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March 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ellen: A Stellar Voice for Animals

Sarah Palin and Ellen DeGeneres might not have much in common when it comes to their views on animal protection. But what they do share is their role with other prominent women and political figures—including Hillary Clinton, Caroline Kennedy, Michelle Obama, and Condoleezza Rice—whose biographies are featured in the “Female Force” series of comic books by Bluewater Productions.

Comic gets her own comic: Animal advocate Ellen DeGeneres is featured in “Female Force.”

Ellen’s comic goes on sale March 31, and because of her strong commitment to the protection of animals, she has chosen The Humane Society of the United States to benefit from 30% of the net profits from sales of the book. The issue, written by Sandra C. Ruckdeschel and penciled by Pedro Ponzo, follows the comedienne from her youth in Louisiana, through the endless smoke-filled comedy club circuit, to her breakthrough sitcom and finally as an Emmy-winning daytime talk show host. The book sells for $3.99 and is available at comic book stores as well as book stores at many airports, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, and online.

I’ve commented before on women lawmakers who are leaders for animal protection in Congress, and it’s no surprise that a strong animal advocate is now featured in a series about strong women in politics. Ellen has long been a force for animals, and was instrumental in the passage of California’s Proposition 2 in 2008. She covered the issue on her nationally syndicated talk show, hosted a Los Angeles fundraiser at a critical time for the campaign, and appeared in TV ads urging voters to support the measure—which passed overwhelmingly and phases out the extreme confinement of farm animals in crates and cages so small they can barely move an inch for their entire lives. 

Ellen and Portia de Rossi were honored in 2009 as joint recipients of The HSUS’s Wyler Award, which is given to public figures who have made news on behalf of animals. And just last weekend, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” won the Genesis Award for Best Talk Show, for an episode exploring the inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms and featuring Ellen’s interview with Eating Animals author Jonathan Safran Foer.

We are grateful to Ellen for using her talents to make the world a kinder place for animals. Check out “Female Force” and celebrate Ellen’s life story and the powerful impact she has made.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Recap Before Recess

Congress is expected to recess this weekend, and lawmakers will be back in their districts for the next two weeks. It’s a good time to take stock of where animal protection issues stand in the 111th Congress and which bills are primed for action over the remaining few months.

We hope Congress will soon make progress on the
Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act to protect horses from the
cruelty of slaughter.

Eleven wildlife protection measures have passed the House—including bills to bar the trade in primates as pets; upgrade penalties for the killing of federally protected migratory birds; crack down on shark finning; provide assistance for marine mammal rescue and disentanglement; create a stamp to benefit the conservation of elephants, great apes, rhinos, tigers and other endangered species; protect wild horses and burros from commercial sale and slaughter; and assist in the conservation of cranes, marine turtles, sea otters, great cats and rare canids. Many of these bills have also passed their respective Senate committees, and are awaiting final action on the Senate floor. These are all common-sense policies with bipartisan support, and the Senate should pass them without delay.

Last week, 131 members of the House joined in requesting adequate funding in Fiscal Year 2011 for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, Horse Protection Act, and animal fighting law, as well as implementation of programs to ease the shortage of veterinarians and account for the needs of animals in disaster planning. The Senate deadline for appropriations requests is tomorrow, and there is still time to ask your senators to join the 33 others who have already signed onto the animal welfare funding letter being circulated by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.). We need to sustain the progress we have made in recent years to put boots on the ground and provide adequate enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect animals from cruelty and abuse.

Among pending legislation, two major priorities for animal advocates are still awaiting committee action, but have strong bipartisan support and we hope will soon make progress. The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.), would stop the exports of tens of thousands of American horses to Canada and Mexico where they are slaughtered for human consumption overseas. It has 29 cosponsors in the Senate and 181 in the House, and is pending in the Judiciary committees. The Truth in Fur Labeling Act by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), would require accurate labeling of fur-trimmed garments and provide consumers with important product information on the species of animal used. It has 33 cosponsors in the Senate and 163 in the House, and awaits action in the Commerce committees.

We urge Senate and House leadership to move quickly on these measures, which have been pending for some time and building support. And we hope you'll use the two-week recess to visit or contact your federal legislators in their district offices, and urge their support for these reforms. Tell them that you and millions of other Americans want public policies that advance the humane treatment of animals, and want to see results in the 111th Congress on these issues.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Finning Must End

Shark populations have been severely depleted worldwide, with declines of 99 percent in some areas due to ocean pollution, overfishing, and high demand for their fins. Proposals to restrict the trade in three species of hammerhead sharks are among the wildlife protection measures now being considered by 175 member nations at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which began last weekend in Qatar. Click here to watch a harrowing video being screened in Qatar for the delegates.

Shark populations have been severely depleted worldwide,
with declines of 99 percent in some areas due to
ocean pollution, overfishing, and high demand for their fins.

