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March 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Don’t Turn the Clock Back on Animal Welfare Enforcement

Congress made important progress last year addressing serious gaps in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement of key animal welfare laws by providing the agency much-needed funding to allow for better inspection programs. The USDA’s own Inspector General had issued damning audits in late 2010 regarding the agency’s woefully lax oversight of puppy mills under the Animal Welfare Act, and its weak efforts to rein in the cruel practice of “soring” show horses (deliberately inflicting severe pain on the horses’ legs and hooves to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes), which is prohibited under the Horse Protection Act. Despite intense budget pressures, Congress responded to these concerns and in November 2011 enacted significant increases in USDA’s budget to improve enforcement of both the AWA and the HPA.

puppy mill dogs rescued
These small dogs were rescued from a Texas
puppy mill. photo: The HSUS

Now Congress is gearing up to consider the Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations bills. Every agency program has some political support in Washington, or it would never have been funded in the first place, and those programs and their supporters are competing for finite dollars. The budget pressures haven’t gone away, but neither have the terrible problems at puppy mills or in the horse soring industry, nor the pressing need for adequate oversight of other facilities covered by the AWA, such as laboratories, roadside zoos, and circuses. It would be a severe setback to lose the critical gains from last year.

There are other areas that Congress can cut, as we proposed last fall to the “Super Committee” considering ways to reduce the deficit—for example, warehousing chimpanzees in costly laboratory cages; rounding up wild horses to keep them in long-term holding pens; using inefficient, unreliable, very costly, and cruel animal testing when much better alternative methods are available; taxpayer-financed poisoning of wildlife; and massive subsidies for wealthy operators of huge factory farms.

Congress can achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts have the funds they need. Whether an animal welfare law will be effective often turns on whether it gets adequately funded. Having legislators seek that funding is crucial, especially when there are strong competing budget pressures as there are now. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and proper enforcement not only helps these creatures but also helps to protect consumers and improve food safety, public health, disaster preparedness, and other social concerns.

Congressmen Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., are circulating letters to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, seeking funds in Fiscal Year 2013 to hold the line on last year’s funding levels for enforcement of key animal welfare laws. They are asking their colleagues to co-sign these letters and lend their support. The funds requested in the letter are modest, but are critically needed to implement and enforce the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter 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 USDA positions.

Your two U.S. Senators and one U.S. representative need to hear from you today. You can find your federal legislators’ names and contact information here.

Please urge your two U.S. Senators to co-sign the Senate animal welfare funding group letter being circulated by Senators Boxer and Vitter, or make their own parallel individual requests, before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s deadline of March 30th. And please urge your one U.S. representative to co-sign the House animal welfare funding group letter being circulated by Representatives Smith and Blumenauer, or include these items among his/her own individual requests, before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s deadline of March 20th. (Note that over 100 Representatives have already joined on the House letter—so if yours is on the current list, you can thank him or her for stepping up). 

This is just the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily building the enforcement budgets for these laws, recognizing that laws on the books won’t do animals much good if they’re not enforced. Over the past fourteen years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the AWA by 195% (a cumulative total of more than $102 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 122 AWA inspectors, compared to about 60 during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

With your help, Congress can sustain these efforts to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. It’s an investment in the animals’ future—and our own.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tiger Mascot Costs Too Much to Tackle

Nearly five months after Terry Thompson sent about 50 tigers, lions, bears, and other dangerous exotic animals to their deaths by setting them free in the community of Zanesville, Ohio, state lawmakers now have a bill in front of them to crack down on the problem of exotic pets. Senate Bill 310, introduced by Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, is a serious-minded response to stop the flow of big cats, primates, bears, wolves, and crocodiles into private hands in Ohio’s neighborhoods, where the animals themselves suffer and pose a threat to public safety. Ohio is one of seven states with no rules governing private ownership of dangerous exotic wild animals.

Obie, the Massillon High School live mascot

The bill does, however, have a few gaps, and it should be toughened up to provide a more comprehensive policy reform to match the scale of Ohio’s problem. First, it provides a blanket exemption for private citizens associated with the so-called Zoological Association of America (ZAA), a front group for exotic animal owners that masquerades as a private accrediting organization (and a group not to be confused with the professional and credible Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA). It would have been easy for someone like Terry Thompson to become accredited by ZAA, and that’s the problem. Second, it specifically allows people to acquire large constricting snakes, such as pythons, anacondas, and boa constrictors, as pets.

