal Protection Efforts

Animal welfare funding: Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and John Kennedy, R-La., and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., led sign-on letters; Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., played key roles in obtaining needed funds.

Horse slaughter defund: Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa., offered amendments in committee; Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and Ed Royce, R-Calif., led sign-on letters; Reps. Royce and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., filed floor amendment.

Wild horses: Sen. Udall, and Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and Betty McCollum, D-Minn., secured positive FY17 provisions; Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., Peter King, R-N.Y., Lujan Grisham, and Jared Polis, D-Colo., filed floor amendment; Reps. Titus, Polis, and Lujan Grisham led sign-on letter.

ESA/wolves: Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Raúl Grijalva led sign-on letters; Sens. Udall, D-N.M. and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Reps. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. and Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., played key roles in keeping harmful anti-ESA riders out of FY17 bill; Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-AZ, offered floor amendment to remove anti-ESA provisions from Resilient Federal Forests Act; Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Reps. Buchanan and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., each wrote to DOI urging ESA protections for Florida panthers.

Alternatives development: Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., played key role in securing increased funding for EPA’s Computational Toxicology program.

Organics: Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Merkley, and Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Ron Kind, D-Wis., led efforts to protect USDA rule establishing animal welfare standards for organic products.

Class B dealers: Rep. Roybal-Allard secured prohibition.

Wildlife trafficking: Sen. Leahy led efforts to secure needed enforcement funds.

Pet declawing: Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, successfully requested report language.

USDA purge: Reps. David Young, R-Iowa, Chris Smith, and Sanford Bishop played key roles in obtaining report language; Sens. Menendez and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., led a sign-on letter to USDA; Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Lou Barletta, R-Pa., Roybal-Allard, Buchanan, Blumenauer, and Beyer led a sign-on letter to President Trump; Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rep. Calvert sent their own letters to USDA; Sen. Wyden and Rep. Blumenauer introduced Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act.

Predator poisons: Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, secured report language; Reps. DeFazio and Gaetz introduced Chemical Poisons Reduction Act.

Chimpanzee sanctuary: Rep. Roybal-Allard secured report language.

DoD medical training: Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., offered amendment calling for National Academies study.

Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act: Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Tom Marino, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced H.R. 1847; Reps. Yoho, Schrader, Marino, Cohen, and Schakowsky led sign-on letter to President Trump urging him to finalize USDA rule to strengthen enforcement of Horse Protection Act and requesting his support for PAST Act.

Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act: Sens. Peters and Dean Heller, R-Nev., introduced S. 322, and Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Rick Nolan, D-Minn., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Cohen, and Mimi Walters, R-Calif., introduced H.R. 909.

Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act: Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Blumenthal introduced S. 654, and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., introduced H.R. 1494.

Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act: Sens. Menendez, Graham, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced S. 1706, and Reps. Buchanan, Schakowsky, Royce, and Lujan Grisham introduced H.R. 113.

Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act/Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act: Sens. Booker and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced S. 793, and Reps. Royce and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan introduced H.R. 1456.

Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act: Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Buchanan, Dave Trott, R-Mich., and Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., introduced H.R. 1406; Reps. Hastings and Buchanan introduced global resolution, H. Res. 401; Rep. Hastings introduced H. Res. 30 to condemn Yulin Dog Meat Festival; Rep. Hastings sent letters to President Trump, Secretary of State Tillerson, and Chinese Ambassador regarding Yulin; Reps. Hastings and Buchanan wrote to House leaders seeking floor vote; Rep. Royce secured committee approval of H. Res. 401.

Humane Cosmetics Act: Reps. McSally, Beyer, Royce, Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., introduced H.R. 2790.

Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act: Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Blumenauer, Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Nolan, Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., Cárdenas, Steve Knight, R-Calif., Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and Buchanan introduced H.R. 4202.

Horseracing Integrity Act: Reps. Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Tonko introduced H.R. 2651.

Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act: Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Booker introduced S. 741, and Reps. Dave Brat, R-Va., and Titus introduced H.R. 1753.

Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act: Sen. Wyden introduced S. 503, and Reps. Blumenauer and Susan Davis, D-Calif., introduced H.R. 1368.

Puppy Protection Act: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Charlie Crist, D-Fla., introduced H.R. 4693.

Welfare of our Friends (WOOF) Act/AWA licensing: Reps. Fitzpatrick and Crist introduced H.R. 4691; Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Fitzpatrick, Ryan Costello, R-Pa., Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Barletta, and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., sent letters to USDA encouraging agency rulemaking to address problems with AWA licensing and relicensing.

Help Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act: Reps. John Katko, R-N.Y., Judy Chu, D-Calif., Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced H.R. 398.

Wounded Warrior Service Dogs: Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., McSally, Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., Walter Jones, R-N.C., and LoBiondo successfully sought increased funding for current program; Reps. McGovern and Jones introduced H.R. 2625, the Wounded Warrior Service Dog Act; Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Booker introduced S. 1014, and Reps. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 2327, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members (PAWS) Act; Reps. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, and Tim Walz, D-Minn., introduced H.R. 2225, the Veteran Dog Training Therapy Act.

Equine Assisted Therapy: Rep. Barr successfully offered floor amendment.

