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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stomping Out "Crush" Videos, Stepping Up Enforcement

The big news in Congress this week is that the House overwhelmingly passed the Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Animal Crush Videos Act, introduced by Representatives Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., by a sweeping vote of 416 to 3. The bill now goes to the Senate, where Senators Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., have vowed to lead the fight for this legislation.

19308 We are making progress on other priorities, too, in the 111th Congress. With a tough budget climate and competing national priorities for federal spending, HSUS and HSLF continue to make the case on Capitol Hill that adequate federal funding is necessary to enforce the nation’s animal welfare laws. And it’s money well spent since improved enforcement for animal protection means improvements in food safety, public health, consumer protection, disaster planning, anti-crime initiatives, and other related issues.

Once again this year, we rallied the support of a strong bipartisan group of 40 senators and 131 representatives—led by Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Chris Smith, R-N.J.—to request funds needed to improve enforcement of animal welfare programs. Thanks to the outstanding leadership of the chairs of the agriculture appropriations subcommittees—Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.—the signs look promising for animal welfare programs in fiscal year 2011.

The House and Senate bills to fund the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture aren’t yet finished, but both have cleared significant intermediate hurdles (the House bill was approved at the subcommittee level and the Senate bill was approved by the full committee). Both bills maintain strong levels of funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal law to combat dogfighting and cockfighting, as well as programs for veterinary student loan forgiveness and disaster planning for animals. Importantly, both bills recommend increased funding for investigations and enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, which should bring added might to combat abusive puppy mills, and nearly double the amount allocated for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, a much-needed upgrade to crack down on rampant “soring” abuse involving deliberate infliction of severe pain on show horses’ legs and hooves, so it will hurt them to step and their exaggerated gait will win prizes.

The Senate committee has also included language in its report urging the USDA to “consider the establishment of an ombudsman to provide FSIS inspectors and other personnel with an avenue to register their concerns and help ensure that they are able to carry out their responsibilities—ensuring compliance with all food safety and humane slaughter requirements—without undue interference,” and “consider the hiring and training of a mobile review team of FSIS employees to conduct unscheduled audits, including the potential for undercover surveillance, focused on assessing compliance with humane handling rules of live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes and stunning areas.” The ombudsman and mobile strike unit are two enhancements to enforcement that HSUS and HSLF sought, following our undercover investigations at the Hallmark (Calif.) and Bushway (Vt.) slaughter plants. The Senate committee also weighed in on the importance of the animal fighting law, and both bills ask the FDA to conduct a review of the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals and antimicrobial resistance.

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. We are hopeful that the fiscal year 2011 bill, once it’s finalized, will boost these numbers even further.

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.

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