Additionally, the bill provides an exemption for school mascots, a provision carved out for the benefit of Massillon High School and its tradition of acquiring a new tiger cub, Obie, each year. It had appeared that allowing for an unending series of Obies was in the cards politically. But The HSUS and the Columbus Zoo expressed concern, and now today, Massillon’s local newspaper, The Independent, said “this is one tradition that the Massillon Tiger football program can and should live without.” The editorial continued:

There are just too many downsides to the live animal mascot, not the least of which is the chance—however remote—that a maturing Obie could somehow escape his keepers and attack someone or something….We can understand the resistance to legislation making it illegal to have a live exotic animal school mascot, especially when the Massillon program predates legal bans on exotic animals. But this law is not an attack on Massillon, our football traditions or individual rights. It’s an attempt to improve public safety born out of recent events at an exotic animal ‘farm’ near Zanesville.

The Independent is right that the Obie football tradition should be retired. And it’s not just for animal welfare and public safety concerns, but also for the fiscal impact and the costs involved to care for Obie’s needs long after his use during the few weeks of football season. Annual food costs alone can cost around $10,000 for a single tiger. With an estimated 20-year lifespan, that’s $200,000 to feed one Obie. Over the 43-year tradition that Obie has been on the sidelines at Massillon home games, that’s $8.6 million in Obie’s food costs alone. Someone has to pick up the tab, like a recurring annual signing bonus, and a mascot exemption for Obie would be an unfunded mandate by the Ohio legislature.

But captive tigers also require spacious, enriched, and secure housing, veterinary attention, and knowledgeable and experienced staff to provide proper care. Reputable sanctuaries typically spend more than $60,000 to construct housing and can spend up to $40,000 per year on care—an $800,000 commitment over the 20-year lifespan of each rescued tiger. After Obie spends a single season in Massillon and then becomes a free agent, he either goes to private animal sanctuaries that must assume these costs over time, or he goes to some horrid roadside zoo, or perhaps he’s sold into a canned hunting operation or to a wildlife parts dealer, so that tiger bones or penis can be sold for thousands of dollars. In just about every case, it’s a bad outcome for the tigers or the people who are enlisted to care for them.

Many Obies have been provided by Stump Hill Farms, a grossly substandard private menagerie with a long list of serious Animal Welfare Act violations, including citations for repeated failure to maintain and provide secure tiger enclosures, unsafe handling of a juvenile lion during public exhibition, declawing a juvenile tiger (a painful procedure that leads to chronic health problems), failure to provide veterinary care, and failure to vaccinate animals or even conduct routine parasite exams. After football season, some Obies have been returned to Stump Hill Farm or sent to Tiger Ridge Exotics, which has a similarly deplorable record of animal care.

It’s time to permanently bench this outdated, inhumane, dangerous, and costly tradition.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Newspapers Press for Hen Protections

HenI wrote last week about the diverse coalition of stakeholders backing federal legislation to improve the treatment of 280 million egg-laying hens—including animal protection, egg industry, veterinary, agricultural, and consumer organizations. Newspapers from around the country have weighed in as well, calling on federal lawmakers to act swiftly, and today I’d like to provide a round-up of some of the newspaper editorials endorsing H.R. 3798. Please take a look, and then take action by asking your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators to pass this bill.

Philadelphia Inquirer: “The congressional legislation that has resulted from this unusual alliance shows a good balance between real-world egg-production practices and the idealistic goal of free-range chicken farming…. Congress, though, has a clear mandate to act from the farmers who know best how they want their eggs done.

San Diego Union-Tribune: “This bill, H.R. 3798, deserves swift enactment. And the process by which it even got this far ought to be a model for politically warring factions everywhere.”

The New York Times: “It’s well past time to create a national standard that promotes more humane conditions everywhere. Yet the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association oppose the bill. They seem to fear that common sense and a humane regard for the well-being of farm animals will spread to their own industries.”

Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal and Green Bay (Wisc.) Press Gazette: “The legislation exemplifies how traditional adversaries can put aside their distrust and work together for each side’s mutual benefit. As lead sponsor, Schrader deserves credit for his role on H.R. 3798. Congress should pass it. Soon.”

Los Angeles Times: “A federal law is the only way to mandate uniform standards, and this smart and focused measure is supported by the United Egg Producers, which represents 88% of the nation's egg farmers. As legislation goes, it's a good egg.”

