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November 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lame Duck Threatens Wolves

Gray wolves have suffered from a long history of inhumane treatment and abuse, persecuted to near extirpation in most of this country by the 1970s. In the 1990s, wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies, and the descendants of these relocated wolves now face yet another deadly threat—and it’s being cooked up in our nation’s capital.Gray-Wolf-2

After a series of legal actions brought by HSUS and other animal protection and conservation organizations stopped unlawful attempts by the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove federal protections for the gray wolf, western lawmakers introduced a flurry of bills to politicize wildlife management and encourage decimation of the species. Politicians are now applying pressure in Congress to pass one of the measures—either to delist wolves entirely or just in Idaho and Montana—during the remaining days of the lame-duck session.

Under both proposals, wolf management would be turned over to the states, many of which have extremely hostile management plans that would permit the trophy hunting, inhumane trapping, and poisoning of gray wolves. In other words, the congressional bills would legalize the same actions that drove the species to the brink of extinction in the first place. And the same plans that led to the reckless killing of Yellowstone National Park’s most celebrated wolves and shattered years of critical research by wolf biologists.

As The New York Times wrote in an editorial yesterday, any form of this legislation “would set a terrible precedent, opening the door for special-interest groups to push other inconvenient species off the list. The bills would undercut one of the primary reasons for the act, which was to relieve Congress of the impossible task of legislating protections species by species and leave the final determination to scientists and wildlife management professionals.”

If passed, this legislation would not only mean the death of hundreds of wolves, but would undermine the vast protections federal law provides and weaken one of our nation’s most important and most successful conservation policies. Congress should reject these dangerous and vengeful proposals, and let wolves and other species be managed by sound science, not narrow-minded politics. It shouldn’t roll back decades of conservation law just to pacify special interests in a few states clamoring to gut wolves, allowing them to gut the entire Endangered Species Act in the process.

UPDATE (1:45 pm): Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met with the governors of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to discuss the issue, and it appears that he signaled his support for federal legislation delisting wolves. It’s shameful that the Obama Administration, which has pledged to let science carry the day on management decisions, would line up in favor of stripping species out of the ESA by legislative fiat.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Muzzling the Gun Lobby

There are still a few congressional races to be decided with absentee and provisional votes being counted, but the broader results are in and it's an opportunity to take stock of how animal advocates fared on the ballot. And one of the markers of our progress is to compare how our endorsed candidates did with those of other political adversaries. Even though the election results from November 2010 were starkly different for the two major political parties compared with the results from two years earlier, the Humane Society Legislative Fund again had the advantage over one of our main political adversaries—the National Rifle Association.

Voting booth The most direct head-to-head contest was an issue election, not a candidate race: The NRA and its allies in the Arizona legislature placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot, Proposition 109, which would have made hunting a constitutional right and the preferred method of wildlife management in the state. Other states have passed right-to-hunt measures which simply affirm the status quo, but the NRA-drafted measure in Arizona would have gone much further. Prop 109 sought to give the legislature “exclusive” authority over wildlife policy issues, weakening the Arizona Game and Fish Commission and replacing scientific wildlife management with partisan politics. And it would have blocked voters from advancing citizen initiatives on these subjects in the future.

This was a top priority for the NRA, which spent more than $200,000 advocating for Prop 109, and enlisted the backing of Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain. The group didn’t like the fact that voters in Arizona had used the ballot initiative process to restrict steel-jawed leghold traps and poisons on public lands, to ban cockfighting, and to phase out inhumane factory farming practices. They wanted to insulate inhumane and unsporting hunting practices from the voters, and possibly even overturn the 1994 trapping restrictions, because they knew the politicians in Phoenix would do their bidding. Arizona voters saw through this power grab, and said “no” to the NRA and their special interest agenda. Prop 109 went down in flames by a vote of 43.5 to 56.5 percent.

In federal races, HSLF and NRA each endorsed about 300 candidates for U.S. Congress. While a few races are still undetermined, of those that have been decided, HSLF came out slightly on top. HSLF endorsed 249 federal candidates who won and 47 who lost, for a win rate of 84.1 percent. The NRA backed 244 winners and 59 losers, for a win rate of 80.5 percent. There is some overlap as both groups tend to endorse large numbers of incumbents, and not all the races were competitive, even in a year with a large anti-incumbent wave. But in the seven contested Senate races where HSLF and NRA endorsed opposing candidates, HSLF won four (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and Washington) and the NRA three (Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), for an HSLF win rate of 57.1 percent.

