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Wildlife

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Senate committee passes harmful anti-wildlife bill

While the U.S. Senate was largely occupied yesterday with the health care debate, one of its committees quietly passed an awful bill that puts wolves, eagles, and other migratory birds at risk, while giving a sweetheart deal to polar bear trophy hunters. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works passed the innocuous sounding “Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation (HELP) for Wildlife Act,” S. 1514, by a vote of 14 to 7.

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Photo by RamiroMarquezPhotos/iStock.com

The bill allows Congress to cherry-pick wolves off the list of threatened and endangered species, undermining citizens’ rights to use the federal courts and all but guaranteeing that hundreds of wolves are subjected to baiting, hound hunting, and cruel trapping practices. It puts bald eagles and other migratory birds at risk by weakening bird anti-baiting rules. It denies proper oversight of toxic lead in the environment, barring federal agencies from regulating lead in fishing tackle, even though alternatives exist. It’s a government hand-out to wealthy trophy hunters who shot rare polar bears in Canada and couldn’t otherwise legally import them into the U.S.

It’s a grab bag of appalling provisions for the trophy hunting lobby, and will cause immense suffering to wild animals. HSLF is grateful to seven Democratic senators who voted against the legislation. All 11 committee Republicans favored the bill in committee, and three Democrats—Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois—backed it, even with the terrible provisions in it. There’s still time to kill the bill, and we urge Senators to do so. 

The following are the most harmful provisions that should not be enacted into law.

Wolves

1514 removes Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in three Great Lakes states (and also Wyoming, even though Wyoming already has management authority over wolves). This proposal would both subvert citizens’ rights to  judicial processes and undermine the ESA, one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws. Removing federal protections and turning wolf management over to the states has led to politically-motivated, fear-based killing programs targeting wolves. In a three-year period, trophy hunters and trappers killed more than 1,500 wolves in the Great Lakes states alone, and that killing spree stopped only because of a successful legal action led by The HSUS. Left to their own devices in the past, states have authorized the use of strangling cable neck snares; cruel steel-jawed, leg-hold traps; and hounding with packs of radio-collared trailing hounds. It is clear that federal oversight is necessary to provide adequate protections for gray wolves as required by the ESA. The committee narrowly rejected an amendment by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., to remove this anti-wolf provision by a party-line vote of 11 to 10. Eighty-one scientists submitted a letter in opposition to wolf delisting, citing the fact that they have not been restored to but a fraction of their historic range.

Lead

1514 also prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting toxic chemicals, such as lead, in fishing equipment. Millions of pounds of lead fishing tackle are lost in aquatic environments each year, putting water and wading birds such as loons, whooping cranes, gulls, swans, geese, egrets, and herons, at risk of lead poisoning. Alternative metals can be used in hunting and fishing equipment, eliminating the need to poison millions of animals as a collateral effect of these recreational practices.

Polar Bears

An amendment to the bill, offered by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, would roll back the Marine Mammal Protection Act and provide a sweetheart deal to help 41 wealthy polar bear trophy hunters import the heads of rare polar bears they shot in Canada. The animals were not shot for their meat, but just for trophies and bragging rights. It’s the latest in a series of these import allowances for polar bear hunters, and it encourages trophy hunters to kill rare species around the world and then wait for a congressional waiver to bring back their trophies.

Migratory Birds

1514 amends the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by sweepingly excluding vast areas of land from the definition of “baited area.” If an area is not a “baited area,” the Act’s standard prohibition against killing migratory birds does not apply. Already, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits to agricultural interests on a regular basis to kill birds to reduce crop damage, making this provision unnecessary.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

President’s budget a mixed bag for animals

The White House yesterday released President Trump’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018, providing more detail on the spending proposals for federal agencies than what was forecast earlier this year. One of the most troubling aspects of the package is the administration’s desire to allow the commercial sale of an unlimited number of wild horses and burros rounded up from federal lands. This is a betrayal of the public trust and our stewardship of these wild horses and burros, who are protected under federal law and represent the historic and pioneer spirit of the American West.

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Gary Alvis/iStock

While the budget is bad for animals when looking across multiple agencies, there are a few bright spots, including stable funding levels for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act and a reduction in the budget for USDA’s notorious Wildlife Services program. Many lawmakers pronounced the president’s budget "dead on arrival," but where the president strayed from mainstream principles, it’s important for HSLF to comment. It is Congress that has the power of the purse, and we’ll work with our allies on Capitol Hill to fight harmful provisions to animals and ensure that the final product reflects America’s wide and deep support for animal protection. 

