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August 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Where Do the Veep Candidates Stand on Animals?

Palin_2The political talk over the last couple weeks has swirled around two subjects: the party conventions, and the vice presidential nominees. Now that Barack Obama and John McCain have both selected their running mates, it's time to look at the animal protection records of the two vice presidential hopefuls.

As of today, the contrast could not be more clear: While Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) has been a leader in the Senate to protect marine mammals and exotic wildlife, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) has denied the threats facing polar bears and has led her state's efforts to gun down wolves from airplanes and helicopters.

McCain announced this morning that the GOP ticket now includes Gov. Palin, who is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and, despite her youth and good looks, is a throwback on animal issues. Having her one heartbeat from the presidency should strike fear into any animal advocate in the nation. The Palin Administration has waged an all-out war on Alaska's predators to artificially boost the populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters, and has tried to pass legislation making it easier for state officials to gun down wolves and bears from the sky.

Last year, the state offered a $150 bounty as an incentive for pilots and aerial gunners to kill more wolves. And leading up to this week's statewide vote on Measure 2 to stop the aerial shooting of wolves and bears, Palin's Board of Game spent $400,000 of public money on brochures and radio ads to influence the election. She not only took an inhumane and unsporting position at odds with the principles of wildlife management and fair chase, but did it in an undemocratic and underhanded way. 

Gov. Palin also penned an op-ed in The New York Times earlier this year arguing that it was the "wrong move" to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. Later, when the Bush Administration announced its listing of the polar bear as a threatened species, she filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the decision. Environmentalists fired back over Palin's lawsuit and said "her head-in-the-sand approach to global warming only helps oil companies, certainly not Alaska or the polar bear."Joe_biden_4

On the Democratic ticket, Sen. Biden has been a longtime friend of animal welfare in the Senate, and has received high marks year after year on the Humane Scorecard. In the current session of Congress, Sen. Biden co-sponsored measures to stop horse slaughter, upgrade the penalties for animal fighting, ban the possession of fighting dogs and attendance at a dogfight, and call on Canada to stop its annual massacre of baby harp seals. He has consistently signed onto letters requesting increased funds for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting law.

Biden has not only supported animal protection legislation during his career, but has also led the fight on important issues. He was the co-author with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the 108th Congress on legislation to ban the netting of dolphins by commercial tuna fishermen. He was the lead author of a bill in the 107th Congress to prohibit trophy hunting of captive exotic mammals in fenced enclosures, and he successfully passed the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

You'll hear more from the Humane Society Legislative Fund about the presidential race as we get closer to Election Day. Keep checking the blog for updates and more information, and send me an email to let me know what you think.

Paid for by Humane Society Legislative Fund and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More Bite, Less Bark Needed to Stop Farm Animal Cruelty

Downer_2Yesterday, nearly seven months after The Humane Society of the United States exposed the appalling abuse of sick and crippled cows at a southern California slaughter plant, which led to the largest meat recall in history, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally took steps to initiate a complete ban on the slaughtering of downed cattle for human consumption. The proposed rule is a long time coming, but brings us one step closer to closing a loophole in federal policy that has jeopardized animal welfare and food safety.

The USDA has not been the only agency to take action in response to the cattle abuse scandal this year. After The HSUS revealed that downed cows were being tormented not only at the point of slaughter, but also at intermediate auctions and livestock markets across the country, the Maryland Department of Agriculture carefully investigated an appalling case of abandonment and mistreatment at the Westminster Livestock Auction Market. A downer cow was left for dead in the mid-afternoon, and the auction house left her there overnight, even after the auction ended. Her misery ended only the next day after an HSUS undercover investigator called the local humane society to come out to dispatch the animal with a firearm. 

The state agency filed charges in the case for the mistreatment of the cow, but went a step further and immediately revised its own procedures regarding livestock auctions, to ensure that the situation found at Westminster is not repeated. Too often, the animals at auctions and other mid-points between farm and slaughter fall into regulatory limbo, but Maryland officials rightly recognized that consumers and animals deserve better.

Some meat and dairy trade groups are taking notice as well. The American Meat Institute, the National Meat Association, and the National Milk Producers Federation have all endorsed a strong ban on the slaughtering of downer cattle. This type of industry self-examination is sorely needed and demonstrates thoughtful and pragmatic leadership.