In a year when Republicans picked up dozens of seats and took the majority of the House of Representatives, one might think that the political environment was better for the NRA as a whole. The fact that the overall results for HSLF and NRA were close in this unique electoral climate—and that HSLF even came out on top—indicates that the NRA’s political influence is not only overstated, but waning. Some conservative Democrats particularly pander to the NRA in an effort to prove their Second Amendment bona fides, but of the 65 Democrats endorsed by the NRA, 32 of them lost, and most of the winners were in very safe, uncontested districts.

The NRA continues to oppose common-sense policies on inhumane and unsporting practices, such as canned hunts, bear baiting, aerial gunning of wolves, and even poaching. The group puts its loyalists in a political box, and it seems that lawmakers who demonstrate their fealty to the NRA rarely even benefit in the end. This election cycle is one more example of the NRA’s message having limited appeal to core ideologues, while HSLF’s message of protecting animals from cruelty and abuse has a universal reach with mainstream constituencies, including swing voters who will be critical to both parties in tough races.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Not Just a Few Rotten Eggs

The U.S. Senate is scheduled today to take up S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, introduced by Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, which would give the Food and Drug Administration new authorities and resources to stop food safety problems before they start. As Durbin has said, “This bipartisan bill is proof that food safety isn't a Democratic issue or a Republican one. Everyone eats. All Americans have a right to know that the food we buy for our families and our pets is safe. We shouldn't have to worry about getting sick, or worse. If there's a problem, our government should be able to catch it and fix it before people die.”

It’s fitting, then, that also today The Humane Society of the United States released the results of a new 28-day undercover investigation at an egg factory farm in Waelder, Tex., operated by Cal-Maine, the nation’s largest egg producer. The HSUS investigator found birds trapped in cage wires, unable to reach food or water; dead birds in cages with live ones, and even laying on the conveyor belt as eggs pass by; and eggs covered in blood and feces. It’s a grisly reminder of the threats to animal welfare and food safety posed by the cage confinement of laying hens. You can read the full report and see the video here.

The results are similar to what HSUS found at Iowa facilities operated by the nation’s second and third largest egg producers in April, Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Enterprises, and to what FDA found at the facilities recently implicated in the recent Salmonella outbreak and recall of 500 million eggs, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms. When the nation’s top egg giants are found to have unsanitary and inhumane practices, it’s clear that something is rotten in the industry.

And it’s more proof that our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, as the extreme confinement of birds in wire cages where they can barely move an inch for their entire lives is closely correlated to public health risks: Every one of the last ten published studies comparing cage to cage-free systems found higher Salmonella rates in cage systems, including a 2010 study that found 20 times greater odds of Salmonella infection in caged flocks. Hens stay in cages for one to two years during their lives, while filth falls on them from hens stacked above them and builds up in the cage equipment, and when the flocks are eventually replaced it’s extremely difficult to sanitize these cages. If Salmonella is present, it is easily transmitted to the next population of laying hens.

There’s a growing trend in the food industry to transition to cage-free eggs, but some of the nation’s largest factory farms have been resistant to change, instead preferring to cut corners at the expense of public health and animal welfare. Cal-Maine, in fact, donated more than a half million dollars to the political campaign opposing California’s Proposition 2, which will phase out cage confinement of laying hens in the state by 2015. Rather than invest funds fighting these public policies, companies would be wise to invest in improving their practices to meet consumer demand.

We need industry to be part of the solution, but we also need stronger oversight. The food safety bill being considered today, among other things, would increase the inspections at all food facilities and require annual inspections of high risk facilities; require the food industry to develop plans that identify hazards and implement the right preventive measures; and enable the FDA to more effectively respond to an outbreak by giving the agency new authorities to order recalls, shut down tainted facilities, and access records. If passed, FDA could increase inspections at battery cage egg facilities, require industry plans such as phasing out cages to minimize risk, and shut down repeat offenders. Even now, FDA can reopen its Egg Safety Rule and propose a phase out of cage confinement of hens, as there is an understandable and compelling connection between these confinement systems and food-borne illness.

We need preventative solutions, not just reactions to the next outbreak. Phasing out cage confinement of hens, and moving toward cage-free egg production, is better for animals and better for us.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prop B Opponents Trying to Rewrite History

Just days after a majority of Missouri voters approved Proposition B to crack down on puppy mill abuses in the nation’s largest puppy mill state and while provisional ballots are still being counted, a few Missouri politicians have pledged to work to overturn the initiative and to substitute their own judgment for the wisdom of the people. There is talk of a flurry of bills to be introduced in January to repeal the law. Some of them, like Sen.-elect and current Rep. Mike Parson, even say they “understand the will and the vote of the people” as they’re working feverishly to undo it.