The Oregonian: “It's no sure thing that Congress will approve the national standard; pig producers opposed to any national farm standards already are raising objections. But the agreement on laying hens is a fair compromise.”

Albany (Ore.) Democrat Herald: “We know that animals feel discomfort and pain. We know that bad conditions can cause them great distress. Because the animals are in our power and helpless, we must avoid cruelty at all costs. Congress should pass the bill.”

Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News: “This is an important measure, especially in Pennsylvania, which is the third-largest egg producer in the country….This is not just about providing better conditions for chickens, although that is important. The changes also give consumers better information about the eggs they buy. Wording will specify how the animals that laid their eggs are kept—from caged hens to those that are free to roam.”

Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star: “Allowing hens a little room to spread their wings and places to perch, nest, and scratch seems pretty reasonable….The accord between the HSUS and the egg producers is something to crow about.”

Clarksville (Tenn.) Leaf Chronicle: “Federal regulation of eggs and other agricultural products is not new. Most people in the egg industry want this updated legislation because it sets a uniform playing field for everyone instead of having states develop their own standards. Furthermore, evidence suggests that hens' egg production increases at farms that have installed the new cages.”

Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat: “There also are significant political obstacles, starting with cattlemen and other livestock interests who oppose the bill. But the same organizations successfully challenged a California law governing slaughterhouses, arguing in court that federal standards should prevail. Fair enough, let the same approach extend to egg farms.”

Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune: “Compromise offered the best possible outcome. Federal rules would benefit all 280 million hens rather than just 6 million Washington cluckers. The egg industry would get a nationwide standard to live by rather than a hodgepodge of state laws, and voters won’t have to make the call about how best to balance animal welfare and commerce. Would that more groups were able to settle their differences in such a way, without forcing the electorate into all-or-nothing scenarios that rarely come without major complications.”

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Recognizing Humane Legislators on Capitol Hill

Sen. Vitter
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., who received
a Legislative Leader Award, and his dog, Cali
photo: Bill Petros Photography

Yesterday evening HSLF and HSUS hosted our annual congressional Humane Awards, where we honored a bipartisan group of legislators who led the way for animals during the last year. More than fifty members of Congress plus their staff attended the event in the U.S. Capitol, and we celebrated the federal lawmakers who are leading the way to make the world a better place for animals. We even hosted a few congressional dogs who joined the celebration, including Koda from the office of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., Sebastian from the office of Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., Cali from the office of Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., and Crimefighter from the office of Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C.

The top awards went to U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., who were honored as the 2011 Humane Legislators of the Year. The Humane Legislator of the Year award recognizes federal lawmakers who have initiated path-breaking animal protection legislation and demonstrably advanced reform in the policy-making arena.

Sen. Vitter was recognized as 2011 Humane Senator of the Year for his leadership on securing needed funding to strengthen the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement of key animal welfare laws, as well as on bills to require licensing and inspections of puppy mills selling directly to the public via the Internet or other means (the PUPS Act, S. 707) and to prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in nonhuman primates for the pet trade (the Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 1324).

Sen. Vitter
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was awarded 2011 Humane
Senator of the Year. photo: Bill Petros Photography

Sen. Vitter helped get a bipartisan group of 34 senators to join in seeking funding for USDA to improve its oversight of puppy mills, laboratories, circuses and other regulated facilities; rein in the illegal “soring” of show horses (where trainers inflict severe pain on the animals’ legs and hooves to make it hurt them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes); strengthen enforcement of the humane slaughter law; prevent illegal animal fighting; ease a shortage of veterinarians in rural areas and USDA positions through student loan repayment; and help address the needs of animals in disasters. Sen. Vitter also has been a champion over the years on legislation to require accurate labeling of fur apparel regardless of dollar value, to crack down on dogfighting and cockfighting, to ban the creation and distribution of obscene animal torture (“crush”) videos, and to strengthen the law against shark finning (cutting the fins off and throwing the rest of the living animals back in the water).