It seems, though, that some in the industry haven’t gotten the memo. The New Mexico Livestock Board and the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association have found that finger-pointing is easier than self-examination—despite the fact that abuses have been uncovered at two of the state’s livestock auctions, in both Clovis and Portales. Instead of addressing the problems that have allowed such mistreatment of downed cattle to occur over and over again, they prefer to repeatedly criticize The HSUS for how it conducted its investigations and how it released the results.

I flew to Albuquerque in June and personally met with leaders of the New Mexico Livestock Board, to give them an advance report on the HSUS investigation at the Portales Livestock Auction, five days before those results were made public. They had time to get out in front of the issue and stand side by side with animal advocates and meat industry leaders who want better standards for the humane handling of farm animals, but it was only later—after public pressure and media attention—that they even bothered to investigate.
This is the same agency, mind you, that has been under fire in the local press for failing to respond to calls concerning injured and dying animals. A couple weeks ago, it took the board a full day to get to a horse who was starving to death. Just this week, a pig died because state inspectors didn’t respond in time when calls came in for assistance with the injured pig found on the side of a road with his legs tied up. What better way to mask a culture of indifference than to take aim at the messenger?

There are certain folks within the industry who simply dislike The HSUS and attack it rather than examine the problems that have been brought to light. The fact is, HSUS investigators have uncovered appalling abuses at all six locations it has investigated so far this year—the Hallmark slaughter plant in Chino, Calif., and five livestock auctions in four states, including two in New Mexico. Lightning shouldn’t strike six times, and it’s time for laggards in the industry to acknowledge the problems, particularly with the humane handling of spent dairy cows.

While they repeat the tired mantra about HSUS investigators taking pictures of cruelty rather than jumping in to save the day, let me be clear: The HSUS is not a law enforcement agency, and state and federal regulators shouldn’t abrogate their animal welfare and food safety responsibilities to private charities. There are thousands of slaughter plants and livestock auctions in the United States, and animal protection groups cannot monitor all of them all the time, nor should they. Our government must have functioning regulatory and enforcement systems in place that prevent these abuses, and the industry should exhibit its own level of responsible care.

The goal of The HSUS’ undercover investigators is not to intervene on a case by case basis, but to identify broader problems and call for policy changes that can help correct industry-wide gaps in the system. And when investigators do point out abuses to livestock auction staff and state inspectors on site, they are typically ignored and it’s back to business as usual.

Despite the heated rhetoric, the New Mexico Livestock Board did the right thing and took some action in response to the HSUS investigation in Portales, and cited one incident of cruelty to animals stemming from the use of a chain to drag a cow. Myles Culbertson, executive director of the board, discussed the broader problems in his final report, stating that:

…the incident does offer the opportunity for the industry to re-examine its supply chain and the role of livestock markets in it. The livestock market is a key component and step prior to slaughter and processing of cattle. Proper culling practices at the herd are necessary and must be observed in order that only healthy, useful cattle are presented to those markets. The livestock markets should not be treated as drop-offs for unmarketable livestock, even in the knowledge that they will not enter the food chain. Such animals should be humanely dealt with at the farm, ranch, or dairy. Good management practices (GMPs) must be the norm for the source operations as well as for the livestock markets. In the case of downers and other unmerchantables, policies and practices must be in place at the livestock markets for immediate decisions concerning the choice between veterinary care and euthanasia.

It is also important to recognize that basic initial knowledge of livestock handling is increasingly rare among potential livestock market employees. Proper training must take place in order for workers to effectively carry out their duties with sufficient understanding of, and attention to, the requirements for humane treatment of animals in their charge. Training and education must be a primary responsibility of the operator of the livestock market.

Take all the pot shots you want, but if it results in better policies and procedures for the humane treatment of animals, then it’s a worthwhile exercise. And amidst all the sniping over the timing of The HSUS’ release of its investigations and how the organization decides to spend its resources, one central fact cannot be drowned out by the shouting—that the most basic humane handling standards are being violated wherever HSUS investigators look. When state agencies finally stop micro-analyzing The HSUS’ actions and start treating cruelty to farm animals with the gravity it deserves, only then will the outliers within the industry be held accountable.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Howling Mad at Election Abuse

Wolf Yesterday, just beyond the foothills at the edge of Anchorage, I walked through Chugach State Park—the third largest state park in America—and I listened to the howling of a wolf in the distance. A few hours later, watching the election returns in downtown Anchorage, I realized that may have been the wolf’s swan song.