Veterans Affairs experiments on dogs: Reps. Brat, Titus, Ted Poe, R-Texas, Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Brian Mast, R-Fla., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., successfully offered floor amendment; Reps. Brat and Titus introduced H.R. 3197, the Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) Act; Reps. Titus and Lieu led sign-on letter to the VA Inspector General.

Trophy hunting: Sen. Menendez led sign-on letter to Secretary Zinke challenging FWS plans to re-allow importation of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, and Sen. Feinstein sent additional solo letter; Reps. Blumenauer, Buchanan, Jim Langevin, D-R.I., Gaetz, Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., led sign-on letter to President Trump.

Marine Mammal Commission: Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., led sign-on letters seeking needed funds.

Fur Products Labeling Act: Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. led sign-on letter to FTC calling for investigation and enforcement against 17 retail companies identified in Humane Society of the U.S. petition as having sold “faux fur” products really made with animal fur.

Poultry slaughter line speeds: Rep. DeLauro led a sign-on letter to Agriculture Secretary Perdue urging him to reject call to increase maximum line speeds in poultry processing plants from current 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute, which would exacerbate existing problems with worker injuries, animal suffering, and food safety risks.

Farm Bill: Reps. Buchanan and Blumenauer led a sign-on letter calling for inclusion of animal protection measures.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The States’ Rights Elimination Act

With House and Senate Agriculture committee members beginning the elaborate process of assembling the next Farm Bill, we expect another protracted fight in Congress over states’ rights and animal welfare. However, a new bill introduced this week—H.R. 2887 by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.—is a radical federal overreach that overshadows anything we might have anticipated with a new Farm Bill debate. It could strip states of their right to protect their own citizens, and it represents the most serious threat imaginable to animal welfare protections. 

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If enacted, this measure would put dozens of state animal protection laws at risk, including measures dealing with the extreme confinement of farm animals, horse slaughter and the sale of horsemeat, the sale of foie gras produced by force-feeding ducks and geese, tail docking of dairy cows and processing downer livestock, commerce in shark fins and rhino horn, and potentially even bans on the sale of dog and cat meat.

Innocuously titled by its authors the "No Regulation Without Representation Act," the bill should more accurately be called the "States’ Rights Elimination Act." Like the King amendment in previous years, it could potentially nullify state laws relating to animal cruelty, child labor, cigarette safety, and even the labeling of farm-raised fish. It’s an attempt to strip states of their right to ensure the health and welfare of their citizens, prohibiting them from regulating the sale of any product produced in another state—no matter how dangerous, unethical, or environmentally destructive. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the bipartisan organization representing Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the states, calls this "one of the most coercive, intrusive, and preemptive legislature measures ever introduced in Congress." NCSL notes that:

The Framers of the Constitution would be alarmed, as they intended the role of the federal government to be limited, not a government that could regulate anything it wanted. The No Regulation Without Representation Act embodies the usurpation of state sovereignty and expansion of federal overreach the Framers feared. The legislation violates the Tenth Amendment’s guarantee that the sovereign rights of states cannot be abridged by Congress and aims to eliminate states’ powers within their borders, destroying the fundamental principles of federalism that have guided our nation since its founding.

Why should states be forced to allow commerce in products they have banned, for reasons of animal cruelty, food safety, and other compelling purposes? State lawmakers, governors, and regulators took action on these matters through established political processes granted to the states, and why should a small number of lawmakers in Washington trump the views of duly elected state officials?

There are so many policy issues traditionally handled by the states, in the realm of agriculture alone. What about state laws regulating the sale of raw milk, the labeling of catfish, fire-safety standards for cigarettes, the sale of dangerous pesticides, the importation of invasive pests (such as with firewood), or state quality standards for butter?  

But the new legislation is much more sweeping than just agricultural products, and covers all activities involving interstate commerce. There’s no telling how broadly this could be applied to state and local laws across a wide range of businesses. Could it prevent states from regulating strip clubs, or require dry counties to open liquor stores? Could it force states to allow abortion services if the doctors come in from another state? Would state laws on marriage licenses, pornography, drugs, guns, prostitution, and bestiality be up for grabs?

It’s ironic that some politicians often say they are for states’ rights when they agree with what the states are doing, but when they don’t like the result, they are perfectly fine with federal mandates telling states what they can and cannot do. The proponents of this legislation are trying to hang on to outdated factory farming practices, but the world has changed. The idea of extreme confinement is on its way out, with more than 200 food retail companies pledging to cleanse their supply chains of products that come from these sorts of inhumane confinement systems.

A broad and diverse coalition helped to stave off this destructive provision last time the Farm Bill was considered, and we must rally together again. Republicans and Democrats from every region of the country and every part of the political spectrum all have an interest in defeating this sweeping and unconstitutional attack on states’ rights. Not only is the protection of millions of animals in jeopardy, but this radical attack also threatens years of lawmaking by citizens and elected officials, and the very principles on which our country was founded.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why not “drain the swamp” of animal abuse?

President Trump’s preliminary budget proposes major cuts in programs related to foreign aid, poverty relief programs, and the environment, and the budget proposal eliminates entire programs supporting public broadcasting, the arts, and humanities. From our lane at HSLF, the one burning question is why there aren’t any cuts in factory farming subsidies, lethal predator control, and other giveaways of American tax dollars to coddled special interests?

