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Friday, September 16, 2011

The Kindest Cuts: Budget Reductions to Help Animals

As the White House and the 12-member congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction work to reduce the federal debt by a total of about $1.5 trillion over 10 years, there are a number of wasteful programs that harm animals and should be in their sights. By reforming these programs, we can reduce the federal deficit by more than half a billion dollars, making government run better and finding a new way forward for wildlife management and 21st century science.

None of these programs on its own will achieve the massive cuts in federal spending needed by the debt committee, but lawmakers are going to need to look across a broad range of smaller programs in order to achieve their total goal. As the late Sen. Everett Dirksen said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Below are some ways Congress can immediately reduce federal spending while protecting animals.

Take action: Contact the committee and your representatives to support these proposals.

Chimpanzees in Research: $300 million

About 1,000 chimpanzees—500 of them federally owned—are currently languishing in laboratories at great expense, and the U.S. is the only developed nation to still use these highly intelligent and social creatures in invasive research. The National Institutes of Health currently spends approximately $35 million per year to conduct invasive research on chimpanzees and maintain these animals in laboratories. Chimpanzees have largely failed as a research model, so at any given time, about 80 to 90 percent of chimps in U.S. labs are not used in research, but simply warehoused in barren and costly laboratory cages at taxpayer expense. Perpetuating this problem, approximately $6 million in federal funding has gone toward breeding lab chimps since 2002, despite a moratorium on the breeding of government-owned and supported chimps put in place partly to reduce the government’s financial burden. An anticipated $1.8 million more is slated to be spent through FY12 for further unnecessary breeding.

Chimpanzee in a laboratory

Every federally-owned chimp born into the system can cost the government $1 million—averaging $20,000 per chimp annually, and a lifespan of up to 60 years. Ending invasive research on chimpanzees, transferring all government-owned chimps to sanctuaries, and discontinuing the federal support for breeding and for privately-owned chimpanzees in labs would save taxpayers an estimated $30 million per year, totaling $300 million over the next ten years. Part of the savings results from the lower cost of care at sanctuaries—keeping a chimp in a lab cage averages $51 per day, compared with $32 per day to live with other chimps in a natural setting at the national sanctuary (some private sanctuaries are even less).

Wild Horses and Burros: $172 million

The Bureau of Land Management is currently holding approximately 46,000 horses and burros in short- and long-term holding pens. In FY10, it cost taxpayers $36.9 million (plus an additional $2.1 million in FY09 “carryover” funding) for BLM to care for these animals. For years, the BLM has removed far more wild horses and burros from the range than it could possibly expect to adopt out, and as a consequence, the taxpayer burden associated with caring for these animals off the range has continued to skyrocket. For instance, between 2001 and 2007, the BLM removed approximately 74,000 wild horses from the range, but could only place 3,000 a year for adoption, with the rest kept in holding facilities at taxpayer expense. The annual cost associated with caring for one wild horse in a long-term holding facility is approximately $500, and the average lifespan of a wild horse in captivity is 30 years.

The BLM could save nearly $172 million over the next 10 years by using immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations on the range instead of rounding up these animals and putting them in government holding facilities. By reducing annual removals from 7,600 (the planned figure for FY12) to 3,000 animals, and increasing fertility control from 2,000 (planned level for FY12) to 4,600 mares, the taxpayer savings over 10 years would be $171,698,050. Immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations in the West is not only more humane, as it would reduce the stress of round-ups and long-term holding in government pens, but it would also help the agency get off the fiscal treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them on the government dole. Conflicts can be managed on public lands and population numbers can be reduced without costly and inhumane removals.

Lethal Predator Control: $110 million

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division provides taxpayer-subsidized wildlife extermination services to private agribusiness, spending millions of dollars every year. In FY10 alone, WS used these subsidies to kill 5 million animals, including 112,781 mammalian carnivores such as wolves, coyotes, bobcats, cougars, badgers, and bears that were killed primarily to protect privately-owned livestock grazing on America’s public lands. The killing methods include shooting from helicopters and airplanes, trapping, poisoning, and denning (poisoning pups in their dens or dragging them out of dens and bludgeoning them to death), and have also claimed many non-target animals such as bald eagles, California condors, and pet dogs and cats. Lethal methods are often ineffective, as they rarely target individual animals actually causing damage, and other predators simply move into the vacant territory, while non-lethal strategies such as the use of guard animals (e.g. llamas and dogs) have been shown to be far more effective and cost-efficient.

Gray wolf- USFWS

Livestock producers and property owners—not U.S. taxpayers—should be financially responsible for protecting their property from damage attributed to wildlife, especially when USDA data show that less than 1 percent of livestock are killed by predators. There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts, providing training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past, exterminating wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill. By reducing the “livestock protection” program of Wildlife Services and ending its use of lethal controls, taxpayers could save at least $110 million over 10 years. This would begin to shift the agency toward a more balanced approach of solving wildlife conflicts, but still retain funding for critical research and necessary lethal control, such as for airport safety.

Animal Testing: Tens of millions of dollars per year

While it’s difficult to quantify an exact dollar figure, savings of tens of millions per year could be realized by curtailing extravagant and unnecessary testing by the National Toxicology Program and by realigning its activities with the National Academies’ vision of “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century.” Since the 1970s, more than $2 billion tax dollars have been spent on long-term animal tests to identify rodent carcinogens. Each 2-species test costs approximately $4 million and takes up to 5 years to design, conduct and analyze—and to date, the NTP has characterized the results of 262 of these individual tests on mice and rats as “inadequate” or impossible to interpret. U.S. and international scientific authorities have long questioned the value of the mouse test and called for it to be abandoned (would have meant past savings of close to $1 billion). NTP discontinuation of the mouse test could cut its future expenditures in this area by half. The NTP has recently awarded $30 million in grants toward further testing of the plasticizer Bisphenol A, despite the enormous body of existing test data for this chemical which should already have led to regulatory action. For the same price as one multi-year NTP carcinogenicity study, it is already possible to screen up to 350 chemicals in 200 different robot-automated cell or gene tests in less than a week.

Our nation’s leading science advisors have called for a wholesale paradigm shift away from classical animal tests toward molecular, cellular, and computational tools. Although these tools cannot yet fully replace conventional test methods, many authorities—including federal agencies—believe they hold the key to cheaper, faster and more human-relevant safety testing for the 21st century.

Please contact the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and urge them to adopt these proposals to save more than half a billion dollars by cutting wasteful programs that harm animals. Also contact your own members of Congress and ask them to weigh in and advocate for these proposals to the committee. It’s time to make government run better and find a new way forward.

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