Here are a few key items of note: 

Wildlife Services:
President Trump has taken a major step in the right direction toward "draining the swamp" of an outdated and inhumane federal predator killing program. The proposed budget cuts the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s "Wildlife Services" program by $45 million and specifies that ranchers, farmers, and other local participants "requesting direct control assistance will need to cover the operational program costs." This would de-incentivize the U.S. government from killing and maiming wildlife and family pets, and the predator killing tax could finally get the axe. If Congress follows suit, far fewer federal taxes will be wasted on killing millions of animals using horribly inhumane and indiscriminate methods such as toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, wire neck snares, explosives, and aerial gunning. Wildlife Services would be encouraged to help people prevent wildlife damage through non-lethal deterrents which are often more effective and less costly.

Animal Welfare Act/Horse Protection Act:
We are pleased that the president’s budget recognizes the important role that USDA provides in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act. Although USDA was cut by 21 percent overall, funding for enforcement of the AWA and HPA would remain essentially level under the proposal. The AWA requires thousands of puppy mills, laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other regulated entities to comply with its basic humane care and treatment standards, while the HPA is intended to protect Tennessee walking horses and related breeds from the cruel and criminal practice of "soring"— using caustic chemicals, torture devices, and other painful techniques on horses’ hooves and legs to force an artificial pain-based high-stepping gait.

Horse Slaughter:
The budget omits critically needed language to prevent federal tax dollars from being used to open and operate horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil. The last horse slaughter plants in the U.S. shut down a decade ago, and this language keeps the practice from being resurrected. Horse meat poses serious food safety risks from the multitude of medications horses are given throughout their lives. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t "euthanize" old horses, but precisely the opposite: "kill buyers" purchase young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Americans do not consume horse meat, and our nation’s limited agency resources and inspectors should not be diverted from the important current duties of protecting the food supply for U.S. consumers.

Wild Horses and Burros:
As noted above, the president’s budget proposes to enable the Bureau of Land Management to sell wild horses and burros without limitation—clearly signaling a desire to strip protections and open the door to sending thousands of these animals to commercial slaughter. This is a radical departure from decades of protection, when there are more humane and cost-effective strategies readily available. The BLM 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.

Alternatives to Animal Testing:
The animal protection community celebrated last year’s passage of legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, with language aimed at minimizing the use of animals in chemical safety tests. We also recognized that funding for computational toxicology and other 21st century methods to reduce and ultimately replace animal testing for risk assessments is essential to implement the law. President Trump’s proposed budget goes in the wrong direction, reducing EPA’s funding for alternatives development by 28 percent, and additionally, hindering the progress made by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences with a 19 percent cut. This is a short-sighted approach that will impede the transition to faster, cheaper, and more predictive toxicological methods that can provide for human safety and ultimately eliminate antiquated animal tests.

Marine Mammals:
The president’s budget eliminates two initiatives critical to protecting marine mammals. The Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Grant Program supports trained teams, largely composed of volunteers, which rescue and care for more than 5,500 stranded whales, dolphins, porpoises, and seals each year. Thanks to this care, many of the animals successfully return to the wild. With the loss of Prescott funds, which often help to leverage additional funds from the private sector, members of the public who encounter marine mammals in distress might be unable to find anyone to assist. The budget also eliminates the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, which brings together economic interest groups, scientists, and animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, to seek practical solutions to conservation challenges facing marine mammals. These issues include how to minimize harm from offshore energy development, military exercises, and commercial fishing. The commission’s important work has been achieved on a shoestring budget, and is the kind of problem solving and bridge building the nation needs.

Friday, April 28, 2017

State legislatures take big steps for animals in 2017

We are one-third of the way through 2017, and  dozens of state legislatures across the country are active, including on animal protection policy issues. The states have always been critical incubators of animal welfare policies, and more often than we’d like, they’ve also been settings where some lawmakers try to set up roadblocks on animal protection. I want to provide a few highlights of what’s happening in the states on our issues.

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Larry French/AP Images for The HSUS

Animal Cruelty: Arkansas and Wyoming both upgraded their cruelty statutes, with Arkansas adding felony penalties for cruelty to equines, and Wyoming making it a felony to injure or kill someone else’s animal. The Texas House passed a bill to ban bestiality, and the Pennsylvania House passed a comprehensive overhaul to the state’s anti-cruelty statute, including felony penalties on the first offense rather than the current law which is only for repeat offenders. Both those bills still have to go through the other chambers. 

Off the Chain: Washington enacted legislation making it illegal to leave a dog tethered outside for a reckless period of time without providing him or her with adequate access to food, water, and shelter. A similar bill has cleared one chamber so far in New Jersey. Dogs who live their lives on the end of a chain or tether become lonely, bored and anxious, and they can develop aggressive behaviors.