But here at home, lawmakers are taking action as well. The Shark Conservation Act has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate Commerce Committee, and is awaiting action in the full Senate. The legislation, S. 850 by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and H.R. 81 by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), would strengthen enforcement and crack down on the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning—cutting the fins off a shark and tossing the mutilated animal back into the ocean to die. And a new resolution, H. Res. 1180, introduced by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) would support stronger protections for sharks and other rare wildlife species at the CITES meeting.

At the state level, the Hawaii legislature is considering a path-breaking measure to aid in the conservation and protection of sharks. S.B. 2169, championed by Senator Clayton Hee (D-Kahuku, La'ie, Ka'a'awa, Kane'ohe) would prohibit the sale, possession, distribution and transfer of shark fins throughout the state. The bill would put an end to the trade in shark fins in Hawaii and also prohibit the sale of shark fin soup or other products containing fins.

Ironically, while sharks are killed, finned and served in soup in a number of restaurants across Hawaii, native Hawaiians continue to revere this sacred animal, also known as “manō,” a protector of the oceans and Hawaii’s fisherman. The shark is valued as an apex predator whose health and welfare affects all other marine species and the entire ocean’s ecosystem.

Tens of millions of sharks are hauled up on the decks of fishing boats around the world every year, only to have their fins hacked off, often while they’re still alive. The mutilated sharks are then thrown back into the ocean, because the meat of most shark species is unpalatable and fishermen don’t want to use up freezer space by storing their bulky carcasses. The fins, on the other hand, fetch a very high price in East Asia, where they’re used to make shark fin soup.

While the United States bans shark finning in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fisheries (but not yet to the Pacific), and finning is banned in some other countries, there are no restrictions anywhere in the world on the possession, sale or distribution of shark fins or shark fin soup, other than for protected species. The Hawaii bill would set a standard for other states to follow, by helping to dry up the demand for shark fins and remove the financial incentive for killing these creatures at sea.

S.B. 2169 passed the state Senate and last week, under the leadership of Chairman Angus McKelvey (D-Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua, Maalaea, Kihei), was unanimously approved by the House Economic Revitalization, Business and Military Affairs Committee. The Hawaii House should pass the measure and send it to Governor Linda Lingle for her signature—sending a message that sharks in the world’s oceans deserve protection from the brutal trade in their fins.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Investing in Enforcement

Whether an animal welfare law will be effective often turns on whether it gets adequately funded. And seeking that funding is vital, especially when there are strong competing budget pressures as there are now. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and proper enforcement not only helps these creatures but also helps to improve food safety, public health, disaster preparedness, and other social concerns.

Animal welfare funding would help step up enforcement to combat
the cruel practice of soring on Tennessee Walking Horses.

Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.) are circulating letters to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which seek funds to improve enforcement of key animal welfare laws in Fiscal Year 2011. They are asking their colleagues to co-sign these letters, and 115 Representatives and 16 Senators have already agreed to lend their support. The funds requested in the letters are modest, but are critically needed to implement and enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act, the federal animal fighting law, and programs to help prepare for the needs of animals in disasters and to address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and inner-city areas and public health practice.

If you don’t see each of your federal legislators on the list of those who’ve already stepped up, they need to hear from you today. Click here to find your federal legislators and their phone numbers.

  • Please urge your one U.S. representative to co-sign the House animal welfare funding group letter being circulated by Representatives Blumenauer and Smith, or include these items among his/her own individual requests, before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s deadline of March 22nd. 
  • Please urge your two U.S. senators to co-sign the Senate animal welfare funding group letter being circulated by Senators Boxer and Vitter, or make their own individual requests for these items, before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s deadline of March 26th.

This is just the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily building the enforcement budgets for these laws, recognizing that laws on the books won’t do animals much good if they’re not enforced. Over the past eleven years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act by 139.5% (a cumulative total of more than $84 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 115 USDA inspectors, compared to about 60 inspectors during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

Thanks to your work, Congress can help sustain our efforts to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. It’s an investment in the animals’ future—and our own.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A True Champion for Animals

California Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) announced today that he was withdrawing his name from the lieutenant governor’s race, and he threw his support behind other Democratic hopefuls. The Humane Society Legislative Fund had endorsed Florez early on, because he stood out in the crowded primary field as the best champion for animal protection with a proven track record of results. I’d like to spend a moment today recapping his record of leadership for the humane treatment of animals.

California Senate Majority Leader Dean
Florez with HSUS State Director Jennifer

Florez represents California’s 16th Senate district, in the Central Valley, and has seen first-hand the adverse impact that industrial factory farms have on animals, the environment, public health, and rural communities. Even though he represents a strong agricultural district, Florez has been prepared to confront tough issues and to get results. He was one of the earliest supporters of Proposition 2, which phases out the extreme confinement of farm animals in small crates and cages where they are basically immobilized for their entire lives. After it passed in 2008 with the most votes in California history, he called it “the equivalent of the earthquake that shook the legislature.”

