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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

HSLF, HSUS file lawsuit to compel USDA to reinstate soring rule

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Just weeks after the historic passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693, in the U.S. House of Representatives, we’re opening up another front in our fight against horse “soring.” Today the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking to compel the agency to reinstate a final rule that was duly issued, prescribed and promulgated in 2017, but withdrawn with the advent of a new administration. The final rule amended regulations under the Horse Protection Act (HPA) that have allowed soring to fester for the entire 49 years since the Act’s passage.

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Photo by the HSUS

The lawsuit argues that by withdrawing the final rule, the USDA not only violated the legal requirements of rulemaking, but also violated its mandate under the HPA. The lawsuit was filed by pro bono counsel at the law firm Latham & Watkins, LLP and the HSUS’s Animal Protection Litigation team. Several individual plaintiffs also joined the HSUS and HSLF in the lawsuit.

It’s been a federal crime since 1970 to show horses who have been sored—subjected to the intentional infliction of pain on their legs and hooves to force them to step higher to gain a competitive edge in the show ring. But trainers in the Tennessee walking, spotted saddle and racking horse breeds have taken advantage of inadequate regulations that have allowed soring to continue unabated. The existing regulations allow chains to be hung around horses’ legs and tall, heavy platform shoes or “stacks” to be nailed to horses’ hooves. These devices—which exacerbate the pain of caustic chemicals burned into the horses’ skin and conceal hard or sharp objects jammed into their tender soles—are integral to the soring process.

The current regulations also authorize an industry self-policing scheme which has facilitated the perpetuation of soring. In 2010, USDA’s Inspector General released a comprehensive audit of the agency’s Horse Protection Program, concluding that the industry self-policing system—the one authorized by the regulations that would have been replaced by the final rule—was fraught with conflicts of interest, inadequate to prevent soring, and should be abolished. USDA agreed with the Inspector General’s recommendations and said then that it would implement new regulations to remedy the problem. The agency also stated in separate Federal Register notices (in 1979 and 2011) that if soring persisted, it would consider banning the stacks and chains used to facilitate the practice.

With the final rule, the agency at long last took the actions necessary to move toward fulfilling its obligations under the HPA. On Jan. 13, 2017, USDA put out a press release announcing the final rule and sent the rule to the Office of the Federal Register where it was put on public inspection and scheduled for publication. However, the rule was withdrawn a few days later by the new administration without following any of the procedures mandated by law to repeal a duly issued, prescribed and promulgated final rule; agency officials have since placed the final rule on “inactive” status and have resisted efforts to move forward on it.

With today’s legal action we are making clear that we intend to hold the federal government accountable for complying with its statutory obligations under the Horse Protection Act to end the cruelty of soring. Our action also puts horse sorers on notice that we will not stop in our efforts to halt the cruelty they inflict on horses.

Our commitment to end soring is a lasting one. We’ve investigated the practice for decades, bringing forth evidence that has deepened public awareness and outrage over soring and resulted in cruelty convictions for trainers. Most recently, we helped persuade the Nashville Metro Council to unanimously approve a resolution urging Tennessee’s U.S. Senators to cosponsor the PAST Act and work to get it enacted, a strong sign that there’s little tolerance left for soring in Tennessee.

This has been a hard fight over the years because, believe it or not, soring has powerful defenders. But we’ve never given up, and we’ve never been closer to securing its abolition than we are now. The lawsuit and our ongoing advocacy to pass the PAST Act seek to deliver justice to the horses who have so long suffered as a result of soring. We’ll keep working to bring down the curtain on this cruel and sinister practice and finish the job our predecessors in humane work started a half century ago.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Cruel cosmetics banned in Illinois; third U.S. state to do so after California, Nevada

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The United States has moved one step closer to ending unnecessary cosmetics testing on animals, as Illinois becomes the third U.S. state to enact a marketing ban preventing companies from selling cosmetics that have newly been tested on animals. On August 9, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that prohibits the sale of cosmetics like shampoos, lipsticks and deodorants in Illinois, unless they are cruelty free.

