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Friday, June 17, 2011

A Mixed Bag for Animals in Congress this Week

There is good news and bad news from the U.S. Congress on animal protection issues that reached the House floor this week as part of the debate over agriculture spending for Fiscal Year 2012. The horses dodged a bullet, while taxpayers and wildlife took a hit.

First, the good news: We beat back attempts to add funding to the federal budget to allow horse slaughter plants to re-open in the U.S., and the “de-funding” provision that currently prohibits USDA from using its resources to inspect horse slaughter plants remains intact in the House-passed bill. Every year since 2005, the appropriations bill has included such a provision, which ensured the permanent closure of the last remaining equine abattoirs in Illinois and Texas and has prevented other cruel horse slaughter plants from opening around the country, since horse meat cannot be processed for human consumption without USDA’s active involvement.

Miracle_horse1 Several lawmakers aligned with the horse slaughter industry tried to strip this provision from the bill, which could have cost U.S. taxpayers an additional $5 million annually to subsidize government inspections of foreign-owned horse slaughter plants. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., offered an amendment to set up a so-called “fee-for-service” scheme—allowing horse slaughter operators to cover the costs of their own inspections—but such a program still would have required USDA spending to establish and maintain, and would have been an expansion of federal government responsibility. The inspector fees paid by private industry would not cover all expenses—leaving U.S taxpayers to shoulder the remaining burden. And with cuts to the overall food safety program, horse slaughter would usurp the same inspectors who would otherwise be at livestock slaughterhouses, overseeing the humane handling and food safety regulations for American consumers.

After seeing the lack of support for allowing horse slaughter, Rep. Lummis withdrew her amendment. We are especially grateful to Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Dan Burton, R-Ind., for speaking out on the House floor and fighting to make sure that horse slaughter remains prohibited on American soil. The position of the House-passed bill is that no funds can be used for horse slaughter, and we’ll be working to make sure that language holds up in the Senate and that key members of the Appropriations Committee don’t attempt to subvert the House position when they hammer out the final bill in conference committee.

Coyote Now, the bad news: The House rejected an amendment to save taxpayers $11 million by reducing federal spending on lethal predator control—through toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, and aerial gunning—as a subsidy to wealthy livestock ranchers in the West. The vote was 132-287, with 29 Republicans and 103 Democrats supporting the amendment, but 207 Republicans and 80 Democrats opposing. We are grateful to the lawmakers who advocated for this common-sense cut in inhumane and wasteful spending, especially Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.—you can watch a video of Rep. DeFazio’s speech on the House floor—and we are sorely disappointed that a majority of their House colleagues did not join them in saving tax dollars and saving animals.

With many lawmakers talking a good game about reducing the federal deficit, it’s the height of hypocrisy that they would vote to retain an $11 million taxpayer-subsidized wildlife extermination program for agribusiness. The millions of dollars spent by federal agents shooting from helicopters and setting out indiscriminate traps and poisons—which kill not only predators but also non-target animals such as family pets and endangered species—often exceed the value of ranchers’ losses due to predation. And all this killing doesn’t even work effectively to protect livestock, since other predators just move into the vacant territory. Common-sense non-lethal methods like the use of guard animals, penning, and shepherding are cheaper and more effective in reducing livestock predation, but ranchers have no incentive to use these methods as long as the federal government keeps paying for unlimited lethal control.

While the amendment was narrowly targeted just to lethal control for the livestock protection program, and would have retained critical funding for public safety and other needs, lawmakers wanting to keep agribusiness on the government teat obfuscated the issue by ranting about geese at airports and other Wildlife Services functions, and the NRA and the Farm Bureau weighed in, advocating for millions of dollars in federal spending to exterminate wildlife.

USDA data show that less than one percent of livestock are killed by predators. And with the constant calls for smaller government and more personal responsibility in the private sector, it only makes sense that livestock producers and property owners—not U.S. taxpayers—should be financially responsible for protecting their property from damage attributed to wildlife. We will continue our efforts to reform the antiquated Wildlife Services program, and bring much-needed balance to the government’s approach to solving wildlife conflicts. I hope you will find out how your representative voted, and contact him or her to express your thanks or disappointment.

The House sided with big agribusiness again in rejecting an amendment offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., by a vote of 154-262, to cap the federal subsidies for industrial factory farms and the corn and soy operations they rely on for animal feed. Excessive commodity subsidies keep animal feed artificially cheap and encourage massive factory farm development, while driving out smaller, more humane, sustainable farms. With major cuts in government programs across the board, it’s a shame that a majority of House lawmakers want to continue subsidizing the killing of coyotes and other wildlife, and the direct hand-outs to large-scale producers, with taxpayers footing the bill.

In other congressional news, two new animal protection bills were introduced this week: The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, S. 1211, by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, would phase out routine, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed, a reckless practice that serves as a crutch to support overcrowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions on factory farms, while spurring development of antibiotic resistance that undermines the effectiveness of these drugs for treating sick people and animals. And the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, H.R. 2210, by Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Brad Sherman, D-Calif., would bar Internet hunting and the interstate commerce in exotic mammals for canned hunts where tame, drugged, captive animals are shot for trophies inside fenced pens. We’ll be working to pass these measures in Congress, and I hope you will check out “Animal Planet Investigates” on Monday, June 20, at 9 p.m. EDT/PDT to see a new HSUS undercover investigation into canned hunts and why this public policy is so badly needed.

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