Saving Pets from Extreme Temperatures: Colorado and Indiana have passed laws giving people the right to rescue dogs from a hot car, where they can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. A similar bill has passed one chamber in New Jersey. Washington, D.C. passed a law to protect dogs from being left outside to suffer in extreme temperatures such as freezing cold.

Puppy Mills and Pet Stores: Maryland passed new laws to strengthen regulations of commercial dog breeding operations and to require pet stores to obtain animal welfare inspection reports directly from breeders and post them in the store for consumers to see. The New Jersey legislature passed a bill to crack down on the sale of puppy mill dogs in the state, including those sold at pet stores, flea markets, and over the Internet, which is currently awaiting a decision from Governor Christie. We defeated harmful bills in Illinois, Georgia, and Tennessee that would have blocked local communities from setting restrictions on pet stores and puppy mills.

Wildlife Killing: The Maryland legislature passed a two-year moratorium on cruel contest killing of cownose rays (named for their uniquely-shaped heads), and that bill is now on the governor’s desk. Participants in contests compete to shoot the heaviest rays, making pregnant females prime targets, then haul them onto boats and often bludgeon them with a metal bat or hammer. Some rays are still alive when thrown into piles and slowly suffocate to death. The Florida wildlife commission voted to stop the trophy hunting of black bears for the next two years, obviating the need for action on a bill in the legislature that would have imposed a 10-year hunting moratorium. In 2015, trophy hunters killed 304 black bears, including dozens of nursing mothers, leaving their orphaned cubs to die of starvation or predation.

Greyhound Racing: The West Virginia legislature passed a measure to eliminate state funding to subsidize greyhound racing, but unfortunately the governor vetoed the bill. Kansas lawmakers made the right bet by defeating a bill that would have reinstated greyhound racing eight years after the last tracks closed in the state.

Blocking Big Ag: On the heels of a crushing defeat for their “right to farm” amendment in the November election, Oklahoma politicians tried to double down and create “prosperity districts”—vast parts of the state that would be exempt from regulations. We blocked the corporate power grab that could have deregulated puppy mills, factory farms, and other large-scale cruelties. 

Funding for Animal Welfare: West Virginia enacted legislation dedicating a funding source from the sale of pet food to be used for low-cost spaying and neutering of dogs and cats to combat pet homelessness. Arizona created a voluntary contribution via a check-off box on tax forms to fund much-needed affordable spay and neuter services. New York’s final state budget included $5 million for a new Companion Animal Capital Fund, providing local shelters and humane societies with matching grants for capital projects.

Captive Wildlife: The Illinois Senate passed a bill to ban the use of elephants in performing circuses and travelling shows, and similar bills are pending in Massachusetts, Maine, and New York. More than 125 other localities in 33 states have also restricted the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows—just this week, Los Angeles passed a city ordinance to ban wild animal acts. In addition, the Alabama House has advanced a bill to ban big cats and wolves as pets and the South Carolina House has passed a bill to ban possession of big cats, bears, and great apes—these are two of the only remaining states with no restrictions on owning dangerous wild animals as pets.

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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iStock Photo

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.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Maryland seeks to close the door on the trade of imperiled wild animal products

Following the worrying results of an investigation into the sale of wildlife products from imperiled species within its  borders, Maryland lawmakers are taking steps to make sure that their state no longer has a hand in this destructive trade.

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photo courtesy of The HSUS
An example of an elephant ivory piece found for
sale at the Baltimore Antiques Show

The Humane Society of the United States today released the results of an investigation conducted late last year that uncovered products of imperiled species, notably elephant ivory jewelry and collectibles, for sale in stores and markets throughout Maryland. Investigators found that at least 30 sellers at antique stores and malls, auction companies, consignment stores, and jewelers across Maryland had elephant ivory items for sale. Leopard fur was also found for sale at a Frederick antique mall.

With only one exception, none of the sellers offering ivory or leopard fur would provide documentation to investigators to verify the age or origin of the products. That lack of documentation and transparency makes it impossible to know if the products were genuine antiques, for example, or from more recently killed elephants, imported in violation of the federal law on selling African elephant ivory.

The investigation also found that several sellers at a popular art and jewelry show in Baltimore had traveled from other states, including New York—where, thanks to 2014 legislation supported by HSLF, The HSUS, and other wildlife conservation and protection groups, the sale of ivory is now illegal.

When asked, many Maryland antique sellers claimed ignorance of existing laws regulating the sale of ivory, while others seemed to deliberately confuse or mislead potential customers.