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Photo courtesy of iStock Photo

Illinois joins California and Nevada, which have passed similar laws. Starting January 1, 2020, all cosmetics products on store shelves in these three states will be free of new animal testing. We applaud the work of Sen. Linda Holmes, Rep. Jonathan Carroll, and the Animal Welfare Institute in helping to secure the passage of the Illinois bill.

As we continue to expand our global #BeCrueltyFree campaign, we are thrilled to see the momentum building in the United States. This is one of the world’s largest cosmetics markets and reforms here have the potential to spare the lives of tens of thousands of animals used in these tests worldwide each year, including mice, rabbits, rats and guinea pigs. In traditional tests, substances are forced down the animals’ throats, dripped into their eyes, or smeared onto their skin, and they are left to suffer for days or weeks without pain relief. There is no need for this.

Consumer demand for cruelty-free products has led to more than 1,000 cosmetic brands in North America committing to develop and offer products based on the thousands of safe ingredients already available, or by using non-animal test methods that are often more reliable predictors of human safety at a great savings in time and cost when compared to animal tests.

For these and other reasons, we need Congress to step up now and pass legislation to end cosmetics testing on animals in our country altogether. There is strong support for such a law: in the last Congress, the Humane Cosmetics Act received the support of more than 180 cosponsors. This legislation was also endorsed by nearly 300 companies in the cosmetics industry. We expect the bill to be reintroduced when Congress reconvenes in September.

Worldwide, nearly 40 countries, including the member countries of the European Union, Australia, Guatemala, India, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey, have already banned or limited the use of animals for cosmetics testing through the efforts of Humane Society International and others. HSI and its partners are on the front lines in countries including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the ASEAN region of south-east Asia, working hard to help pass additional legislation on these lines.

HSI’s #BeCrueltyFree campaign also has the support of global beauty giants like Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Avon and the Estée Lauder Companies, in addition to our longstanding partners at Lush and H&M.

There is a beauty revolution underway, and it is one that rejects outmoded cruelty and embraces compassion and modern scientific alternatives to animal testing. There is no excuse for our country to remain on the sidelines even as the rest of the world commits to this new, forward-thinking protocol. With the momentum for ending cosmetics testing building up day by day, now is the perfect time to recommit to ending these tests here in the United States. Please call your members of Congress (you can find their contact information here) and let them know you support reintroduction of the Humane Cosmetics Act. With a few more victories, we can push cosmetics testing with animals off the map for good.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Federal government finalizes changes to weaken Endangered Species Act

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In the past two years, our federal government has waged war against the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats. Today, despite our hopes that it would take the steps necessary to enforce our nation’s many animal protection laws, the Trump Administration dealt a critical blow to wildlife protection, finalizing rules to significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act and make it harder to achieve federal protections for endangered and threatened species.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

The finalization of these rules empowers the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to block vital and necessary conservation measures to protect species threatened with extinction. The rules are intended to remove prohibitions on the consideration of possible economic impacts when listing a species as endangered or threatened, privileging economic and political considerations above conservation imperatives in deliberations concerning listing a species under the Act. They also promise to establish additional roadblocks to securing comprehensive protections for threatened species, while making it much easier to remove species from the ESA, even without evidence that species recovery might not yet be complete.

The ESA has been historically successful in its facilitation of collaboration among federal, state, tribal and local officials to protect vulnerable species. However, the finalized rules package shifts focus away from federal management of imperiled species. Instead, it gives states and local governments substantial power over managing species that would otherwise be protected by the Endangered Species Act. This is a great danger.

Unfortunately, the record of the states in endangered species protection is not as good as one could hope. Many states lack the financial resources to take on endangered species protection, and a large number lack laws to protect all of the federally-listed endangered or threatened species within their boundaries. Still worse is the fact that a number of key states do not prioritize wildlife protection with sincerity or fairness. We saw this lack of good stewardship when gray wolves and grizzly bears lost federal ESA protections in Wyoming and the state promptly declared trophy hunting seasons on these animals.