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If he was in the hunt for programs to cut, in order to save tax dollars and balance the budget, this government pork should have been first on the list. These programs have been long overdue for trimming and elimination, and we hope those specifics are part of the president’s full budget proposal expected in a few months.

Of course, the president’s first budget is a starting point, and needs to be negotiated and approved by Congress. As lawmakers work through the process and endeavor to downsize the government, we strongly urge them to look at areas that are ripe for cuts and savings:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program is an outdated and inefficient model of lethal predator control, essentially operating as a government subsidy for private ranchers, and wasting millions of dollars each year killing wolves, mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife with cruel methods such as poisoning, aerial gunning, and steel-jawed leghold traps. In some cases, the government spends more money than the losses attributed to these creatures. Even family pets and threatened and endangered species are killed with the indiscriminate, lethal methods employed by this wasteful federal program. A 14-year-old boy walking his dog in Idaho recently triggered an M-44 “cyanide bomb” set by Wildlife Services to kill coyotes, and the 3-year-old Lab, Casey, was killed by the toxic explosion. It’s not only a waste of tax dollars, but a threat to families everywhere.
  • The USDA can also stop the multi-million dollar subsidies for big pork and other factory farming interests, and let the free market take the place of government hand-outs. The government bail outs of factory farms (through purchasing of their surplus meat—often dumping the worst products on our nation’s school lunch program) are not only costly, but do nothing to encourage such operations to rein in their production or clean up their cruel, unhealthy, and environmentally damaging methods. USDA should rein in the National Pork Board, which is funneling check-off dollars—a tax paid by every pig farmer supposedly for marketing efforts—to a D.C. lobbying group. This $60 million boondoggle is essentially a slush fund for the National Pork Producers Council and its efforts to fight against animal welfare and family farmers. You could not find a stronger example of crony capitalism taking advantage of government benefits.
  • The Bureau of Land Management can save tens of millions of dollars by utilizing technologically advanced, humane alternatives to costly round-up and removal of wild horses on federal lands. Using immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations in the West instead of taking them off the land and putting them in long-term government holding facilities is not only more humane, but would also help the agency get off the fiscal treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them on the government dole.
  • Refocus government safety-testing efforts on high-tech, animal-free approaches. Each year federal agencies spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to assess the safety of chemicals, drugs, and even natural plant extracts. Evaluating the cancer-causing potential of a single chemical in a conventional rodent test takes up to 5 years, 800 animals, and $4 million. For the same price and without any use of animals, as many as 350 chemicals could be tested in less than one week using ultra-fast robot-automated cellular toxicity and gene-expression tests. These sophisticated, animal-free methods are already used by some companies and federal agencies to determine testing needs and priorities, and are poised to be accelerated by the passage of the TSCA reform bill last year. Funding should focus on research and development of these methods, in order to stop spending on wasteful and inefficient animal tests.

Lawmakers should consider these proposals as part of their larger effort to wrestle with the country’s budget. Millions of animals would be spared needless suffering, the U.S. budget would be moved toward the black, and we would begin to “drain the swamp” of special interests that have been bilking the American taxpayers for all too long.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Next Ag Secretary has a big role to play on animal welfare

The cabinet post with perhaps the most relevance for animal welfare within the incoming administration was one of the last to be filled—with former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue getting the nod from President-elect Donald Trump as the nominee for Secretary of Agriculture.

Shaun Lowe/iStock

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a major role not only on agricultural policy, but also in the enforcement and implementation of key animal protection laws, including the Animal Welfare Act, which provides oversight for millions of animals at more than 10,000 sites (including puppy mills and other commercial breeding facilities, laboratories, roadside zoos, and circuses); the Horse Protection Act, which deals with cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses (deliberately injuring horses’ legs and hooves to achieve an artificial high-stepping, pain-based gait to win prizes); the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act; and the federal animal fighting law.

What do we have in the way of insights about Sonny Perdue’s record on animal welfare? As governor, he signed a law in 2008 strongly backed by The HSUS and HSLF to make dogfighting a felony and close loopholes on owning fighting dogs and being a dogfighting spectator. "I am pleased today to make it clear that dogfighting is an activity that we will not tolerate here in Georgia," said Perdue in signing the bill.

Perdue is a licensed veterinarian, who graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and a few years ago volunteered his time to perform a surgery at the Atlanta Humane Society to raise awareness for the spaying and neutering of pets and a special dog and cat license plate that supports Georgia’s statewide spay and neuter program. "I'm here today to help the Humane Society call attention to the serious problem we have in Georgia with the overpopulation of cats and dogs," said the then-governor. "We need to encourage pet owners to be responsible so that we don't have unwanted animals finding their way to shelters and having to be euthanized."

In 2010, Perdue also signed a bill banning the use of gas chambers to euthanize shelter pets.

In recent weeks, a number of players within Big Ag have championed his appointment. As governor, Perdue signed a pro-agribusiness bill to preempt local ordinances related to agriculture, and similar effort could be advanced at the federal level to block states and local communities from having a say on agriculture policy. Certainly, we hope that Secretary Perdue will stand up for states’ rights and local decision-making authority.

