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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Key Committee Action on Horse Slaughter, Ag Subsidies, and Animal Welfare Funding

The House Appropriations Committee last evening approved its version of the agriculture spending bill for Fiscal Year 2012, and sent it to the full House of Representatives for consideration, likely in a few weeks. The committee-passed bill included funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement of important animal welfare laws, and successful provisions to bar horse slaughter and cut subsidies to massive factory farms.

On the funding issues, in a very tough budget climate with so many lawmakers focused on deficit reduction, many important programs were competing for dollars. The HSUS and HSLF worked with Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., to mobilize a sign-on letter, and won the bipartisan support of 125 representatives and 34 senators requesting modest funding levels that 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. Here’s where the funding levels stand in the House committee version of the bill (the Senate bill has not yet been taken up in committee):

$500,000 for the Horse Protection Act: This is level funding from the previous year, and has been stagnant at that level for years since the passage of the 1970 law to combat horse “soring,” the intentional use of caustic chemicals and sharp objects on horses’ hooves and legs to give them an artificial, high-stepping gait in show competitions. We had advocated for $900,000, which was President Obama’s request to improve enforcement of this four-decades-old law. That said, the funding could have been cut, like so much else in the bill, so it’s important that it is at least consistent with previous levels, although inadequate to crack down on this widespread cruelty.

Puppy mill $22 million for the Animal Welfare Act: This is $65,000 above FY 2011 levels, to provide inspections and oversight of the federal animal care standards at thousands of large-scale puppy mills, research laboratories, circuses, zoos, and other licensed facilities.

$14.5 million for Investigative and Enforcement Services: This is $545,000 above FY 11, for USDA to carry out investigations and appropriate enforcement actions for violations of various laws, including those related to animal welfare.

$80 million for the Office of Inspector General:  This is a cut of more than $8 million from the FY 11 budget for USDA’s enforcement arm to undertake and sustain effective investigations in various areas, including enforcement of federal animal fighting laws, the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and downed animal rules.

Cow Humane Methods of Slaughter Act: The committee included report language directing the Food Safety Inspection Service, “to the maximum extent practicable, to ensure that the inspectors hired to improve enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act are dedicated to overseeing compliance with humane handling rules.” We wanted such a directive, to place an even greater emphasis on the importance of humane slaughter enforcement, in light of recent HSUS investigations revealing lax oversight.

$4.2 million for Veterinary Student Loan Forgiveness: This is a small cut from the $4.8 million in FY 11, but will help continue to address the serious shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural and inner-city areas, as well as in government positions at USDA, by forgiving veterinary student debt for those who choose to practice in one of these underserved areas.

In addition to the program funding, the committee approved two important amendments last evening that will help promote animal welfare as well as fiscal responsibility:

Horse Slaughter: Every year since 2005, the agriculture spending bill has included a provision de-funding USDA inspections at horse slaughter plants, which led to the closure of the last remaining equine abattoirs in Illinois and Texas and has prevented other cruel horse slaughter plants from opening around the country. Remarkably, the bill produced by the House subcommittee omitted this important de-funding prohibition, and could have cost U.S. taxpayers about $5 million annually to subsidize government inspections of foreign-owned horse slaughter plants. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., offered an amendment to restore the horse slaughter de-funding provision; he spoke passionately at the committee meeting in support of this amendment to save horses and save tax dollars, as did Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and the committee approved it by a bipartisan vote of 24 to 21, with 16 Democrats and eight Republicans supporting the pro-horse position. Adding millions of dollars to the federal budget to inspect foreign-owned horse slaughter plants would have been a step backwards for America’s iconic horses and a waste of tax dollars. We’ll be working to make sure the Moran provision is retained in the final bill.

Factory farm Agriculture Subsidies: If lawmakers really want to reduce the deficit, they must confront the multi-billion-dollar federal subsidies for industrial factory farms and the corn and soy operations they rely on for animal feed. The House bill takes a major step in the right direction, as the committee approved an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on a voice vote, to limit farm payments to producers with income of $250,000 or less—down from the current cap of $750,000 for on-farm income and $500,000 for off-farm income. Much more needs to be done in this area, but the Flake amendment sends a strong message that it won’t be business as usual for big agribusiness at the government trough.

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