Together, the new rules comprise the largest regulatory revision to the Endangered Species Act in decades. It amounts to a “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” approach, and aims to extinguish one of the country’s most effective statutes, on which the survival of so many wildlife species depends. The ESA has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct, and if it is weakened it will be much more difficult to ensure that threatened and endangered animals, including species like the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and African lions and elephants, do not go extinct.

This move really cuts against the grain, because it is clear that the American public strongly supports the ESA. A 2015 poll by Tulchin Research found that 90 percent of Americans, including 82 percent of self-described conservatives, support upholding the ESA. Other studies, such as the study by Hart Research Associates in 2016, found that 70 percent of Americans oppose removing ESA protections from iconic, threatened species such as the gray wolf. And if that wasn’t enough to show how deep support for the ESA runs in the American consciousness—over 800,000 comments were submitted in opposition to these rules. It’s no consolation that the administration has no plan to apply the regulations retroactively to previous decisions concerning species currently protected under the ESA. It spells doom for imperiled species from here on, and that’s why we are outraged.

Instead of listening to the collective voice of these 800,000 Americans—the FWS and NMFS have decided today to side with special interest groups determined to eliminate protections for our nation’s beloved wildlife, all to make economic and development ventures more profitable. It’s a shameful move, one that will have far reaching ramifications for years to come, and one that we must continue to oppose.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Nashville calls for an end to cruel horse soring

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Just weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives’ historic passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 693), there’s more good news for Tennessee walking horses. The Nashville, TN Metro Council has approved a resolution supporting passage of PAST and urging Tennessee’s U.S. senators to cosponsor and press senate leaders to pass this legislation.

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Photo by the HSUS

Soring is the intentional infliction of pain on a horse's legs or hooves, to make the horse perform an artificial, high-stepping show ring gait known as the “Big Lick.” Caustic chemicals—blistering agents like mustard oil or diesel fuel—are applied to the horse's limbs, causing extreme suffering. The horse is then forced to wear chains or “action devices” when ridden, which strike the painful area, causing her to fling her legs high in an attempt to escape the agony. In another form of soring known as pressure shoeing, a horse's front hooves are cut almost to the quick, and then hard objects are jammed into the tender flesh and tall, heavy platform shoes are tightly nailed on, to cause excruciating pain whenever the horse bears weight on the hoof.

Introduced by Nashville Metro Councilwoman Nancy VanReece and amended by Councilwoman Kathleen Murphy, Resolution RS2019-1868 sends a strong message to those who torment these stoic, docile and beautiful horses in the name of a perverse entertainment, and to Tennessee‘s U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn. The governing body of the largest city in the state does not view the archaic torment of the state’s namesake breed as a “Tennessee tradition“ but as a Tennessee tragedy that has no place in the Volunteer State or anywhere else.

It’s not too late for senators who’ve been soft on soring to get onto the right side of history. S. 1007, introduced in April by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho and Mark Warner, D-Va., mirrors H.R. 693, approved by the U.S. House by a bipartisan 333-96 vote in July. The PAST Act proposes to amend the federal Horse Protection Act and close the loopholes that have allowed violators to continue abusive practices undeterred, to the detriment of the horses, the competitors playing by the rules, and Tennessee and its reputation. PAST would ban the devices integral to soring nationwide, and replace the failed, conflict-ridden system of industry self-policing with a team of third party, independent inspectors trained, licensed and assigned by the USDA, as well as strengthen penalties for the crime of soring. It currently has 43 Senate cosponsors.

PAST is endorsed by hundreds of leading groups and individuals in the horse industry and veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection communities, including the American Horse Council, U.S. Equestrian Federation, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, National Sheriffs’ Association, and celebrities such as actress and noted anti-soring advocate Priscilla Presley.