Georgia is the top state for production of broiler chickens (those raised for meat) and is also home to the United Egg Producers. Perdue is undoubtedly familiar with these issues, and with the trends in these industries, including the fact that, increasingly, American consumers have higher expectations for animal welfare. Most of the major egg producers are transitioning toward cage-free production, and some of the biggest brand names in the world of chicken production—such as Perdue (no relation to the designee)—are moving toward slower-growing birds to prevent their immense suffering and implementing other reforms. The next Secretary of Agriculture can play a role in helping the marketplace transition to higher welfare practices. The ground has shifted on these issues not just among consumers, but even among so many producers. We hope that Governor Perdue sheds the old canards about agriculture and brings the balance that consumers expect and that so many food businesses have already committed to honor.

The incoming administration is reportedly working on plans to cut the size of government. If cost-cutters are looking to downsize the USDA, we have some suggestions: The agency’s Wildlife Services program is an outdated and inefficient model of lethal predator control, essentially operating as a government subsidy for private ranchers, and wasting millions of dollars each year killing wolves, mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife with cruel methods such as poisoning, aerial gunning, and steel-jawed leghold traps.

The USDA can also stop the multi-million dollar subsidies for big pork and other factory farm products, and let the free market take the place of government hand-outs. It can rein in the National Pork Board, which is funneling check-off dollars—a tax paid by every pig farmer supposedly for marketing efforts—to a D.C. lobbying group. The $60 million boondoggle has come under fire from conservative Sen. Jeff Flake, who 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." Flake notes that the "deal guarantees payments to a lobbying organization over two decades" for a slogan that is no longer even being used. You could not find a stronger example of crony capitalism taking advantage of government benefits.

In recent years, the USDA has been responsible for progress on a number of animal welfare issues, including banning the slaughter of downer cows and veal calves who can’t stand up or walk on their own, strengthening enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to crack down on illegal soring, setting animal welfare standards for the organics industry, strengthening the care of captive marine mammals, and working to address problems with puppy mills, Class B dealers, and tiger cub petting operations. We urge the incoming Secretary of Agriculture to continue the progress on these issues and make animal welfare a priority for the agency. If he wants to "drain the swamp," he’ll have to resist the polarizers and the provocateurs who want to fight old battles, settled already in so many states and even in the business community.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The 2016 congressional year in review for animals

The 115th Congress convenes today, and it’s set to be a busy next few months as legislators take up appropriations for FY17 and FY18, as well as many other presidential and congressional priorities. It’s going to be hectic, and at times contentious, but we’ll be there every day on the front lines driving change for animals.

iStock Photo

As we gear up for the new year, let’s take a look back and reflect on some of the key victories for animals during the 2016 session. That list should include key rulemaking actions, where lawmakers advocated for executive agencies to take action and strengthen the regulations associated with major laws for animals.

Animals in Research and Testing: Signed into law in June 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (P.L. 114-182) phases out archaic, costly, and non-predictive animal testing protocols in favor of 21st century technology. It reauthorized the 40-year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) with new landmark provisions to reduce, and ultimately replace, the use of live animals for testing tens of thousands of chemicals in the marketplace, potentially saving millions of dogs, rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs, and other animals over time. This language was supported by the chemical industry, environmental and animal protection organizations. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency moved to phase out some of the especially cruel and obsolete animal testing practices used by pesticide manufacturers for hundreds of new pesticide products brought to market each year.

Leads: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Tom Udall, D-N.M., David Vitter, R-La., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.

Wildlife Trafficking: Congress passed the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act (P.L. 114-231, signed into law in October 2016) to support global anti-poaching efforts, require greater collaboration with NGOs and governments of countries affected by wildlife trafficking, and allow serious wildlife crimes to trigger substantial penalties under money-laundering statutes. Separately, bipartisan letters signed by 108 Representatives and six Senators helped set the stage for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a final rule to curtail the commercial ivory trade in the United States, estimated to be the world’s second largest market for ivory product sales behind China. House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports for FY17 also reiterated the need for agencies to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking and highlighted the role of this trade in financing armed insurgencies and terrorist organizations.

Leads: Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Chris Coons, D-Del., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., Peter King, R-N.Y., Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Steve Israel, D-N.Y.

Farm Animals: After an appalling exposé of abuse and neglect at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and both chambers prevailed on the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to cover all its research practices under the standards of the Animal Welfare Act and institute regular inspections of all its animal research facilities. In addition, a bipartisan group of 92 Representatives and 14 Senators successfully pushed the USDA to close a loophole in the agency’s 2009 regulation, which previously banned the slaughter of downer cattle (those too sick, weak, or injured to stand on their own) but did not cover downer veal calves, leaving them vulnerable to abuse. The USDA also made clear in its final rule that the humane handling regulations apply to all animals as soon as they arrive at slaughter facilities.

Leads: Sens. Merkley, Udall, Feinstein, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Booker, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Sam Farr, D-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Chris Smith, R-N.J., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y.

