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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Animals on the Hill, and in “The Hill”

The Hill, a “must read” newspaper for Washington policy makers, this week published a special edition on animal welfare for the first time in its 15 years of publication. It could not have been more timely, as hundreds of animal advocates from around the country descended on Capitol Hill after attending the Taking Action for Animals conference, rallying and lobbying Congress to pass legislation on horse slaughter, fur labeling, puppy mills, chimps in research, and other critical issues.

Ginnifer goodwin
Actress Ginnifer Goodwin joined other animal advocates to lobby for animals on the Hill.

The animal welfare report includes columns by many of the leading humane champions in Congress: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on stopping the inhumane slaughter of horses for food exports; Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) on promoting public safety and the welfare of primates by barring the trade in these strong and intelligent creatures; Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) on requiring labels on fur-trimmed jackets so consumers don’t unwittingly purchase animal fur advertised as “faux”; Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) on the trafficking in stolen pets for research by unscrupulous Class B dealers; and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) on the link between animal cruelty and fighting and other violent crimes in society.

The edition closes with a piece by “Big Love” and “He’s Just Not That Into You” star Ginnifer Goodwin, recounting her visit to our conference and lobby day and her advocacy for animal protection legislation on the Hill. Originally from Tennessee, she writes “that caring about animals is a mainstream concern, and it’s important to Americans of all political stripes in urban and rural areas.” This collection of articles in The Hill confirms that animal welfare is on the political map and our issues are a major part of the policy debate.

Not surprisingly, the detractors had their say, too. There aren't any pieces by the animal fighting lobby or the pet chimp lobby, but Reps. David Scott (D-Ga.), Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) trot out the party line of Big Agribusiness. Scott and Schmidt particularly launch a direct attack on animal advocates, under the tired pretense of calling for science, not emotion, to drive farm animal welfare policy. They condemn “the propaganda being proffered by” advocates for animals, consumers, the environment, and public health, and they criticize people who “anthropomorphize our animals” and have a “lack of knowledge about agriculture.” Advocating for states’ rights only when it’s convenient, they attack state laws that ban crates and cages for veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens, and even claim that chickens are happier in cages where they won’t run into a fox or other predator.

They’re talking not about sound science, but things that just sound like science. In reality, the science, not emotion, says that hens built to move should be allowed to move.

The lawmakers doing the bidding for Big Agribusiness simply don’t get that the American public wants to see all animals treated humanely, including animals raised for food. Farmers are innovative and are adapting to the changing needs of society. Six states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, and Oregon—have banned certain crates and cages where animals are immobilized for their entire lives on industrial factory farms. Proposition 2 in California won the support not only of urban voters but also a majority of rural voters in the largest egg-producing counties. Some of the nation’s largest veal, pork and egg producers are aleady moving away from extreme confinement systems. Retailers like Burger King, Safeway, and Wendy’s are increasingly phasing in crate-free pork and cage-free eggs because consumers are demanding a higher standard.

Books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, and films like “Food, Inc.,” are showing the public the recklessness of Big Agriculture, and in particular factory farming. Congress has an obligation not only to tackle the animal welfare issues that have little or no organized opposition, but also the issues that have entrenched special interests attempting to stand in the way of reasonable reform.

In the last two weeks alone, the House has passed important bills to protect wild horses, sea otters, and marine turtles, with others primed for passage in both chambers. As this week’s issue of The Hill makes abundantly clear, more and more members are rising to the challenge—putting their by-lines and their votes to work for a more humane future.

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