Early this morning, with nearly all the votes counted, Alaska's Measure 2 was headed for defeat by a vote of 44 to 56 percent. This wildlife protection proposal would have stopped the unsporting and inhumane practice of shooting wolves, grizzly bears, and wolverines from airplanes and helicopters. The state’s brutal aerial hunting program—private hunting under the guise of predator control—has already claimed the lives of nearly 800 wolves.

This was the third time in a dozen years that Alaska voters have been faced with the issue. They decisively approved similar ballot initiatives to stop aerial gunning of wolves in 1996 and 2000, only to have state legislators thumb their nose at the people and overturn both public votes.

The “Yes on 2” campaign led by Defenders of Wildlife, Alaskans for Wildlife, and other groups sought to show lawmakers that voters meant it the first time when they placed limits on aircraft-assisted predator shooting. An editorial in the Anchorage Daily News said it best: “This is the right way to go. And it’s nothing new.”

So what went wrong? The big-money trophy hunters at Safari Club International—the main contributor to the “No” campaign—knew from past experience they couldn’t win on the merits of chasing wolves with helicopters and shooting the exhausted creatures for fun. So they convinced their cronies at the state legislature and the Alaska Board of Game to spend $400,000 on brochures and radio ads to get people to vote their way.

These state-sponsored “educational materials” touted the supposed benefits of shooting wolves from the sky—and they used public money to wage the campaign. Voters should be howling mad at these shenanigans, and the unlawful use of state funds to sway the election results, but a majority of the public failed to see through these illegitimate efforts.

It’s the same type of electoral abuse we saw in California, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to funnel $3 million from federal check-off funds to the egg industry’s political campaign opposing Proposition 2. Our opponents have deep pockets and dirty tricks, and they have a stranglehold on politicians and executive agencies willing to undermine the work of the people.

This unethical interference in elections by state and federal agencies makes it more urgent than ever that we work to counter their deceptions and distortions. And the unfortunate outcome on Alaska’s Measure 2 makes it all the more important for the U.S. Congress to take action on aerial hunting.

By passing the Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act, federal lawmakers can make sure that the shooting of wolves and other wildlife from aircraft is prohibited nationwide. Wolves are facing threats not only in Alaska but also in the lower 48 states—and their fate shouldn’t be left to the whims of state bureaucrats.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Demo-cats and Re-pup-licans on the Campaign Trail

If there is any doubt that protecting animals is a bipartisan concern, just see how candidates from both parties in some of the hotly contested House races are incorporating animal issues into their campaigns.

Murphy Mary Ann Akers reported in The Sleuth on that Democratic candidate Mary Jo Kilroy, running for the open seat in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District vacated by retiring Republican Deb Pryce, has launched a new “Pets for Kilroy” website. The site features Kilroy’s three dogs—Murphy, Chase, and Dodger—and gives animal lovers in the district a fun opportunity to do one of the things they love the most—uploading and sharing photos of their own cats and dogs.

A press release announcing the launch of the website included some barks from Murphy: “Everyday thousands of humans are expressing why they are voting for Mary Jo, so we decided it would be a good time to show you why we support her.” Ella, the “spokescat” for Pets for Kilroy, meowed about Mary Jo: “She has a long record of keeping stray animals off our streets and then finding them loving homes, and this is a small way for supporters to say thank you.”

And when Republican candidate Darren White, running for the open seat in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District vacated by Republican Heather Wilson, was sidelined for a few weeks due to a back injury, he sent one of his best surrogates (or “furr-ogates”) on the campaign trail in his place. His rescued dog, Trixie, sent a note to supporters: “Darren’s back injury is a big problem even though he is now out of the hospital. First, he won’t be able to run around and play fetch with me for several weeks. Second, and almost as important, it means he can’t go walking door-to-door and meet voters for a few weeks. So I am pitching in.”