Rep. Farr
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., was awarded 2011 Humane Representative
of the Year. photo: Bill Petros Photography

Rep. Farr was recognized as 2011 Humane Representative of the Year for his leadership, as the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, securing significant increases in funding to strengthen USDA enforcement of key animal welfare laws, as well as on bills to improve treatment of egg-laying hens and promote stability for egg farmers (the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, H.R. 3798) and to require licensing and inspections of puppy mills selling directly to the public via the Internet or other means (the PUPS Act, H.R. 835). Rep. Farr played a pivotal role in approving a USDA request to reprogram $4 million of FY 2011 funding so that the agency could address serious shortfalls in its oversight of puppy mills, identified by USDA’s own Inspector General, as well as obtaining a $5 million increase in USDA’s FY 2012 funding to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, which covers puppy mills, laboratories, circuses and other regulated facilities. Rep. Farr’s long history on this effort—he led the initial push for increased AWA funding back in 1999 and offered key guidance in the ensuing years—has been very successful. In the 1990s, AWA funding was stagnant at about $9 million per year; for FY 2012, Congress provided $27 million. In addition, Rep. Farr provided critical help last year winning enactment of a 40 percent increase in funding for the Horse Protection Act, the law that prohibits soring of show horses (the first time in decades that HPA enforcement, also strongly criticized by USDA’s Inspector General, received more than $500,000). Rep. Farr also earned a perfect score on the 2011 Humane Scorecard, and has championed animal protection dating from his service in the California Legislature.

In addition to the top awards for Sen. Vitter and Rep. Farr:

  • Humane Champion awards went to 28 legislators who took the lead on animal welfare legislation and also received a perfect score on the 2011 Humane Scorecard.
  • Legislative Leader awards went to 64 legislators for their leadership as prime sponsors of pro-animal legislation.
  • Humane Advocate awards went to 33 legislators who received a perfect score on the 2011 Humane Scorecard.

In total, 127 legislators—nearly one-third of the Senate and one-quarter of the House (representing 38 states, three U. S. territories, and the District of Columbia)—received awards for their work in 2011. I was especially pleased to see so many of them promote their humane awards on Twitter. We’re grateful to all of these members of Congress who are helping to forge a path to a more humane future through their demonstrated leadership on animal protection legislation, and we congratulate them as recipients of the 2011 Humane Awards.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Egg Bill Helps Consumers

It’s a rare thing in Washington when two enemies lay down their swords and work together to find a way forward. The agreement between The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers to improve the treatment of the nation’s 280 million egg-laying hens is gaining support in Congress, and new co-sponsors are signing onto H.R. 3798 every week. The legislation, strongly supported by HSLF, has been endorsed by a wide range of diverse groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Pathologists, the Consumer Federation of America, state egg and poultry associations, local humane societies, and hundreds of family farmers.

The National Consumers League is one of the organizations backing the bill, and I asked the group’s executive director, Sally Greenberg, to share her thoughts in a guest blog. Here’s what she had to say about the legislation:

As the nation’s pioneer consumer group, the National Consumers League has been working on behalf of consumers since 1899. Indeed, NCL was involved in the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 and the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Additionally, we have worked to ensure that food is labeled honestly and clearly. Because we are so passionate about food safety and labeling, we are pleased to support a bill recently introduced in Congress called The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012. This bill has many provisions that are good news for consumers.
HenThe legislation is the result of a very admirable agreement between The Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers. This landmark agreement between animal protection activists and the egg industry is supported by both Democrats and Republicans and would modernize the egg industry. It would phase in larger, enriched colony cages over the course of fifteen years. These cages, which give each hen nearly twice as much space as current battery cages, would allow hens to engage in natural behaviors, such as nesting.  

These larger cages are good news for two reasons. The first is a food safety issue. When hens are stressed, they have higher rates of diseases like Salmonella and Campylobacter, two common foodborne illnesses. These diseases are then spread to human beings through the eggs the hens produce. Cage-free hens have been shown to have lower rates of disease. This is due to several factors, including lower levels of stress and less crowding. It is likely that larger enriched cages will confer similar benefits, also reducing the rate of foodborne illness. 

The second issue is one of animal welfare. Bigger cages mean a better, less stressful life for the hens. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the welfare of the animals that produce their food and this bill would ensure a better life for laying hens. 

The other very important provision in this bill involves labeling. If the bill is adopted—and given its bipartisan support we fully expect it to be—egg cartons will have to bear a label describing the conditions under which the eggs were laid. This will allow consumers to choose between battery cage, enriched cage, and cage-free eggs. Any measure which empowers consumers by giving them more information to make choices is powerful and important. 

NCL is proud to stand with The Humane Society of the United States in support of this bill and we encourage you to support it as well by asking your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators to sign on as co-sponsors if they haven't already. The passage of this legislation will ensure greater protections for consumers and the hens that produce their food. This bill is truly a win-win.  


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