Missouri puppy mill It’s as arrogant and obnoxious an idea as they come. We live in a country where democracy matters, and votes count. But this attack on Prop B is not only unfair and undemocratic, it’s also based on faulty assumptions. As Wayne Pacelle wrote in his blog yesterday, the Missouri Farm Bureau ran a scorched-earth campaign of fear-mongering and false rhetoric, trying to persuade voters that Prop B was about more than just establishing common-sense standards for the care of dogs at large-scale commercial breeding operations. They said it was about ending livestock agriculture and pet ownership, and while that line of argument fooled some of the people of Missouri, it did not carry the day with the majority.

Now that the votes have been tallied and the race is decided, they’re shopping for new arguments. They’re saying that the vote shouldn’t count because Prop B was only approved in urban and suburban areas, and disfavored by most rural counties. And the margin was so close, they caterwaul, with 51.6 percent of voters statewide approving Prop B and a majority of counties opposing it, that it counts as a loss. But that isn’t how elections are determined. Every vote counts, and the election judges don’t weigh the votes of people more heavily in some communities than others.

The politicians making this argument think it’s just fine to operate by majority rule for their own elections, but apparently not so when it comes to the mistreatment of animals. Prop B won by 61,000 votes, and it got about 52 percent of the vote. In Missouri, which has a history of close elections, many candidates are elected with less than 50 percent of the vote. No one suggests these people should not serve in office, just because they failed to get a majority instead of a plurality, because the vote was pretty close, or because they won in some precincts or counties but not others.

In fact, several lawmakers elected last week in Missouri received less than 52 percent of the vote. That includes two members of Congress, Rep. Russ Carnahan and Rep.-elect Vicki Hartzler; several state legislators, Sen. John Lampling and Reps. Jay Swearingen, Ron Scheiber, and John McCaherty; and the new state auditor, Tom Schweich, who received fewer “yes” votes statewide than Prop B did. Missouri, of course, has a history of close elections, especially in statewide races. In 2002, Jim Talent was elected to the U.S. Senate with 49.8 percent of the vote, and he was defeated in 2006 by Claire McCaskill, who won with 49.6 percent. These votes are close, but nobody questions the outcome and nobody asks for a do-over.

Another flawed assumption is that the vote on Prop B fell along partisan lines, with Democrats favoring it and Republicans rejecting it. We can compare the vote on Prop B, however, to another statewide race on the same ballot, between Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Robin Carnahan for U.S. Senate. Prop B won in ten counties that were carried by Blunt—Buchanan, Cass, Clay, Dunklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Pemiscot, Platte, St. Charles, and St. Francois—and these ten counties had a significant impact on the election, cumulatively favoring Prop B by a margin of 109,012 votes. Most of these are historically Republican-leaning counties, with eight of them favoring John McCain in the 2008 presidential race, and only two—Jefferson and Buchanan—won by Barack Obama with razor-thin margins in a strong year for Democrats. Even in dozens of counties where Prop B lost last week, the ballot measure outperformed the Democratic candidate by an average of 10.83 percent.

Perhaps even more to the point, Prop B won in a majority of state House and Senate districts, and most of those districts elected Republicans to the legislature. It’s this same group of lawmakers who will now have to decide whether to respect the will of the people and help to enforce Prop B, or to tell a majority of Missouri voters—both Republicans and Democrats—that they didn’t know what they were doing.

In an election year when much of the narrative was about returning government to the people, let’s hope they get the message. In the last few days, several Missouri newspapers have called out these politicians and urged them to trust the voters, and here’s what these editorials had to say.

From the Kansas City Star:

During the campaign, a preposterous story line took hold that the move to regulate dog breeding operations was the first step in a calculated attempt to drive animal agriculture out of Missouri. Legislators would be very deceitful to use such unfounded fears as a basis to repeal Proposition B.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Missouri lawmakers should respect the will of the voters on puppy mills, even if they disagree with what voters had to say. Anything less damages democracy and insults voters.

From the Independence Examiner:

This would never have gone to the ballot at all if state legislators at some point could have bestirred themselves to enact at least some of these reforms, but, as with other issues, they took a pass. They’ve had their chances. It’s a little late now to suddenly show concern because an election went the wrong way.