White, currently the sheriff of Bernalillo County, adopted Trixie after investigating and rescuing her from a shocking case of animal abuse. An Albuquerque couple was charged with animal cruelty for cutting off Trixie’s ears with scissors, when the pit bull puppy was just six weeks old. Now with her new family, Trixie has been a fixture on the campaign trail.

While websites for kitties and fundraising letters from pooches may be passed off as tongue-in-cheek campaign gimmicks, there is a much more serious aspect to how candidates can appeal to pet-loving swing voters. The Humane Society Legislative Fund encourages candidates and lawmakers to talk up their humane bona fides and make animal protection issues a meaningful part of their policy platforms.

There is an enormous, well-defined, and uncourted political constituency in America organized around the principle of animal protection. There are perhaps 20 million donors to animal protection organizations and there are approximately 10,000 animal protection groups that raise and spend more than $2 billion annually. 

Dog_and_cat2 Additionally, animals are a relevant and important part of our daily lives. Nearly two-thirds of American households have pets, and we spend $43 billion annually on pet care—more than we spend on movies, video games, and recorded music combined. In 2007, there were 272 million visitors to national parks and 157 million visitors to accredited zoos and aquariums, places where people go because, among other things, they want to see and be around animals.

The animal protection constituency is up for grabs because few candidates have developed strong outreach strategies to appeal to these voters. While Americans of all types favor animal protection, the most active participants and donors are suburban women, a key demographic for both political parties. Congressional candidates—especially those in swing districts—are positioned to attract the support of animal welfare advocates, with reinforcing messages connecting animal issues to other social concerns, such as violence in our communities, food safety, and public health.

We hope that more candidates will work to get out the dog and cat vote. Visit an animal shelter in your district and give a speech on animal welfare. Issue a position statement on your animal protection policies and let voters know where you stand on the humane treatment of pets, farm animals, and wildlife. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the right strategy for reaching voters who care about kindness and compassion toward our fellow creatures.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Paw-fficer and a Gentleman

A little language in a big bill can go a long way for animals. Some of the most meaningful victories for animals in Congress can stem from sometimes obscure pieces of legislation tucked into massive “must pass” bills, often with little fanfare.

This year’s Farm Bill included provisions on animal fighting, puppy mill imports, and tougher penalties for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The most recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill addressed a range of subjects including horse slaughter, de-clawing of cats in federal housing, trophy hunting of wildlife in foreign countries, developing alternatives to animal testing, and humane slaughter of poultry.

Wardog And now, the $600 billion Defense Authorization Act, which has yet to pass Congress, could provide assistance to the dog and cat companions of men and women in the armed forces. Provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the bill would cover the costs of relocating pets if a military family is ordered to evacuate an overseas duty station. It’s a step forward to help keep people and pets together in times of uncertainty, and it’s a celebration of the animals who provide companionship to our soldiers and comfort to their families.

The intersection of animals and the military has had its ups and downs. A Marine was videotaped tossing a squealing puppy over a cliff in Iraq. Army personnel shot live pigs so their soldiers could get surgical training by treating these intentionally inflicted wounds. The Department of Defense has failed to address important animal welfare policies concerning animal control in conflict zones, pet keeping by soldiers, and the punishment of cruelty to animals under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

But there has been plenty of heartwarming news, too. Jay Kopelman, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, tells the story of rescuing an orphaned dog, Lava, from an abandoned house in Fallujah, Iraq. And U.S. Congressmen Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.) both helped military families adopt the dogs who had befriended their slain loved ones overseas.

In the military, as in the rest of society, our relationship with animals is an exercise in contradictions. There is a deep bond between soldiers and pets, and a broad-minded concern for abandoned and orphaned animals in war zones. But there are institutional policies that fail to reflect that concern, and individual acts of cruelty that break the bond between people and animals.

By including the provision to help military pets in the Defense Authorization Act, Congress and President Bush can send a strong message that military institutions must recognize the importance of animals in our lives—and the joy and enrichment that animals bring to the men and women serving our country at home and abroad.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Battle on the Bayou, from Cockfights to Congress

Today ends a long, sad chapter in the state of Louisiana—and, in fact, in the entire United States. Massachusetts was the first state to ban cockfighting in 1836, and with Louisiana’s new anti-cockfighting law taking effect today, nearly a century and three-quarters later, all 50 states now prohibit the bloodsport.