Kudos to the Music City for taking this important stand against soring. It’s a bold and hopeful action, one that challenges the U.S. Senate to do right by these horses nationwide and to restore the image of the beautiful Tennessee walking horse to its former glory as a breed that can be celebrated for its natural gait and wonderful disposition, not exploited and hurt for the sake of ribbons and prize money. Contact your Senators today and urge that they cosponsor and work to secure passage of the PAST Act—to finally make soring a thing of the past.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Monday, July 29, 2019

This Shark Week, help save sharks from cruelties like finning

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There was a time when sharks were routinely portrayed by popular media as aggressive and ruthless predators—animals to be afraid of and to avoid, or even worse, to kill. But today, with growing awareness and increasingly positive public attitudes toward these magnificent creatures, we know that sharks themselves are in terrible danger from human actions, with their numbers in the wild declining sharply as a result of overfishing and cruel activities like shark finning. In fact, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. 

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Shark Week, which began yesterday on the Discovery Channel, is evolving accordingly and now offers television viewers an opportunity to learn more about these awesome creatures who play an important role in the marine ecosystems and who could, unless the world takes critical steps, become extinct.

We have advocated for sharks for a long time here at the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International. Shark finning is one of the most grisly and ecologically wasteful forms of animal cruelty there is, and the continuing market for shark fins in countries around the world is a priority target for our reform efforts.

Earlier this year, we worked with members of Congress to reintroduce the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737/S. 877, that would end U.S. participation in the global shark fin trade. The House bill is led by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and it has 222 bipartisan cosponsors—more than half the House. The counterpart bill in the Senate is led by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

We are putting our might behind passing this important bill, and last week, we hosted a briefing for the House of Representatives to draw members’ attention to the destructive transnational shark fin trade.

The featured guests were Brian and Sandy Stewart, producers of the documentary film Sharkwater Extinction. They treated a packed room of congressional staff to excerpts of their late son Rob Stewart’s award-winning film uncovering the ecologically damaging trade in shark fins, and met with lawmakers to discuss the urgent need to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.

Stewart was a courageous filmmaker and fierce ocean advocate who tragically lost his life in a diving accident while filming two years ago. His work was invaluable to raising awareness of the shark fin trade, and helped change public sentiment toward sharks, turning many people worldwide into shark advocates. His parents are traveling the world, carrying on his mission through education and political action.

Rob’s work was also integral to getting his home country, Canada—the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia—to pass a landmark bill earlier this year that prohibits the trade in shark fins nationwide as well as finning in Canadian waters. HSI/Canada partnered with the Stewarts and other shark advocates to introduce and pass this bill.

The HSUS and HSI have also worked on ending the global demand for shark fins through public education and legislation elsewhere. HSI affiliates have won bans on shark finning in India, Taiwan, and the European Union, and its public awareness campaigns on reducing shark fin consumption in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have reached millions of people. HSI is also advocating for international protections for mako sharks at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and is collecting signatures from supporters urging international leaders to adopt these protections.

Stateside, the HSUS has worked to get shark fin trade bans passed in 13 states, including Hawaii and Texas, and three U.S. territories; and more states are considering bans.

Our work, and the work of advocates like Rob Stewart, has led to a sea change in how the world views sharks. In addition to the legislative successes and steps forward, several dozen hotel chains, airlines and global shipping companies no longer serve or transport shark fins as a result of relentless advocacy by animal protection organizations like ours.

The global momentum to protect sharks is growing and our country needs to be part of it. Sharks are too precious to lose—they are top predators in the oceans and play a critical role in the balance of marine ecosystems. As you watch these magnificent creatures on your television screens this week, we hope you will take the time to also make a call to your senators and your representative to ask them to cosponsor the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks deserve our protection now more than ever.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Breaking news: Congress moves to make horse soring a thing of the PAST

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

We have terrific news to report in our long-running fight to protect Tennessee walking horses and related breeds from the cruel practice of soring. The House of Representatives has just approved a bill to end this heinous practice that allows violators to intentionally inflict pain on a horse’s legs or hooves, forcing the animal to perform an artificial, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.”