Paid for by Missourians for the Protection of Dogs/YES! on Prop B, Judy Peil, Treasurer.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Election Night Wrap-Up for Animals

It was a big election night for animals, with major victories against the puppy mill industry and agribusiness lobby in Missouri, and against the NRA and trophy hunting lobby in Arizona. And many of the leading animal advocates in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, were reelected to continue their work in 2011. The votes are still being tallied in some races, but here is a rundown of where we stand so far on the major contests that affect animals.

State Ballot Measures

Win_inset_final The top priority for animal advocates across the country was Missouri’s Proposition B, to crack down on puppy mill abuses in the nation’s top puppy mill state. I watched the election returns with a group of animal welfare supporters at the Humane Society of Missouri animal shelter in St. Louis, and it was a nail-biter. At the end of the night, Prop B was approved by a margin of 60,000 votes, establishing common-sense standards for the care of dogs. The margin would have likely been much larger, if the Missouri Farm Bureau, Lucas Oil and Cattle Company, Missouri Veterinary Medical Association, and others had not thrown in their lot with the puppy millers, and run a late-breaking, scorched-earth campaign to confuse voters into believing that Prop B was about more than dogs. Fortunately, Missouri citizens saw through the rhetoric, and saw Prop B for what it was: a much-needed policy to turn around the state’s reputation as the puppy capital of America. And if we can beat the puppy millers and their allies on their home turf where they are the strongest and the most entrenched, it should send a message to other state and federal lawmakers across the country that dogs deserve to be treated like family pets, not like a cash crop.

In Arizona, another priority campaign was the defeat of Proposition 109, a measure referred to the ballot by the state legislature at the request of the NRA. Prop 109 would have taken power away from Arizona voters, and handed it over to politicians and special interest groups, essentially blocking future citizen ballot initiatives on wildlife issues. It would have also weakened the Arizona Game & Fish Commission, replacing scientific wildlife management with partisan politics, and could have even overturned the 1994 ballot initiative restricting steel-jawed leghold traps and poisons on public lands. We fought back with our coalition partners, and urged Arizona voters to reject this power grab. They said no to the NRA, and shot down Prop 109 by a preliminary margin of 56 to 44 percent. It was the second time in a decade that Arizona voters refused to give up their voting rights and shot down this nonsense from the NRA. Another win for animals and voting rights occurred in Oklahoma where citizens decided to streamline the ballot initiative process and allow a consistent standard for petitioning to qualify ballot initiatives, including on animal protection subjects, passing State Question 750 by a vote of 50.4 to 49.6 percent.

A loss for animals took place in North Dakota, with the defeat of Measure 2, which would have banned the canned hunting of tame deer and elk trapped inside fenced pens. The measure, which was placed on the ballot by a group of North Dakota hunters who are strong advocates for sportsmanship and fair chase, was defeated about 43 to 57 percent, largely due to a well-funded campaign by the extreme elements of the trophy hunting lobby and the commercial wildlife ranching industry. The opponents persuaded voters that the measure was about “property rights,” when there are some things that are just out of bounds in a decent society even if they take place on private property—whether it’s dogfighting, cockfighting, or shooting tame animals trapped behind fences.  When HSLF saw the responsible hunters being far outspent in the race, we assisted them with TV ads to make the case to North Dakota voters, but unfortunately the effort was not enough to get them over the finish line. California voters also rejected Proposition 21, which would have protected parks and wildlife by creating a stable and adequate source of funding to maintain state parks and beaches, and promote wildlife conservation and habitat protection.

It was not a clean sweep on all of the ballot measures of interest to the animal welfare movement, but the two that received the most serious investments of our resources and attention—in Arizona and Missouri—ended with the right outcomes for animals. And we succeeded in conservative states against tough and well-heeled opponents, taking on the gun lobby and the agriculture lobby, and demonstrating that we get results for animals where we place our energy and resources.

Congressional Races

So far, 238 House and Senate candidates endorsed by HSLF have been declared the winners, while 46 have lost and 14 races have yet to be decided. You can visit our Voter Guide online for updates on the outcomes as they are reported. HSLF focused much of its efforts on TV ads supporting leading animal protection candidates in five competitive congressional races, and we have won five out of five.

HSLF ran ads in New Orleans supporting Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a leader of efforts to crack down on puppy mill abuses and ban the trade in primates as pets, and he was reelected 57 to 38 percent. We also ran ads in Cleveland supporting Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, a sponsor of legislation to strengthen the laws against animal fighting, who was reelected 55 to 45 percent. And we supported Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., who as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee has passed a number of wildlife protection bills through the House, with ads in the Bluefield and Charleston areas, and he was victorious by a margin of 56 to 44 percent.