Cockfighting_2Just a decade ago, five states still allowed people to pit two roosters against each other, pump them full of drugs to heighten their aggression, strap razor-sharp knives to their legs, and watch them hack each other to death. All for the amusement of spectators who are titillated by the violence and bloodletting, and who can earn tens of thousands of dollars in gambling wagers.

After voters approved statewide ballot initiatives to ban cockfighting in Arizona and Missouri in 1998 and Oklahoma in 2002, and lawmakers passed state legislation last year in New Mexico and Louisiana—with all of the policy reforms primarily driven by The Humane Society of the United States, The Fund for Animals, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund—we finally have made this behavior criminal in every state in the union. But it didn’t come easily. There was aggressive advocacy on both sides of the issue, and the cockfighting groups had their well-heeled lobbying firms and their go-to lawmakers fighting in the pit on their behalf.

One of the cockfighters’ point men, ironically enough, lost the battle to keep animal fighting legal in Louisiana, but is now seeking to win the battle for a congressional seat in Washington. State Senator Donald R. Cravins, Jr. (D-24th) is challenging two-term Congressman Charles Boustany (R-7th) for the House seat in the state’s southwestern district. We hope that Cravins loses this fight, too, and that voters in the 7th District don’t send a cockfighting proponent to the nation’s capital.

Cravins led the cockfighters’ effort in the Louisiana state legislature, seeking to defeat anti-cockfighting bills advanced by former Sen. Art Lentini (R-10th) and others. He spoke on the Senate floor against the cockfighting ban, and offered “poison pill” amendments aiming to delay the effective date of the legislation and give cockfighters additional time to pursue their bloody hobby. Cravins was one of only four senators who voted against Lentini’s bill to ban gambling at cockfights.

Even in a state where the dying sport was on its way out, Cravins wasn’t shy about his utter fealty to the cockfighting industry. He repeatedly opined, “I’m going to protect the tradition of cockfighting,” and he reportedly held a political fundraiser at a cockfighting pit. “It’s a $2 million industry,” he said. “I’m not going to stand here and turn my back on the people who sent me here.”

The last Democrat to hold Louisiana’s 7th District seat, former Rep. Chris John, lost his race for U.S. Senate in 2004 in part because voters couldn’t stomach his support for cockfighting. And just last week, first-term Congressman David Davis of Tennessee was defeated in his Republican primary contest, with his opposition to tougher penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting becoming an election issue in that district, too.

Cracking down on animal fighting is now a consensus issue. Americans know of the rampant cruelty to these living creatures. They know of the other crimes associated with animal fighting in our communities, from gun violence to narcotics trafficking. They know that the illegal transport of cockfighting birds is linked to the spread of bird flu and other deadly diseases that threaten human and animal health.

Last year, when cockfighting was still legal in Louisiana, every single member of that state’s congressional delegation rightly voted in favor of strengthening the federal law to combat animal fighting. And now every statewide elected official in Louisiana supports a strong cockfighting ban. To replace one of those foresighted lawmakers with a cockfighting apologist like Cravins would be a step backwards for Louisiana, and for the entire U.S. Congress.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All Hat and No Cattle

California’s big factory farming interests are getting desperate. You can tell because their claims smell more like manure each day. The latest is their cynical assertion that cramming animals into cages where they can’t even turn around, lie down, and stretch their limbs is good for farm workers.

Crate Really? Since when has Big Agribusiness cared about labor? From Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, anyone who bothered to look has found the truth. Agricultural workers are among the most abused and exploited in this country.

In this coming election, for agribusiness to claim some cozy convergence of interests with farm workers in the raising of animals for food does more than defy credulity. It mocks the very people who are trapped in dead-end jobs and made to suffer, their health put at risk, just like the animals they work around—and why? For the sake of plundering an extra penny profit out of an egg. Yes, that’s the real price of this misery. And workers shouldn’t be paying it, or animals either. 