In a survey conducted last year, an overwhelming 83 percent of Maryland residents said they support legislation to curtail this trafficking within their state’s borders, to help save the world’s most majestic and endangered wildlife from extinction and cruelty. With broad support, state legislators have introduced a package of bills, H.B. 686/S.B. 560, to prohibit the sale of these products in the state.

The poaching of imperiled species is a growing global crisis, and the U.S. is one of the world’s largest retail markets and  a major contributor to the $20 billion illegal wildlife trade. We must do all we can to stop poaching of wildlife in range countries, but we can also take action here at home to reduce the demand that creates global instability and pushes many iconic animals to the brink of extinction.

The actions by poachers are immensely cruel and even as they decimate the populations of these species, they threaten the economies of many nations dependent on wildlife tourism. Poachers hack off an elephant’s or rhino’s face, sometimes while the animal is still alive, to retrieve their tusks or horn. Every year approximately 35,000 elephants are killed in Africa to supply the demand for their ivory. The savanna elephant population has declined by 144,000, or 30 percent of the population, since 2007, primarily from poaching.

Other iconic animals aren’t faring any better. Cheetahs have lost an estimated 91 percent of their historic habitat and fewer than 7,100 remain in the wild. At least 1,305 rhinos were poached across Africa in 2015 out of only 29,000 remaining in the wild. All seven sea turtles species are threatened with extinction. There are only 3,200 tigers left in the wild. African lion populations have declined by 43 percent since 1993 and are still declining.

Evidence and seizure data suggest that poaching and wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest transnational crime, after the trafficking of drugs and people, and counterfeiting. In the case of ivory, armed militia and terrorist groups on the African continent engage in elephant poaching and ivory trafficking to finance their nefarious operations. Many agencies, including INTERPOL and the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, recognize the increasing involvement of organized syndicates in wildlife crime.

The federal government has an important role to play, and we made progress last year with the passage of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act in Congress and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule to close loopholes in the domestic ivory trade. But states must also take action to help dry up demand for poached products within their own borders. There is strong and bipartisan support for these laws, as seen in huge ballot measure victories by HSLF and our coalition partners—winning 70 percent of the statewide votes in Washington in 2015 and Oregon in 2016 to ban the trade in wildlife parts.

The new legislation in Maryland would keep the products of elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, sea turtles, and great apes off the market, ensuring that consumers do not unwittingly contribute to the illegal wildlife trade. Maryland can join California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington which have passed similar laws—building momentum in the fight to shut down local markets that allow so many to continue seeking profit from destructive wildlife trafficking.

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.

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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 22, 2016

FTC to consumers: Don’t be duped by "fake" fur

Coyote-Richard-Seeley-blog
Photo courtesy of Richard-Seeley

This holiday season, shoppers around the country are looking for the perfect gifts and last-minute deals. It’s also a time when more and more consumers are thinking about conscious ethical purchasing choices and what impact the products they buy have on the world. This includes animal issues, whether it’s a puppy purchased from a pet store, cosmetics tested on animals, or food sources from factory farms.

When it comes to the fashion industry, there is still some misrepresentation of garments labeled as “faux fur” when they really contain animal fur. Recently, The Humane Society of the United States asked the Federal Trade Commission to bring enforcement action under federal protection laws against 17 retailers for false advertisement of fur garments. These retailers sold a combined 37 different styles of apparel and accessories that were advertised or labeled as “faux fur,” but actually included animal fur from raccoon dogs, rabbits, and coyotes.

While FTC is still reviewing this enforcement action, the agency has taken steps to help educate consumers this holiday season by releasing a blog that highlights the difference of faux fur and real fur, which I have posted below. We hope you use this information when shopping this holiday season, and we are grateful to the FTC for raising awareness of this important consumer protection and animal protection issue in the marketplace.


When fake fur is real

December 21, 2016
by Colleen Tressler
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Do you have faux fur on your holiday wish list—maybe a jacket, hat or throw? It turns out that some faux fur is actually real fur, but manufacturers and retailers say it’s fake. And misleading people is against the law.

Both the federal Fur Act and the FTC’s Fur Rule (yes, there’s a Fur Act and a Fur Rule) say that companies have to give shoppers accurate information about what they’re buying—whether in a store, online, or in advertising. And, if it’s a real fur product, the law says it has to be labeled with the type of animal and the country where the fur comes from.