Horses: Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved bipartisan amendments in their FY17 Agriculture bills to sustain language preventing horse slaughter plants from reopening in the United States. The continuing resolution passed in December 2016 will keep these despicable operations shuttered through April 28, 2017, the deadline Congress set to complete action for FY17 appropriations. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees also included language in their FY17 Interior bills to ensure that healthy, unadopted wild horses are not sent to slaughter and directed the Bureau of Land Management to continue researching viable, humane solutions, such as fertility control, to be used on the range to curb the ever growing wild horse numbers. Lawmakers from across the political spectrum also joined efforts to end the cruel practice of injuring horses to induce an artificial, pain-based, high-stepping gait known as the “big lick” in Tennessee Walking Horse shows. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act garnered 323 Senate and House cosponsors, and 42 Senators and 182 Representatives voiced support for the USDA’s still pending rule to fix its outdated regulations to eliminate the corrupt system of industry self-policing and the use of devices integral to soring (mirroring key provisions in PAST).

Leads: Sens. Udall, Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Graham, Feinstein, Coons, Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Farr, Charlie Dent, R-Pa., Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Fitzpatrick, Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., David Jolly, R-Fla., and Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Animal Cruelty: In December 2016, the Senate gave unanimous approval to the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, which would create a federal anti-cruelty statute, complementing the state cruelty laws by prohibiting malicious animal abuse on federal property or in interstate commerce. While it was too late for the House to act, this priority legislation will start the 115th Congress with strong momentum, thanks to the Senate’s action. A bipartisan letter signed by 14 Representatives helped ensure inclusion of a provision in an executive order amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice to explicitly establish an animal cruelty standard on military bases. Though animal abuse is thankfully rare among military personnel, this provision will help deter tragedies like some high-profile cases of animal cruelty on military bases in the news in recent years.

Leads: Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Blumenthal, and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., Blumenauer, and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.

Reintroducing Priority Bills: We saw a lot of support for several important bills in 2016, which we’ll seek to get reintroduced as soon as possible. Those included:

  • Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act—The PACT Act would amend and strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 by prohibiting those extreme acts (animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other heinous abuse) when they occur on federal property or in interstate commerce, regardless of whether an obscene video was produced (253 House cosponsors and 39 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Toomey and Blumenthal, and Reps. Lamar Smith, Deutch, Marino, and Blumenauer.

  • Pet and Women Safety Act—The PAWS Act would make it harder for abusers to prey on battered partners and their pets by allowing pets to be protected across state lines when restraining orders are issued in domestic violence and stalking cases and authorizing grant money so that domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets or help arrange for pet shelter. Currently, one-third of those subjected to domestic violence delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety, and only three percent of domestic violence shelters allow pets; up to 84 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners abused or killed the family pet (224 House cosponsors and 36 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Ayotte and Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

  • Safeguard American Food Exports Act—The SAFE Act would protect both horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given hundreds of drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested. Horses destined for slaughter are often seriously injured or killed in long-distance transit, and the methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths as they often endure repeated blows during attempts to render them unconscious and sometimes remain alive and kicking during dismemberment. This predatory industry doesn’t “euthanize” old, sick horsesthey buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions (200 House cosponsors and 31 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Menendez, Graham, Mikulski, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., Schakowsky, Buchanan, and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.

  • Humane Cosmetics Act—The Humane Cosmetics Act would phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the United States. More than 1.7 billion consumers live in countries that have already undertaken such action, including the European Union and India. There are many alternative methodsfaster to perform and less costly to industry than expensive animal testingto ensure that products are safe for human use, and 195 companies including Paul Mitchell, Coty, Lush, and The Body Shop support this legislation (174 House cosponsors).
    Leads: Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Don Beyer, D-Va., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif.

  • Prevent All Soring Tactics Act—The PAST Act would amend the 1970 Horse Protection Act to more effectively rein in the use of caustic chemicals, chains, weights, sharp objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to inflict pain on the hooves and legs of certain breeds to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping, pain-based gait. The bill incorporates reforms recommended by the USDA’s Inspector General in 2010 and by a broad cross-section of horse industry and veterinary groups, to end the failed industry self-policing scheme, ban devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and hold accountable all who participate in the abuse (273 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Ayotte and Warner, and Reps. Yoho, Schrader, Fitzpatrick, Cohen, Jolly, and Schakowsky.

With a new Congress and a new president, we can expect to face new challenges, but the advances made in 2016 remind us that animal protection reflects shared American values and transcends partisan politics. In the 115th Congress, it’s likely that the Farm Bill a major rewrite of our agricultural lawswill be taken up, and that presents both concerns and opportunities for us.

At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, we stand ready to work with lawmakers across the political spectrum to advance a common-sense animal welfare agenda, and at the same time, to fight harmful policies that threaten animals. We welcome the incoming class, and thank you for all your support and advocacy that made these 2016 achievements possible, and for your continued efforts in 2017 and beyond.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Trump’s holiday bonus for big ag

A number of anti-animal politicians have been under consideration for cabinet posts in the Trump administration, but the president-elect has selected one of the very worst to lead the Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. An elected official who abused the power of his office to attack charities on behalf of agribusiness interests will now lead the federal agency responsible for a number of important animal issues, including animal testing for pesticides and chemicals, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution from factory farms.