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Photo by the HSUS

The U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693, was approved by an overwhelming 333 to 96 bipartisan vote. It would amend the Horse Protection Act and close loopholes that have allowed some trainers to continue soring innocent animals to get them to win ribbons and awards at competitions.

The PAST Act would end the failed and conflict-ridden system of industry self-policing (replacing it with a cadre of third party, independent inspectors trained, licensed, and assigned by USDA and accountable to the agency). It would ban devices integral to soring, strengthen penalties, and hold abusers accountable. 

Soring is a particularly sinister form of animal cruelty. It’s like forcing a hurdle sprinter to race with broken glass in her shoes to make her jump higher and run faster. Trainers apply caustic chemicals to the horse's limbs, wrapping them tightly for days to “cook” the chemicals in, then attach chains or “action devices” to strike the painful area. Pressure shoeing is another popular technique: cutting a horse's hoof almost to the quick, jamming in hard or sharp objects, and tightly nailing on a tall, heavy platform shoe. These methods cause excruciating pain whenever the horse puts weight on his hoof. To evade detection, horses are also subjected to “stewarding,” in which trainers kick, shock, and hit them with wooden sticks to get the animals to stand still despite the pain. The horses learn not to flinch when an inspector presses their sore legs.  

In 1970, Congress intended to end soring when it passed the Horse Protection Act, led by then-Sen. Tydings of Maryland, but political interference and poor commitment to enforcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed the practice to continue unabated.

The Humane Society of the United States has long led the charge to end soring. Our staff members—some of whom have been participants in the walking horse industry and tried to advance reforms from within—have exposed the cruelty and corruption in the industry, even under threat of expulsion and physical harm.  

Our brave undercover investigators have documented the abject cruelty and blatant lawbreaking in undercover investigations that led to one of the first convictions ever under the Horse Protection Act and to the precursor of the PAST Act being introduced in 2012. Our attorneys, with the pro bono contributions of Latham & Watkins, LLP, have filed petitions with USDA on behalf of the HSUS and others seeking regulatory reform, leading to a strict new rule to crack down on soring that was finalized but later repealed when the Trump administration took office. Our and equine protection staff have successfully pushed Congress to boost funding and mobilized broad support for the proposed rule to strengthen USDA enforcement and, working with House champions and coalition partners, lobbied tirelessly to secure this important milestone for horses. 

We are grateful to the champions of the bill—Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.,  Ted Yoho, R-Fla.,  Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.,  Ron Estes, R-Kan.,  Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.,  and Chris Collins, R-N.Y—to the 308 total House cosponsors, everyone who voted today to pass this important bill, the House leadership for bringing the bill to a vote, and to former Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Rep. Cohen who introduced the first version of this bill back in 2012.

The PAST Act has also received the support of hundreds of stakeholder groups and individuals, including 70 national and state horse groups such as the American Horse Council and the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, key individuals in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, National Sheriffs' Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the states where soring is most prevalent).

It’s now up to the Senate to act to stamp out this cruelty. A Senate companion bill, S. 1007, introduced in April by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho,  and Mark Warner, D-Va., currently has 41 Senate cosponsors. We urge the Senate to act swiftly to pass this important bill.

Tennessee walking horses are a breed known for their beautiful natural gait and wonderful disposition. But at this very moment, horses are being sored in preparation for the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in August. There is no reason nor excuse for delay. Please contact your U.S. Senators and urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act if they haven’t yet, and do all they can to get it passed quickly. And if your U.S. representative voted to pass the bill, please thank them for helping end this cruelty.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Justice for Cecil and the other victims of trophy hunting