  • As you’re shopping, here are some ways make sure you’re getting the kind of fur—real or faux—that you’re after:
  • Don’t go by feel and color alone. Some fake fur is actually softer than some real fur. Also, fake fur can be dyed.
  • Separate the fur and look at the base. Fake fur usually has a mesh or threaded backing, while real fur usually is on a backing of skin or leather.
  • Look at the tips of the hairs. Unless they’ve been sheared or cut, the tips of animal fur taper to a fine point—like a sewing needle or sharpened pencil. The tips of faux fur don’t taper.

Fur-comparision-480x402

Do you think you’ve spotted a company selling real fur as fake? Report it to the FTC. Your complaints help the FTC and other law enforcement agencies put an end to unfair and misleading business practices.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fairs are not fair for tigers and dangerous wildlife

A dramatic video taken by a student on a field trip to the Pensacola Interstate Fair in Florida shows a trainer being attacked by a tiger during a performance, with children and adults watching in horror just a few feet away behind a fence. The tiger appears to knock the trainer down, begins to chew on her leg, and drags her across the cage. Another trainer enters the cage and frantically beats the tiger away with a rod.

It’s a much different image than the typical memories of cotton candy, carnival rides, and funnel cake conjured up by a trip to the county or state fair. Unfortunately, it’s part of a reckless and controversial trend emerging, with many fairs hosting exotic animal exhibits with dangerous wildlife on display for the public.

Tigers, bears, monkeys, and other exotic species are easily stressed by unfamiliar surroundings, loud noises, and crowds of people. They are often subjected to lengthy periods of transport and confinement in cramped cages and poorly ventilated trailers, which only exacerbates the problem. If brought into contact with the public, they are typically trained and controlled with physical abuse. When a wild animal rebels against a trainer’s physical dominance, the animal often pays a hefty price after the incident in order to remind them “who’s the boss.”

Many, if not most, wild animal exhibitors who frequent state and county fairs have histories of poor animal care, as well as violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act such as failure to provide animals with veterinary care, proper food or shelter, and poor animal handling practices that endanger the public and the animals. Conditions are no better during the off-season when animals may be warehoused for months in undersized transport cages.

Such displays are also detrimental to conservation efforts. Studies confirm that seeing humans interact with endangered animals leads people to falsely believe that these animals are not threatened or endangered in the wild. In addition, when people watch trainers handle and physically interact with wild animals they often want to do so themselves an impulse increasingly catered to by shady exhibitors who profit by charging members of the public to handle and pose with tiger, lion, and bear cubs as well as primates. It’s a practice that is cruel for the animals, can end badly for the people involved, and is all too often featured at fairs. Consider the following dangerous incidents with exhibitions that allowed the public to handle these animals:

  • A 5-year-old boy suffered facial cuts that required plastic surgery after being attacked by a 4-month-old tiger cub at a photo booth at the state fair in North Dakota.
  • A 13-year-old girl was rushed to the emergency room after being bitten on the hand by a tiger during a photo session at the Marshfield Fair in Massachusetts. The exhibitor fled the state before authorities could quarantine the tiger. Animal control officials reported several other bites associated with the fair’s tiger exhibit.
  • A monkey performing at the Mississippi Valley Fair in Iowa went berserk and jumped on a woman, hitting her head and biting her as she posed for a photograph. The woman filed a lawsuit against the fair and the animal exhibitor.
  •  A man was bitten while having his photo taken with a 2-month-old lion cub at the Lake County Fair in Illinois.
  • A tiger cub bit a man on the arm during a photo op at the New Mexico State Fair, resulting in a lawsuit.

How many incidents are needed before we stop allowing commercial profiteers and careless carnies to put entire communities at risk?

The Humane Society of the United States and other groups petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue revised regulations that prohibit public contact and close encounters with big cats, bears, and primates, regardless of the age of the animals. Multiple HSUS undercover investigations of public handling operations using tiger cubs revealed the cubs were denied veterinary care, fed a nutritionally deficient diet, deprived of proper rest, subjected to physical abuse, and in some cases suffered premature death.

Earlier this year, the USDA took an important step toward cracking down on the abuse of big cat cubs by traveling zoos and roadside menageries. The agency issued guidance making clear that exhibitors violate the Animal Welfare Act by allowing members of the public to handle or feed infant exotic cats like tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, or leopards. While there is still much more work to be done to fully address the concern, this is a significant step forward.

We are calling on USDA to completely prohibit public contact with big cats, bears, and primates of any age. It’s time for the current administration, or the next one, to take action. In the meantime, please contact your county or state fairs if you see exotic animal exhibits featured as entertainment, and urge them to establish a policy against allowing dangerous wild animal displays at future fairs—and not to play Russian roulette with animal welfare and public safety.

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.

Calf-Greg-Latza-HSUS-240x270
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.

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