It’s a familiar story of suffering, not just in California but nationwide, and we know it well.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is campaigning on behalf of 5,500 Smithfield workers in Tar Heel, N.C., who reportedly face poverty wages, brutal conditions, and crippling injuries at the world’s largest hog slaughter plant. Human Rights Watch cited the company for violating international human rights standards by creating an environment of intimidation, racial tension, and sometimes violence for workers who want a voice on the job.

A recent editorial in The New York Times described reports of “dirty, dangerous conditions” at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, as “told by workers, union organizers, immigrant advocates and government investigators.” According to the Times, “A woman with a deformed hand tells a reporter of cutting meat for 12 hours a day, six days a week, for wages that labor experts call the lowest in the industry.”

No wonder Foster Farms funneled a quarter million dollars into the campaign against Prop 2. This company was the site of a worker being crushed to death in a grisly silo accident in 2006. A federal court had to force the owners to accept a union at its Livingston, Calif., poultry plant, after the court found it violated labor laws and unfairly punished and demoted union organizers.Chicken_1

And the egg industry has one of the most sordid histories. An employee was fatally electrocuted at Hillandale Farms of Fla., a subsidiary of Cal-Maine Foods, and the company was assessed fines and penalties of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A federal court ordered Kofkoff Egg Farm in Conn., a subsidiary of Moark—the top contributor to the campaign against Prop 2—to pay 34 employees $80,000 in back wages after an investigation found the company violating labor standards.

Here’s the truth about labor and farm animals. By crowding animals into tiny cages or stacking them in epic rows on top of each other, agribusiness doesn’t need the kind of skilled and semi-skilled hands who know a thing or two about husbandry. There’s no career ladder for workers on one of these operations. They’re the very bottom of the heap, just like the suffering animals. Prop 2 would phase out these confinement systems that have helped to transform factory farms into automated chambers of horror.

A single factory farm owned by Gemperle Enterprises in Turlock, Calif., confines one million chickens. The owners brag that only four people have keys to the facility, and fewer than a half dozen people are even allowed inside. A half dozen people for a million birds.

The paltry few jobs that remain expose workers to infectious diseases and concentrated chemicals. Factory farms generate toxic dust and gas plumes that cause respiratory irritation among workers. These are matters of everyday common sense, even to urban dwellers. But as usual, the health of farm workers is of little consideration to the political laggards of agribusiness—or to those who do their bidding.

In truth, industrial-sized farms cut corners every step of the way and drive traditional family farmers out of business. Yes, the big-city PR hirelings for the anti-Prop 2 campaign would like voters to imagine those serene, gentle farm vistas where happy animals are cared for by wise stewards. Sorry. It ain’t so, and Californians by the millions know it.   

CalfProp 2 won’t bring back those days, but it’s one modest step toward instilling some basic responsibility into the business of raising of animals. 

The legendary farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez said, “We need, in a special way, to work twice as hard to help people understand that the animals are fellow creatures, that we must protect them and love them as we love ourselves.” He taught us that “kindness and compassion toward all living things is a mark of a civilized society…Only when we have become nonviolent toward all life will we have learned to live well ourselves.”

That’s the voice of the real labor movement. That’s the voice of Prop 2. That’s the voice of Californians who want safe food, humanely raised by workers who care.

Factory farmers are unable to defend the cruelty they inflict for hardly any real gain. They cannot engage in honest discussion of Prop 2. So, they dodge and feint and ladle out the manure in hopes that Californians can be fooled. Sorry. Won’t happen. Voting YES! on Prop 2 is right for animals. It’s right for the men and women who work with them on the farm. It’s right for all Californians.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Unethical and Built-to-Fail Tactics Harm the Cause of Animal Protection

Last week, the UC Santa Cruz community rose up in response to violent attacks on two of its own, and rightly so. Someone set fire to a porch and a car belonging to two faculty members who conduct animal research.

Uc_santa_cruzThe humane community was horrified, too, that people who claim to be animal advocates may have engaged in this conduct. The Humane Society of the United States immediately posted a reward of $2,500 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of the person or people responsible, and the total reward is now up to $50,000.

The HSUS has long had a statement against violence, and has repeatedly and publicly criticized individuals who break the law in the name of supposedly protecting animals. The National Anti-Vivisection Society, In Defense of Animals, and other groups also condemned the Santa Cruz attacks. 