It’s been four years since an American trophy hunter and his guide lured an African lion named Cecil out of his protected home in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and killed him. The appalling circumstances of Cecil’s death sparked worldwide outrage, and drew attention to a shocking truth about the responsibility of American citizens and the United States government for such tragic slaughter. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the United States is the world’s largest importer not only of wildlife trophies in general, but also of species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. imports 70 percent of global trophy exports of internationally protected threatened and/or endangered species. And all the while, the U.S. based Safari Club International and other trophy hunting interest groups have pushed to expand their range of options for killing and importation of these imperiled species, and to insinuate themselves into the deliberations of federal agencies responsible for America’s global wildlife policies and initiatives.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Today, the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife of the U.S. House of Representatives produced a glimmer of hope that there actually is a branch of government willing and ready to restrict and even to eliminate our nation’s encouragement and abetting of the senseless slaughter of wildlife through a lax import policy concerning trophy parts. The committee held a hearing on H.R. 2245, the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies Act of 2019—the CECIL Act—which would substantially restrict the import and export of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. I extend sincere appreciation to House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and his colleagues for introducing the CECIL Act and to Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman, D-Calif. for holding this important hearing. The bill makes sense, and it would go a long way toward stopping the flow of blood and trophies.

Iris Ho, Humane Society International Senior Wildlife Programs and Policy Specialist, testified at the hearing highlighting the true nature of the trophy hunting industry. At its heart, it is one that encourages the killing of rare animals, ignores science, tramples on conservation, disregards wildlife laws, and fuels corruption and wildlife trafficking. During her testimony Ms. Ho noted that “there is irrefutable scientific evidence that trophy hunting has contributed to substantial declines in lion and leopard populations across Africa that have put these species in danger of extinction. Deliberate removals of animals by trophy hunters have cascading effects by disrupting social cohesion and population stability.”

Trophy hunting is a moral outrage on its own terms, but it also adversely impacts communities in the range nations of the targeted species. Local economies will pay the price if key wildlife disappears. Wildlife watching tourism—like photographic safaris—contribute significantly more sustainable revenue and jobs than trophy hunting. Trophy hunting contributes only 0.03% of the annual GDP of eight African countries surveyed in 2017, supporting only 7,500 job, whereas wildlife watching tourism contributes significantly more by supporting 24 million jobs and generating $48 billion for the economy. By killing majestic animals for a one-time fee, trophy hunting cripples current and future tourism industries and harms opportunities of much greater economic potential for local communities in range state nations.   

There’s an even bigger point to consider. Iconic wildlife like African lions and elephants belong to the world and not to the elite few who see them merely as trophies to mount on their walls. We owe it to Cecil and the thousands of other animals like him who have died at the hands of trophy hunters to do our very best to protect them. Moreover, we owe it to ourselves. We have the power to reshape our nation’s policies and conduct when it comes to reckless and ecologically disastrous trophy hunting, and we should use it. Please take a moment to call your U.S Representative at 202- 224-3121 and ask them to  cosponsor H.R 2245, the CECIL Act.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Members of Congress join rescue pups at U.S. Capitol to urge passage of bill ending malicious acts of cruelty like crushing animals and bestiality

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

It may be hard to believe, but some of the most malicious acts of animal cruelty—including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling animals and sexually exploiting them—are not felonies under federal law. Today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol, along with several rescue dogs, to urge the House of Representatives to pass a bipartisan bill to ban these acts.

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photo courtesy of Corine Weiler

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, H.R. 724, sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, was introduced this year in January and it already enjoys the support of 270 members of Congress. In past years, similar versions of the bill have passed the full Senate twice before stalling in the House. Now, with new leadership in the House, we are hopeful that this important bill will finally become law.

The Humane Society of the United States has successfully pushed for all 50 states to declare malicious acts of animal cruelty as felonies. In 2010, we helped to secure passage of a federal law, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, banning the trade in “crush videos”—obscene videos that show animals being subjected to terrible cruelty and suffering for the titillation of perverted viewers.

But there’s a serious gap in the law that needs to be addressed. While those who engage in such extreme cruelty can be prosecuted by the states where they are caught, there is no recourse for federal law enforcement and prosecutors unless an obscene video has been created and traded. The PACT Act will criminalize malicious acts of animal cruelty whenever they occur on federal property or affect interstate commerce, such as when animals are moved across state lines.