He then used that momentum and reorganized the former Senate Agriculture Committee to become the Senate Food & Agriculture Committee, which he chairs. The change signaled a new direction from a committee created to exclusively protect the interests of industrial agricultural producers, to one that recognizes the importance of consumers and balances the interests of animal welfare, the environment, food safety and public health concerns for good agricultural policy. This was the first such reorganization of an agricultural committee in the country, following increased national discourse on food policy issues and setting a precedent for other states to follow. Florez commented, “Big Ag has always ruled, and they don’t lose much. I want to take advantage of Prop 2’s momentum and strike a balance.”

And one of the first bills to be advanced by the new committee, authored by Sen. Florez, was S.B. 135, which bans the tail docking of dairy cows. This painful and unnecessary mutilation is often performed without anesthesia. Florez brought humane organizations, veterinarians and agricultural groups together to create consensus for the measure, which passed the Senate and the Assembly and was signed into law by the governor. As California is the nation’s top dairy-producing state, a ban on tail docking sets a nationwide precedent, and we’ve now seen similar bills introduced in large dairy states like New York.

Sen. Florez has backed a raft of other animal welfare policies, including measures to establish felony-level penalties for illegal cockfighting, ban the use of toxic lead ammunition in the habitat of the critically endangered California condor, require rodeos to have veterinarians available to treat injured animals, crack down on abusive puppy mills, prohibit convicted animal abusers from owning animals and ban the sale of meat from “downer” livestock too sick or injured to stand or walk on their own. He is now championing a new resolution, S.J.R. 22, which has a hearing next Tuesday and, if passed by the legislature, would give California’s official endorsement to federal legislation in Congress barring horse slaughter for human consumption. And he is one of four co-chairs of the newly formed, bipartisan California Animal Protection Caucus.

As a lawmaker, Sen. Florez has the ability and courage to forge solutions on the major issues of the day in California, and many of his path-breaking efforts have already had rippled effects around the country. We are grateful for his leadership and advocacy on behalf of animals, and we look forward to working with him over the next year in the Senate and then look forward to seeing where his instinct to promote public service pushes him.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stimulating Markets for Farm Animal Welfare

Seven states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, and Oregon—have passed laws to phase out some of the most extreme types of confinement on industrial factory farms, where animals are basically immobilized in small crates and cages for their entire lives. The largest pork and veal producers in the country have pledged to phase out crates and move toward group housing of calves and breeding pigs. The largest food retailers—like Burger King, Safeway, Denny’s, IHOP, and Wendy’s—are increasingly using cage-free eggs. Just in the last few weeks, Wal-Mart announced that its store brand of eggs are all cage-free, and Hellman’s announced that its light mayonnaise uses only cage-free eggs and its regular mayonnaise will, too.

The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty would require that
any food purchased for federal programs meet animal welfare

Now, some lawmakers want the federal government to support this growing marketplace trend. U.S. Reps. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) this week introduced the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, H.R. 4733, to require that any food purchased for federal programs come from animals raised in a way that they had adequate space to stand up, lie down, turn around, and stretch their limbs. Watson is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement, which oversees federal purchasing policy, and Gallegly is the co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus; both lawmakers had backed Proposition 2 in their home state of California which bans the use of crates for veal calves and breeding pigs and cages for egg-laying hens.

The legislation is a modest approach that allows the federal government to lead by example. The policy would stimulate markets for producers using higher animal welfare standards and ensure that federal tax dollars are spent in a manner consistent with the government’s longstanding commitment to the humane treatment of animals. Just as the federal government already requires contractors to meet various standards, including wage and labor requirements, and fuel economy standards for government vehicles, it can require them to meet animal welfare standards.

It also mirrors the approach taken by Congress in the original Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which when passed in 1958 only applied to slaughter plants that sold meat to the federal government. The policy was later expanded to include all USDA-inspected slaughter plants. The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act applies only to those producers who voluntarily choose to do business with the federal government. Federal procurement is estimated to involve approximately 1% of total meat, eggs, and dairy products sold in the U.S.

Both the U.S. House of Representatives’ and the U.S. Senate’s cafeteria already uses cage-free eggs, and the Watson-Gallegly legislation would allow other federal food purchases—such as the National School Lunch Program—to lead by example and set a higher animal welfare standard as well. Animals built to move should be allowed to move, and it’s the most basic of requirements that they shouldn’t be crammed into small crates and cages for virtually their entire lives.

If the nation’s largest food companies can do it, it’s time for the federal government to play a role and help keep the market moving in the right direction. Contact your members of Congress today and ask them to support the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

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