Shaun Lowe/iStock

Pruitt has been so aligned with factory farming special interests that last year he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, which celebrated his work to sue the EPA over the Clean Water Act and to attack animal protection groups. Just a few days before the election, he was a keynote speaker at the convention of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, which vigorously fought our successful ballot initiative to outlaw cockfighting in the state and unsuccessfully tried to block the use of the ballot initiative process on any animal welfare issues.

In 2016, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and Pruitt led a third unsuccessful fight to push a “right to farm.” State Question 777 would have amended Oklahoma’s constitution to give special rights to corporate and foreign-owned factory farms, and block future restrictions on agriculture. It was so broadly written that it could have prevented restrictions on puppy mills, horse slaughter, and even cockfighting. Pruitt penned an op-ed in the Tulsa World advocating for passage of the ballot measure, and later tried to defend it by saying it wouldn’t have any adverse impact on water quality in the state, after so many local government leaders panned SQ 777 and said how dangerous it was.

Voters saw through this deceptive and overreaching ballot measure, and soundly rejected it with 60.3 percent on the “no” side. Donald Trump won all 77 counties in Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in the country, but 37 of those counties sided with animal advocates and family farmers against Pruitt and Big Ag.

Pruitt also filed a lawsuit with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and other states’ Attorneys General to try to strike down California’s law that sets basic animal welfare and food safety standards for the sale of eggs in the state—requiring that the hens have enough space to turn around and stretch their wings. Pruitt and the other AG’s claimed to sue on behalf of their states and sought to allow egg factory farms to sell eggs in California, no matter how extreme the confinement of the hens or how bad the food safety standards. A federal judge dismissed the case, finding that Pruitt and the other AG’s were suing on behalf of special interests, not the citizens of their states. The federal appeals court upheld that dismissal last month.

Pruitt had previously used his position as Attorney General and used government channels, press releases, and social media to criticize The Humane Society of the United States, mounting a political attack on a charitable organization because of that group’s mission and beliefs. His playbook came straight off the script handed to him by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, which has long stitched a phony and false narrative about the diverse work of The HSUS. This was an affront, and an example of the heavy hand of government trying to squelch the speech of an organization that holds views at odds with his political funders. It’s not the role of government to decide whose voice should be heard, and Pruitt’s abuse of power should outrage religious leaders, pro-life groups, and others with a values-based view of the world. Pruitt’s campaign against The HSUS was a sop to the Farm Bureau and his political allies who don’t like organizations working to crack down on cockfighting, puppy mills, and intensive confinement of animals on factory farms.

The Agitator, a blog that covers nonprofit marketing, called it “an ugly, dangerous and utterly frightening campaign of distortion and intimidation,” under the guise of “consumer protection," and warned of “how some politicians and their special interest supporters are attempting to intimidate, discredit and destroy nonprofits that oppose them through the misuse of fundraising regulations.” The HSUS sued Pruitt over this abuse of power and campaign of harassment and public vilification, and then later withdrew the suit after the AG’s office announced it was no longer investigating the organization.

Trump has also appointed Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to be U.S. ambassador to China. Many family farmers claim that China is buying up American farms and treating our land and animals as China’s new outpost for factory farming, getting all the economic benefits of production and leaving the United States with all of the externalities. The fear is that Branstad, who’s viewed as an architect of this strategy, will now accelerate this move. Branstad was one of the first governors to sign an “ag-gag” measure in recent years, and he, too, has a poor record on a wide range of animal issues. 

With these selections, President-elect Trump has turned to two of the most anti-animal welfare politicians in America. It remains to be seen what’s to come for selections to the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, and other key agencies that shape the policies that affect millions of animals.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The looming fight on states’ rights and animal welfare

We knew before the election that Donald Trump’s agricultural advisory committee included a long list of extraordinarily strident voices against animal welfare. Now, according to a leaked memo of talking points prepared for that group, we have a window into the possible agriculture policies of the incoming Trump administration. And we know that our movement must rally once again to defeat one of the most sweeping attacks on animal protection and food safety laws we’ve ever faced.

Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

As the memo indicates, “The Trump administration will work with Congress to ensure that the Interstate Commerce Clause is enforced to keep individual states from dictating policy for food growers in the United States.”

That’s a thinly veiled reference to a discredited proposal from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that seeks to negate most state and local laws regarding the production or manufacture of agriculture products. It’s a radical federal overreach that would undermine the longstanding constitutional rights of states to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens and local businesses.

The King amendment takes aim at state laws such as California’s Proposition 2—approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2008—to ban extreme confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves in small crates and cages, as well as a law passed subsequently by a landslide margin in the state legislature, with the support of the egg industry, to require any shell eggs sold in California to comply with the requirements of Prop 2. Its effect would extend to the recently approved Question 3 in Massachusetts, banning the confinement of farm animals and the sale of eggs, pork, and veal from crates and cages, which passed two weeks ago with an astonishing 78 percent of the vote.