At the event today, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Humane Society of the United States staff was joined by Reps. Deutch and Buchanan and other cosponsors of the bill, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who is co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus. 

“Americans care about the welfare of animals,” Rep. Deutch said in his remarks. “We form deep relationships with our pets, and we are outraged by cases of animal abuse. I’m proud of the broad bipartisan support we’ve gained for the PACT Act. It’s time for Congress to pass this bill and make animal abuse a federal offense. I am eager to get this done and show our commitment to protecting our pets.”

“It is crazy to believe that animal cruelty is still not a federal crime,” Rep. Buchanan said. “Many sick individuals have been able to get away with dogfighting and animal cruelty. That will change with the PACT Act.”

Also among the speakers were Chris Schindler, vice president of Field Services at the Humane Rescue Alliance of Washington, D.C., and Sydney Helfand, a high school student who began a petition at Change.org to pass the PACT Act. Sydney’s petition has already gathered more than 650,000 signatures, illustrating the wide support this issue enjoys among members of the public, and the momentum behind passing this bill. Several celebrities, including Trisha Yearwood, are also joining us today and in coming days to call for the passage of the bill.

There is no reason for Congress to drag its feet on this issue any more—we need the PACT Act to become law so federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials have the tools they need to bring those responsible for cruelty to animals to justice, no matter where they commit their crimes.

Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the PACT Act and urge them to vote “yes” when the bill comes to the House floor for a vote. You can also join us today by posting a photo with your beloved companion, using the hashtags #ProtectourPets and #PACTAct, to move Congress to act now.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our animal protection agenda wins big in House Appropriations funding package

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There’s a reason why the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States invest substantial time and effort in seeking to shape funding decisions within the U.S. Congress; it pays off big for animal protection. Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted 227-194 to pass a large package of fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills to fund several federal departments, including Agriculture, Interior and Commerce. H.R. 3055 features a number of great provisions for animals. Some of the most important include:

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photo by iStock.com

Halting trophy imports—Prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from issuing permits to import elephant or lion trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia or Tanzania (an amendment offered by Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., approved by 239-192 vote).

Saving North Atlantic right whales—Provides $2.5 million for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research and monitoring of these critically endangered whales (a floor amendment by Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., that increased funding by $1.5 million was approved by voice vote; a harmful amendment by Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine was defeated by 84-345 vote).

Enhancing wildlife trade detection—Encourages USFWS to allocate an additional $200,000 for its Wildlife Detector Dog Program, which uses dogs to sniff out illegal wildlife products at key U.S. ports of entry, curbing wildlife trafficking (an amendment by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., was approved by voice vote). 

Restoring purged USDA data—Directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act; documents must be promptly posted in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos and other businesses cited for violations (Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., incorporated this and several other pro-animal items on this list in his base bill).

Providing shelter for people and pets fleeing domestic violence—Allocates $2 million for a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to help provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals; directs USDA and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development to work together quickly to establish and carry out this grant program (Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., led efforts to secure these provisions).

Stopping horse slaughter—Prohibits USDA spending on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing the reopening of horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. for FY20.

Punishing horse soring—Provides $294,000 increase (raising the program’s funding to $1 million) for stronger USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to prevent the cruel practice of soring Tennessee walking horses and related show breeds.

Curbing cruelty in swine slaughter—Suspends USDA’s swine slaughter rule that allows slaughterhouses to send pigs down the line as rapidly as possible, with serious negative implications for animal welfare, food safety and worker safety (an amendment by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and David Price, D-N.C., was approved in committee).

Shutting down Class B dealers—Renews the prohibition on USDA’s use of funds to license Class B dealers, notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through fraudulent means, including pet theft, for research and testing (Rep. Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., championed this measure).

Requiring AWA inspections documentation—Calls on USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), to reverse concealment tactics that the agency has promoted during the past few years.