You simply can’t live up to the ideals of animal advocacy—part of a social movement based on the core principles of kindness, mercy, and compassion—and threaten violence against people.  It’s ethically repugnant and completely at odds with everything we stand for. True animal advocates promote respect and compassion for people as well as animals.    

The illegal actions by a few also retard our progress and cause irreparable harm to animals. It’s no wonder that in the recent history of the humane movement, corporations conducting needless and harmful animals testing, such as U.S. Surgical Corporation, have hired agent provocateurs to encourage violent and illegal conduct as a way to discredit the humane movement. If the people involved in these recent attacks were indeed animal advocates—and we hope they were not—they are playing right into the hands of the segment of the research industry that wants to keep the status quo going and divert public attention from the serious moral issues related to animal research and testing.

We are all frustrated that the pace of change is not more brisk, but we are moving forward. From 1984 to the present, 40 states have added a felony anti-cruelty statute to the books. Last year, we passed 86 new state laws for animals and have already passed 74 new laws for animals in 2008. We are winning lawsuits for animals in the courts. And corporations are changing their policies to protect animals.
Unfortunately, there are some within the research industry who circle the wagons and refuse to accept any reforms, no matter how modest. They defend the use of random-source dogs and cats—often stolen pets—for research. They oppose efforts to halt testing on chimpanzees, even though some of these highly intelligent and social creatures have been languishing in steel cages for decades. They do not even support covering mice, rats, and birds under the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. And they refuse to acknowledge that the public simply will not stand for certain practices, and there have to be some reasonable limits.

Mainstream scientists and mainstream animal advocates agree that we need to actively pursue the three R’s: reduce the number of animals used in research, replace animals with non-animal alternatives when possible, and refine the procedures to minimize the pain and distress to animals in labs. We all envision a day when animals will no longer be used for invasive research—including, as British physiologist Colin Blakemore said, “all the research scientists I know”—and we need to invest in the development of alternatives in order to get us down that road.

Animal advocates must speak out against unethical and built-to-fail tactics like threats of violence. By adhering to ethical tactics in pursuit of our goal of driving alternatives to animal testing, then we will rightly focus society’s attention on the task of leaving animal research and testing behind in favor of humane and scientifically sound alternatives.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Animal Advocates In, Animal Fighting Advocate Out

Congressional candidates backed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund went two for two in last night’s contested primary races in Tennessee. We congratulate Congressman Steve Cohen who easily won the Democratic primary in the Memphis-based 9th District, and Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe who narrowly edged out first-term Congressman David Davis for the Republican nod in the eastern 1st District.

Cohen won more than 79 percent of the vote, after a contentious primary race. He has a strong record of leadership on animal protection issues, both at the federal and state levels. In Congress, he is the lead author of the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, which seeks to stop captive trophy hunts of exotic mammals trapped behind fences. He earned a perfect score of 100 on the Humane Scorecard, voting with animals on every issue and cosponsoring a number of bills dealing with animal fighting, horse slaughter, fur labeling, and other subjects. In honor of his leadership on animal protection issues, he received the Legislative Achievement Award from the Tennessee Humane Association in 2006, and the Humane Champion Award from The Humane Society of the United States and HSLF in 2007.

Dogsfighting The Roe-Davis race was a nail-biter, and Roe squeaked by Davis by just 460 votes out of more than 51,000 cast. HSLF had targeted Davis for defeat because he was one of only 39 members of the U.S. Congress who voted against the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act last yeara measure offered by a Republican House member that passed overwhelmingly and upgraded the federal law to combat dogfighting and cockfighting. Davis, however, sided with dogfighting and cockfighting interests, taking a position at odds with animal welfare groups and hundreds of law enforcement agencies. He also voted to allow the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses, to promote the trophy hunting of threatened polar bears, and to continue the trade in dangerous primates as exotic pets.

Phil Roe is an advocate for animal welfare, and he publicly criticized Davis’ vote on the animal fighting legislation. In a move that must have caused heartburn at the Davis campaign headquarters, a cockfighting group called the East Tennessee Gamefowl Breeders Association rallied behind Davis and urged cockfighting enthusiasts to help reelect him. 