In short, the King amendment could nullify dozens of state laws dealing with intensive confinement of farm animals, bans on horse slaughter and the sale of horsemeat, bans on the sale of foie gras produced by force-feeding ducks and geese, bans on tail docking of dairy cows and processing downer livestock, bans on possession and commerce of shark fins and rhino horn, and potentially even bans on the sale of dog and cat meat. It could also preempt a wide range of state laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish.

Since then, the world has changed, and the idea of extreme confinement is on its way out, with more than 200 food retail companies pledging to cleanse their supply chains of products that come from these sorts of inhumane confinement systems. On the same day that Donald Trump was elected president, the landslide vote on Question 3—which passed in 362 of 365 cities and towns in the Commonwealth—put a closing argument and exclamation point on the changes we’ve seen in society.

But opposition to the King amendment is nothing new. As a Washington Post editorial noted when it slammed King’s loser of a proposal, “Mr. King’s reactionary amendment would precipitate a disaster. Not only would laws regarding animal cruelty be upended, but so would laws protecting the environment, workers’ rights and public health.” Newspapers ranging from the Des Moines Register to USA Today also criticized the effort.

During consideration of the Farm Bill in 2013, the King amendment was added by voice vote by the House Agriculture Committee and passed the full House. When the House and Senate negotiated the final package, we succeeded in nixing the language from the Farm Bill. A broad and diverse coalition of bipartisan lawmakers, public officials, law professors, and organizations—such as the County Executives of America, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Fraternal Order of Police, and National Sheriffs’ Association—weighed in and helped to stave off this destructive provision.

It’s ironic that politicians like King often say they are for states’ rights when they agree with what the states are doing, but when they don’t like the result, they are perfectly fine with federal mandates telling states what they can and cannot do.

We heard so much talk during this recent election season about reducing the role of big government and keeping Washington off the backs of local communities—yet the King amendment would impose the will of Washington on our states as a legislative fiat and eviscerate local decision making on animal issues and other issues as well.

It’s unclear, of course, whether the King-type proposal that’s referenced in the campaign memo would get a real push from the Trump administration, or whether it’s just a fringe suggestion by some radical element of the transition team that will be rejected by the president-elect and his advisors. But if this threat does emerge when the new Congress convenes in January, or in the run-up to the consideration of next Farm Bill in 2018, it’ll be necessary for our movement to again marshal our forces and fight such a devastatingly harmful policy. We did it before, and we must gear up to defeat a similar measure again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Animal welfare on the ballot in November

When voters go to the polls this November, they won’t only be making critical decisions about who represents them in the White House, Congress and state and local offices. In a number of states, the people will vote on the humane treatment of animals—deciding whether to adopt policies on factory farming, wildlife trafficking, and other animal protection issues.

Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

Since the early 1990s, The Humane Society of the United States and allied organizations have been involved in about 50 statewide ballot contests, and voters have sided with animals about 70 percent of the time. They’ve banned cockfighting in three of the last states where it remained legal (Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma), set humane treatment standards for dogs in the largest puppy mill state (Missouri), stopped extreme confinement of animals on factory farms (Arizona, California, and Florida), and adopted new policies to restrict greyhound racing; horse slaughter; body-gripping traps and poisons; trophy hunting of bears, cougars, and wolves, and more. When politicians in the state legislatures have been held captive by special interests—such as big agribusiness, the trophy hunting lobby, or even organized cockfighting groups—animal advocates have petitioned to put these questions directly to the people.

This year in Massachusetts, voters will decide on Question 3, which would phase out the extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens in small crates and cages where they are virtually immobilized for their entire lives, and will remove inhumane and unsafe products from the Massachusetts marketplace. Backed by the MSPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England, and hundreds of Massachusetts veterinarians and family farmers, more than 170,000 Massachusetts voters signed petitions to place Question 3 on the ballot. Question 3 adds momentum to what’s already occurring in the marketplace, with McDonald’s, Walmart and 200 other major food retail brands pledging to change their procurement practices and source only cage-free eggs and meats.

In Oregon, voters will weigh in on Measure 100, which will help save endangered sea turtles, elephants, rhinos and other wild animals threatened with cruel poaching and extinction. Every day close to 100 elephants are brutally killed in Africa, their tusks hacked off to supply the black market for ivory trinkets. Poachers poison watering holes with cyanide, killing hundreds of elephants at once. Organized criminal gangs and armed rebels use military weapons to kill wildlife for the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade. Measure 100 will ensure that Oregon does not provide a market for endangered species products resulting from wildlife poaching and trafficking. If passed, Oregon will join California, Washington, Hawaii, and other states in shutting down local markets for those who seek to profit from this destructive wildlife trade. 

In Oklahoma, family farmers and animal advocates are opposing State Question 777, a measure referred to the ballot by politicians to amend the state constitution with a so-called “right to farm.” It would protect corporate interests and foreign-owned big agribusiness at the expense of Oklahoma’s family farmers, land, and animals. The measure is so broadly worded that it could prevent future restrictions on any “agricultural” practice, including puppy mills, horse slaughter, and raising gamefowl for cockfighting. Even the president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau said the language is flawed, and “I wish that language weren’t in there.”

