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August 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Fin-Tastic Day at the Capitol

The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” wrapped up earlier this month, but yesterday was Shark Day at the California legislature. More than 100 animal advocates from across the state gathered at the capitol in Sacramento, many carrying stuffed toy sharks and wearing shark t-shirts, to advocate for A.B. 376. The legislation to ban the sale of shark fins, introduced by Assemblymembers Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, passed the Assembly in May by a vote of 65-8, and is now pending in the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Actress Bo Derek was among the lobbying team, and joined members of WildAid, The HSUS, Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance, and other groups in speaking to lawmakers about the proposed shark fin ban. As Derek told the committee, “Sharks have been around for nearly 400 million years, and yet many stocks may be wiped out in a single human generation due to the increasing demand for shark fins.”

Shark Day at the California Legislature
Shark Day at the California Legislature
photo: Jennifer Fearing

Tens of millions of sharks are killed every year to supply the cruel and wasteful trade in shark fins used for shark fin soup. They’re obtained by cutting the fins off the shark and throwing the animal, often while still alive, back into the ocean to die a slow death. Sharks are our ocean’s top predators and are important for the health of all other marine species and our entire ocean ecosystems.

It’s one of the most wasteful forms of killing and unsustainable destruction of our ocean wildlife—all for a bowl of soup. In the last couple years, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands have all passed legislation to stem the tide of sharks being killed for their fins, and a federal bill signed by President Obama strengthens the enforcement of shark finning laws at sea. 

Now California must join its Pacific neighbors in stopping shark finning and extinction, especially because the state is the biggest market for shark fins outside of Asia. If you live in California, please take action and ask your state senator to support A.B. 376.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Protecting D.C.’s Consumers and Wildlife

The D.C. City Council last year unanimously passed an ordinance to protect consumers and wildlife by regulating private wildlife control operators. The new law brings transparency to an industry that often charges consumers hundreds or even thousands of dollars while failing to provide long-term solutions to urban wildlife problems, and it prohibits particularly inhumane methods of killing animals, such as using steel-jawed leghold traps, drowning, and injecting them with nail polish remover.

281x144_raccoon_istock Lobbyists for the pest control companies are now trying to get Congress to intervene and defund the D.C. law. According to some news reports, the critics somehow believe the ordinance will result in a mass migration of wildlife crossing the border from D.C. to neighboring states, like herds of wildebeest crossing the Serengeti.

I had an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post responding to these charges. Here’s an excerpt:

The law does nothing to change where animals can be released; it has always been illegal to release animals on federal lands and to transport wildlife across state lines.

The D.C. law suggests relocating or releasing animals when possible, but it does not mandate those actions and does not prohibit lethal control. If there is no place or practical way to release the animal in the District, the animal would probably be killed, but the most inhumane and abusive methods would be disallowed and the animal’s suffering would be reduced. The D.C. law will, in fact, help prevent illegal transports, since trappers will now be licensed and no longer able to operate in the shadows.
The D.C. law provides modest parameters for regulating an industry that has a checkered history of overcharging consumers and using painful and indiscriminate killing methods. It establishes licensing and reporting requirements similar to those in 35 other states, including Maryland and Virginia.

You can read the full op-ed at the Post’s web site, and feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Deficit Reduction Must Tackle Ag Subsidies

Congressional leaders and the White House have reached an eleventh-hour deal to raise the debt ceiling and cut about $2.4 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years. The deal still needs to pass both chambers of Congress to avoid defaulting on the federal debt. It appears both parties had to give more than they wanted to and tackle some tough issues, yet largely absent from the closing political debate, once again, has been the need to deal with the multi-billion-dollar federal subsidies for industrial agriculture, including many of the highest-earning and most profitable farmers in the land.

From 1995 to 2009, federal farm subsidies have cost taxpayers a quarter of a trillion dollars. Today’s agribusiness subsidies—paid at a time of record-high commodity prices—drive up the deficit and distort the market, while also jeopardizing public health, the environment, and animal welfare. Most of these excessive commodity subsidies go to a small number of large-scale, wealthy producers, keeping animal feed artificially cheap and encouraging massive factory farm development, while driving out smaller and more humane and sustainable farmers.

Gestation Congress can support small family farmers and reduce deficit spending by capping eligibility for subsidies to farmers with an adjusted gross income of $250,000 or less, and by capping the total amount of money an entity can receive under the commodity payments program of the Farm Bill at $125,000 or $250,000. Several amendments to rein in agriculture subsidies came up on the House floor earlier this year during debate over both the Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2011 and the Fiscal Year 2012 agriculture spending bill, but it remains unclear whether Congress can finalize individual appropriations bills this year, and whether lawmakers aligned with the agribusiness lobby will continue trying to punt on the tough questions, putting them off until next year’s Farm Bill.

The Administration’s deficit reduction commission recommended cutting $10 billion in farm subsidies from 2012 to 2020, and the President’s FY12 budget proposal included a decrease of $3.2 billion for USDA, largely from direct payments to high-income farmers. The debt ceiling deal will create a new congressional commission to recommend government spending cuts, and we urge this group to finally say enough is enough and stand up to the lawmakers who keep fleecing American taxpayers for the benefit of corporate factory farms. It’s time to wean big agribusiness off the government trough. If the government is going to hand over subsidies, it should be to foster innovation and to incentivize best practices—not to provide hand-outs to big agriculture and to reward its poor conduct and consolidation.

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