In other priority House races, HSLF ran ads in Palm Springs supporting Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., a sponsor of legislation to require fur labeling so consumers aren’t deceived, and she was declared the winner 52 to 41 percent. We ran a paid TV campaign in suburban Detroit to support Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., a leader in the effort to ban obscene animal crush videos, and he has narrowly won by about 4,600 votes, a margin of 49 to 48 percent. We once again made an impact in Michigan’s 9th district, where HSLF made its largest investment in 2008, and helped to defeat then-Rep. Joe Knollenberg, who had one of the worst records on animal cruelty in the entire country. We hope to continue this track record in 2010, and demonstrate that when we invest resources to help shape the outcomes of candidate races, we are successful in our efforts to tip the balance in close contests.

In addition to TV ads, HSLF sent mailings, conducted door-to-door canvassing, and mobilized volunteers to help dozens of other lawmakers who are standing up for animals in a very determined way.  We are pleased that we could help to reelect many of our leaders on animal protection issues in Congress from both political parties who were in competitive races, such as Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., and Dave Reichert, R-Wash. We are sad to see some of our strongest allies leaving, such as Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy, D-Ohio, John Spratt, D-S.C., Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Phil Hare, D-Ill., and we thank them for their service in Congress and for their strong support of animal welfare issues. Many of our allies are in races that are still too close to call, and we are closely watching the outcomes for Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and others.

Thank you to all of you who volunteered, wrote letters, donated, and cast your votes to help achieve these outcomes for animal protection ballot measures and for candidates who are fighting for animal welfare. It’s only because of your work, and your helping HSLF make a final push in the last days of the election, that the animal protection movement can continue to make progress for animals in the political arena. Please check and my blog for more updates on the midterm elections.

Monday, November 01, 2010

What's At Stake Tomorrow for Animals

In less than 24 hours, voters will head to their polling precincts and cast their ballots on candidates and issues across the country. There is much at stake for animal protection in tomorrow’s contests, including whether some of our leading animal advocates in Congress will return to Washington in 2011, and whether voters will decide to ban canned hunts and crack down on puppy mill abuses.

Voting1 The Humane Society Legislative Fund today released a special preview of our 2010 Humane Scorecard, which charts our progress on animal protection policies during the 111th Congress. We’ll issue a final version at the end of the year, but we want to make sure voters have access to the preview in time for tomorrow’s election. Please take a look at how your members of Congress performed on animal welfare issues this year before you head to the polls.

I hope you’ll also check out our Voter Guide to see which candidates across the country have been endorsed by HSLF. We take a nonpartisan approach to our evaluations of candidates for elected office, and our list of endorsements reflects that approach. HSLF has backed more than 300 candidates for tomorrow’s races, and in some of the most competitive contests, we’ve reached out to voters with TV ads, mailings, door-to-door canvassing, and other field work.

In five states, voters will weigh in on ballot measures that affect animals. Here’s a rundown of tomorrow’s critical ballot measures:

ARIZONA: NO! on Prop 109
Prop 109 is a power grab by politicians and special interests who want to take away the right of Arizona voters and block future ballot initiatives on wildlife issues. It would also weaken the Arizona Game & Fish Commission, and replace scientific wildlife management with partisan politics. Send a Prop 109 eCard to friends and family in Arizona.

Prop 21 would protect parks and wildlife by creating a stable and adequate source of funding to maintain state parks and beaches, and promote wildlife conservation and habitat protection. Share a Prop 21 eCard with California voters.

Prop B would stop puppy mill abuses by establishing common-sense standards for the care of dogs, such as adequate food, water, veterinary care, space, and exercise. Missouri is the nation’s largest puppy mill state, with approximately 3,000 mills, and is ground zero for the battle over dog protection this election. Please send a Prop B eCard to anyone you know in Missouri.

NORTH DAKOTA: YES! on Measure 2
Measure 2 will stop the trophy shooting of captive animals trapped behind fences—an inhumane and unsportsmanlike practice opposed by hunters and non-hunters alike. These “canned hunting” operations offer wealthy customers the opportunity to kill tame, captive animals for guaranteed trophies.

OKLAHOMA: YES! on State Question 750
SQ 750 would streamline the ballot initiative process in Oklahoma and allow a consistent standard for petitioning to qualify ballot initiatives, including on animal protection subjects. 

Please help us spread the word over the next 24 hours, and don’t forget to get out and vote tomorrow!

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