Those aren’t the only states where voters will see ballot issues related to animals. Californians will vote on Proposition 67, to protect the state’s ban on plastic grocery bags, which wash into our rivers, lakes, streams, and ocean, where they are ingested by or entangle sea turtles, otters, seals, fish, and birds. Some ocean animals mistake bags for food, fill their stomachs with plastics, and die of starvation. Montanans will vote on I-777, which would restrict the use of cruel traps and snares on public lands. In Colorado, Amendment 71 would make it more difficult for citizens to have a say on future constitutional ballot measures, including those dealing with animal protection. The HSUS and HSLF favor the California and Montana measures, but strongly opposes the Colorado measure as an attack on citizen voting.

When you enter the voting booth or send in your mail ballot this November, make sure you don’t stop after the candidate races. Continue down the ballot and review the issues at stake, and you could have a role in promoting the humane treatment of animals and protecting these creatures from cruelty and suffering, and preserving your rights to participate in democratic decision-making in future elections.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump's ag A-team a royal flush of animal protection haters

We already knew that Donald Trump would be bad news for wildlife—he’s got two sons who travel the globe to slay rare wildlife, and the elder son has indicated he wants to serve as Secretary of the Interior. But now we know that his Secretary of Agriculture—also a critical post for animal welfare—could be murder on other animals.

Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

Donald Trump’s newly-announced Agricultural Advisory Committee is a veritable rogues gallery of anti-animal crusaders. The group boasts a wealthy funder of an anti-animal super PAC, politicians who sponsored state “ag-gag” measures and opposed the most modest animal welfare bills, and leaders of the factory farming industry. It’s an unmistakable signal from the Trump campaign that he will be an opponent of animal welfare—a show of overt hostility toward the cause of animal protection that raises serious concerns for the humane movement about a potential Trump administration.

One member of the committee is Forrest Lucas, the money man behind the so-called Protect the Harvest, a front group devoted to fighting animal welfare organizations at every turn, on everything. A peevish advocate of trophy hunting, puppy mills, and big agribusiness, Lucas has never met a case of animal exploitation he wouldn’t defend. He and his group opposed efforts to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty against dogs, cats, and horses; set standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial puppy mills; and even promote the spaying and neutering of pets, and provide adequate shelter for dogs to protect them from the elements. He put hundreds of thousands of dollars into fighting an anti-puppy mill ballot measure in Missouri, he formed a super PAC specifically to defeat animal advocates, and started a film company to produce fictional dramas on animal issues with an ideological bent. He may be the leading anti-animal advocate in the United States, and he’s got a front row seat in the Trump administration.

Former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman is also among the names announced by the campaign, and he brings a track record as one of the nation’s most ardent anti-animal welfare governors. Heineman vetoed a bill to stop the trophy hunting of mountain lions—even though the state legislature had acted on the killing of these inedible wild cats. He’s also been a horrid demagogue in defending factory farming, saying that he was going to “kick HSUS’s ass” out of the state and unapologetically defending battery cages and gestation crates.

Then there’s Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, the first governor in the United States to sign an ag-gag measure into law. Designed to shield agribusiness interests from public scrutiny by punishing whistleblowers, ag-gag bills give factory farmers unbridled and unchecked power over worker safety, public health, and animal welfare.

Also on Trump’s council is former Iowa state Rep. Annette Sweeney, the lawmaker who conceived of and originally introduced this troubling affront to free speech. Branstad and Heineman both signed on to the federal lawsuit to invalidate California’s law restricting the sale of eggs from barren battery cages—fortunately, they lost that lawsuit in court.

Recent reports suggest that Iowa factory farming mogul Bruce Rastetter may be Trump’s leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, so his inclusion on the council is unsurprising. Rastetter has made a fortune off the kind of industrial agricultural practices that family farmers and animal advocates have fought for decades, and was connected to Trump through New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had vetoed a state ban on cruel pig gestation crates in a sop to Iowa’s pork industry. Considering the fact Rastetter’s brother is CEO of a company that builds gestation crates, we have good reason to be concerned about the potential for crony capitalist dealings in a Trump administration.

Also included in this gathering of the biggest anti-animal welfare names is Texas state agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, who called Meatless Mondays “treasonous.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces the federal laws on humane slaughter, animal fighting, horse soring, and animal care at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, circuses, roadside zoos, and other facilities. Over the last few years, the agency has taken steps to prevent the slaughter of downer cows and veal calves; fortify the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act; ban imports of puppies from foreign puppy mills and require licensing and inspection of Internet puppy sellers; improve disaster planning for animals; and restrict public contact and exhibition of tiger cubs.

Just imagine a concentration of anti-animal hardliners in the next administration unwinding so much of that progress, repealing dozens of Obama administration rulemaking actions for animals, and giving the keys of the USDA to the most vitriolic, extreme voices in animal welfare. It’s a frightening thought, and animal advocates should be asking this question in the months ahead: Would a Trump administration oppose humane-minded reforms and side with fringe interests over the values of mainstream Americans when it comes to animal welfare rules and enforcement? Given the membership of this council, he’s charted a path directly to that goal.

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.

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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