ETGBA President Ben J. (Butch) Taylor wrote on a cockfighting website two days before the election, “I beleive with all my heart if we lose David Davis in Washington, your gonna see more and more bills introduced against us and against our Constitutional Rights without too many like David Davis voiceing thier oppostion to these bills as he did in the past” [sic].

This is one of those rare instances where you’ll find me agreeing with cockfighters, outlaws all of them. The voices of bloodsport are vanishing from the halls of government. 

HSLF went head-to-head with the cockfighters and rallied animal advocates in the district, sending email communications to hundreds of Tennessee voters urging them to turn out and vote for Roe. At the end of the day, Davis’ support for animal fightingespecially in the wake of the Michael Vick case in nearby Virginiaand Roe’s support for the humane treatment of animals clearly helped to tip the scales in this tight race. 

Animal fighting has also been a prominent issue in the Tennessee General Assembly. Earlier this year, legislation to establish felony-level penalties for cockfighting cleared the Judiciary committees in both the state House and Senate, but did not receive a vote in either chamber’s Finance, Ways and Means committee. Davis’ opposition to stronger penalties for animal fighting cost him much-needed votes, contributing to the unusual defeat of an incumbent in a primary.Cockfighting_2

The FBI shut down two major cockfighting pits in Cocke County (within the 1st Congressional District) in 2005, and unearthed animal cruelty, illegal gambling, prostitution, chop shops, and other criminal behavior. Phil Roe ran a great campaign, but the role that animal fighting played in the race should serve as notice to other legislators that voters want common-sense policies to stop cruelty and abuse, and prefer candidates who support robust penalties for animal fighting crimes.

At the federal level, the handful of lawmakers who joined David Davis on the side of dogfighters and cockfighters may soon follow him back into the private sector. Some like Congressmen Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) are facing tough primary challengers from their own parties in the coming weeks, and others like Congressman Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) are targeted for defeat in the general election.

The Davis loss is one more lesson for federal and state lawmakers that opposing tough penalties for animal fighting is not only bad policy, but also bad politics. 

This is your HSLF at work, holding lawmakers accountable, taking sides in tough elections, and driving a progressive policy agenda for animal protection.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Hands-Off Sales Demos

Piglet You may remember the outcry last year when a salesman at the renowned Cleveland Clinic deliberately induced a brain aneurysm in a live dog to demonstrate how a medical device worked. Several people watched and even tried their hand at the procedure, and then the dog was killed—all for a sales gimmick. The U.S. Department of Agriculture investigated and the Cleveland Clinic rebuked the doctor involved, but there was nothing in federal law to prohibit such procedures.

Now, it’s happened again, or at least was scheduled to happen. Covidien Electrosurgery had planned a “Hands-On Pig Lab” to be held during the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists conference this week in Colorado—showing off the company’s new surgical tools by mutilating live pigs. According to Farm Sanctuary, the cruel marketing scheme has been canceled and will no longer take place during this week’s conference, but may have been simply postponed or relocated.

We shouldn’t have to wonder whether live animals will be purposely maimed and disfigured for a sales pitch masquerading as a training exercise. Congress should have dealt with this issue, and it had the perfect opportunity to do so.

In the wake of the Cleveland Clinic scandal, Congressmen Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introduced the Animal Welfare Accountability Improvement Act, H.R. 2193, seeking to upgrade the penalties for violations of the Animal Welfare Act and also to prohibit the use of animals for marketing medical devices. And when the House of Representatives considered its version of the Farm Bill last summer, lawmakers approved an amendment by Congressmen Israel and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) to fold these provisions into the massive agricultural bill.

Sadly, when a House and Senate conference committee ironed out the final bill, they jettisoned the live animal marketing ban. The final Farm Bill that was enacted this year included several great animal welfare provisions—including a core element from H.R. 2193 which increased the Animal Welfare Act penalties for the first time in two decades—but there was no reason to bow down to Big Surgical and allow for-profit companies to continue harming animals in sales demos.

Congress now must finish the job and do what it failed to do in the Farm Bill. Otherwise, we will continue to see dogs, pigs, and other animals used to market the sale of surgical tools. This is not legitimate research—it’s just pitiless peddling.

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