Engaging the USDA Inspector General—Presses this important office to step up efforts against animal fighting and to audit USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA).

Supporting veterinary care and services—Boosts funding by $1 million (to $9 million total) for student loan repayment program for veterinarians who commit to practice in underserved areas. 

A number of key provisions on which we reported earlier for wild horses and burros, wolves, marine mammals, other wildlife and alternatives to animal testing are also contained in today’s House-approved package. So are measures calling for greater oversight of animal welfare and transparency at  Agricultural Research Service labs, strengthened HMSA enforcement for live animal handling at slaughterhouses and funds for USDA to help state and local governments address the needs of people with pets in their disaster planning.

By any standard, this has been a banner year so far in our work shepherding strong animal welfare initiatives through the federal budgeting process. We are so grateful to the legislators who led the charge on these provisions and to their colleagues who voted for the package. And we’re grateful to the many engaged advocates who have stood strong behind us in our efforts. Now we’ll urge the Senate to follow suit and get these provisions enacted! 

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

EPA gives factory farms a free pass on toxic air emissions

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In an unlawful move, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to exempt massive factory farms from reporting their toxic air emissions—released from animal waste created by these facilities—to state and local authorities. The rule, finalized last week, will leave American residents who live in rural areas surrounding factory farms in the dark about potentially dangerous air pollutants that these facilities could be discharging into their environment, posing a serious health hazard to them and their families.

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Photo by iStock.com

Factory farms—also called CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations—confine many hundreds or thousands of animals such as dairy cows or pigs, or millions of smaller animals such as chickens, on each of their properties, causing not only an incredible amount of suffering, but also a staggering amount of urine and feces. This waste emits a number of dangerous air pollutants, including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, both toxic gases that can cause serious health problems like headaches, eye and nose irritation, and severe respiratory problems. People living near factory farms have been documented as experiencing increased rates of these types of ailments and can even suffer premature death.

Federal law requires industrial polluters, including factory farms, to notify local communities and first responders when they threaten air and water quality. The EPA says that exempting massive factory farms from reporting toxic air emissions from animal waste will eliminate reporting requirements for industry, but it is clear that the agency is doing this mainly to pander to powerful lobbies (in this case meat, egg, and milk corporations) with deep pockets—a pattern we have noted across other federal agencies in recent years, including the Department of the Interior and the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Factory farms already treat the animals in their care as mere commodities and they now have our government’s sanction to disregard human health as well.

The EPA’s action is also a disservice to small, independent farmers who work hard to raise their animals in ways that minimize environmental impact and animal suffering. Smaller operations like these are unlikely to emit hazardous substances at levels that trigger reporting requirements. On the other hand, these farmers, their families, and the animals they tend to, can also be among the victims of factory farming pollution, because they live in the same rural communities that will now be negatively affected by the changed reporting requirements.

This is not the first time the EPA has made such an overt move pandering to factory farms. In 2017, the HSUS, in coalition with numerous public interest groups, successfully defeated a Bush-era rule that created similar reporting exemptions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined that rule was illegal, but shortly after the EPA sought to flout the court’s decision, issuing so-called “guidance” on its website that created a new exemption for factory farms from reporting emissions. The HSUS, along with other organizations represented by Earthjustice, are currently challenging this “guidance” in federal court.

More akin to big industrial operations than actual farms, CAFOs are responsible for a tremendous amount of animal suffering. It is estimated that each year more than nine billion animals are raised and killed at these facilities in the United States alone for meat, milk, and eggs. The animals are often confined their whole lives to cages so small they can barely move. These massive facilities have also been responsible for disease outbreaks, like the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in commercial poultry in 2014-15, which led to the killing of more than 48 million birds across 15 states in 223 facilities.

The last thing these enterprises, which operate with little regard for humans, animals, and the environment, need is another free pass to continue polluting our air with no consequences. You can rest assured we will battle the new “guidance” and this rule in court. Our government should know better than to shield factory farms and the havoc they wreak.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

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