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Farm Animals

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.

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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.

Capitol
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

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

Editor's note: This post was originally published on December 29, 2015 at 12:17 p.m. and has been updated to include the list of legislators who led the way on these important measures and the updated cosponsor numbers on our priority bills for 2016.

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

Omnibus (Consolidated Appropriations Act) Highlights:

A number of the victories for animals came with the $1.1 trillion omnibus funding package (P.L. 114-113), signed into law just before Christmas. With a number of critical animal issues in play, the bill was essentially a clean sweep on all of them, with gains in the following areas:

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

Horse slaughter – The omnibus retains “defund” language that’s been enacted over the past several years to prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture from spending funds for inspection of horse slaughter plants.This effectively prevents the resumption in the United States of horse slaughter for human consumption – a practice that is inherently cruel, particularly given the difficulty of properly stunning horses before slaughter, and dangerous because horses are routinely given drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans.
Leads: Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Chris Coons, D-Del., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Frank Guinta, R-N.H., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.

Federal protections for wolves and other endangered species – The omnibus rejects all the new riders in the House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct and that calls for science-based decision making to protect wildlife and plants in danger of extinction. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90 percent of American voters. With the extinction of species on earth now at its highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, this law is needed more urgently than ever. 
Leads: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Reps. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

ARS research on farm animals – The omnibus contains strong language to address abuses uncovered by a New York Times exposé of the Agricultural Research Service’s Meat Animal Research Center. Language directs ARS to ensure that all of its research facilities comply with federal Animal Welfare Act standards, provides $400,000 for inspections, and withholds five percent of the ARS budget until specified animal welfare reforms are fulfilled. 
Leads: Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Udall, Feinstein, Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Booker, D-N.J., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Farr, Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Buchanan.

Alternatives to animal testing and stopping pointless experiments – The omnibus provides a $52.7 million increase for the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which works on developing alternatives to animal testing that are more humane, faster to perform, less costly to industry, and can provide more reliable results than animal experiments not predictive of the human experience. 
Leads: Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., David Price, D-N.C., and Tom Cole, R-Okla.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pet food – The omnibus provides full funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which includes needed reforms for safe pet food.
Leads: Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Reps. DeLauro, Farr, and Pingree.

Authorizing Bill Highlights:

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

Amtrak and pets – Congress enacted a transportation package with an amendment directing Amtrak to develop a program that allows passengers to carry their cats and dogs on board certain trains. This will create more opportunities for pets to remain with their families when they have no one to care for them during travel or need to permanently relocate.
Leads: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Kirk, and Feinstein, and Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.  

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

Military working dogs – Congress also enacted a defense authorization bill with an amendment to facilitate the adoption of retired military working dogs by their former handlers and their families, law enforcement agencies, or other individuals who will humanely care for these animals. This provision honors the special bond between service members and their trusted dogs.
Leads: Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J.

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

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

  • Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act – to strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 (which banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, or impaling of live animals) to prohibit those same extreme acts of malicious animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce, or on federal property (213 House cosponsors and 31 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Blumenthal, and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Blumenauer.
  • Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act – to make it harder for abusers to prey on their battered partners and their pets by: 1) allowing pets to be protected across state lines when restraining orders are issued in domestic violence and stalking cases; and 2) authorizing grant money so that domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets (currently only three percent of these shelters allow pets) or help arrange for pet shelter (185 House cosponsors and 27 Senate cosponsors). 
    Leads: Sens. Ayotte and Peters, and Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. 
  • Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act – to amend existing federal law to better crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses and certain other breeds to force them to perform an unnaturally high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows (246 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Fitzpatrick, Cohen, David Jolly, R-Fla., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
  • Humane Cosmetics Act – to phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the United States, as is the case for more than 1.7 billion consumers who live in countries that have already undertaken such action, including the European Union and India (145 House cosponsors).
    Leads: Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Don Beyer, D-Va., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif.
  • Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act – to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption (184 House cosponsors and 29 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Menendez, Graham, Mikulski, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Guinta, Schakowsky, Buchanan, and Lujan Grisham.
  • Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research (AWARE) Act – to permanently close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that exempts farm animals used for agricultural research at federal government facilities, and ensure that these animals receive the basic care required under the law (83 House cosponsors and 10 Senate cosponsors).
    Leads: Sens. Booker and Blumenthal, and Reps. Blumenauer, Fitzpatrick, Slaughter, and Buchanan.
  • Big Cats and Primates as Pets – to protect public safety and animal welfare, the Captive Primate Safety Act (66 House cosponsors) would bar the interstate trade in chimpanzees and monkeys as pets, and the Big Cat Public Safety Act (50 House cosponsors) would prohibit private ownership of dangerous big cats such as tigers and lions as pets. 
    Leads: Reps. Fitzpatrick, Blumenauer, and Walter Jones, R-N.C.

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

Ask your lawmakers to act on these priority bills»

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top 10 State Legislative Victories for Animals

As the year winds down to a close, I’m pleased to report that 159 new animal protection laws have been enacted this year at the state and local levels. That continues the surge in animal protection policymaking by state legislatures, and in total, it makes about 1,200 new policies in the states since 2005, across a broad range of subjects bearing upon the lives of pets, wildlife, animals in research and testing, and farm animals.

That is tremendous forward progress, closing the gaps in the legal framework for animals, and ushering in new standards in society for how animals are treated. I’d like to recap what I view as the top 10 state victories for animals in 2015.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

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

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

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The HSUS

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

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

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

Shark Finning
Texas became the tenth state (along with three U.S. territories) to ban the trade in shark fins. These state laws help to dry up consumer demand and crack down on the brutal practice of hacking off the fins of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to die slowly in the ocean—just for a bowl of soup.

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Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

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

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

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Shaun Lowe/iStock

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

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Government Pork: May the Farce Be With You

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

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Photo courtesy of Wastebook: The Farce Awakens

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

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

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

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iStock photo

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

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

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Shaun Lowe/iStock

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

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

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