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August 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Paul Ryan’s Record on Animal Welfare Issues

Since U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., was named Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential running mate a couple weeks ago, his background and policy positions are now subject to an extraordinary degree of scrutiny. While it’s been widely reported that Ryan is an avid bowhunter and a previous co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, not much has been said about his other animal welfare positions.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund has not yet made any recommendation in the presidential race, but will provide more information on the candidates between now and Election Day. Here’s a snapshot of Ryan’s record on animal protection legislation during his seven terms in Congress.

Paul_ryan_official_portraitOn the positive side, he has cosponsored bills in several sessions of Congress to strengthen the federal penalties for illegal dogfighting and cockfighting, making it a felony to transport animals across state lines for these gruesome and barbaric fights, and to ban the commerce in “crush videos” showing the intentional torture of puppies, kittens and other live animals for the sexual titillation of viewers.

He has also voted in favor of a number of animal protection measures on the House floor, including legislation to fund conservation programs for imperiled crane populations in the U.S. (including in his home state of Wisconsin) and around the world; to require state and local authorities to consider the needs of people with pets and service animals in disaster planning; to prohibit interstate commerce of tigers, lions and other big cats for the exotic pet trade; to provide funds to improve enforcement of the federal animal fighting law; and to boost conservation funding and protect wildlife habitat.

As a deficit hawk, Ryan has also supported some efforts to cut spending on profligate programs that harm animals. He has voted to cap agriculture subsidies and limit huge taxpayer giveaways to factory farms; to bar tax dollars from being used to allow commercial and recreational trapping with steel-jawed leghold traps on national wildlife refuges; and to cut funding for the USDA’s Wildlife Services program which uses traps, poisons and other inhumane methods of killing predators as a subsidy for private livestock ranchers.

His inclination to cut funds, however, has not been consistent on animal welfare issues. Although he voted to cut millions of dollars in wasteful spending on lethal predator control in 1999 and 2000, Ryan later opposed a similar cost-saving measure in 2011. He also voted to allow the use of federal tax dollars to kill Yellowstone bison; to allow the trophy hunting of bears using piles of bait on federal lands; to process meat from downed livestock too sick or injured to walk on their own; to permit the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada; and to facilitate the slaughter of American horses for human consumption in France and Belgium where horsemeat is considered a delicacy.

Ryan has opposed a number of common-sense animal protection policies over the years. He has voted to weaken the Endangered Species Act by preventing the listing of any new species or designation of critical habitat; to allow the interstate commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade; to allow the carrying of loaded firearms in national parks; to allow the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros; to prevent the collection of greenhouse gas emissions data from factory farms; to allow the use of dolphin-deadly tuna fishing nets; and to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which is home to many wild animals. And he has voted against legislation to protect sea otters, marine turtles, and rare dog and cat species.

In short, Ryan’s record on animal welfare has been mixed. While he has supported some animal protection policies, he has opposed others, and has never exhibited leadership on the issues. His ratings on the annual Humane Scorecard have been 50 percent for the 106th Congress; 20 percent for the 108th Congress; 28 percent for the 109th Congress; 17 percent for the 110th Congress; 13 percent for the 111th Congress; and 13 percent for the first session of the 112th Congress. Those numbers are moving in the wrong direction, and that’s been a growing concern of ours.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lawmakers and Vets: Zero Tolerance for Horse Soring

The 74th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration began this week in Shelbyville, Tenn., and the jury is still out on whether the industry will make good on its promises to improve treatment of show horses in the wake of shocking undercover investigations revealing cruelty by one of the biggest names in the world of training and show. The act of “soring” horses—applying chemicals and other painful substances to their hooves and legs to force an artificially high-stepping gait—has been illegal under the federal Horse Protection Act since 1970, but it’s so rampant in the industry that the vast majority of horses tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for prohibited foreign substances at previous horse shows had been treated with numbing or masking agents.

Tn-walking-horse-investWhen federal laws are broken, whether it’s horse soring, animal fighting, or other criminal abuses, we need agency inspectors and law enforcement officials to do everything they can to root out the perpetrators and prevent further violations. Surprisingly, some members of Congress aligned with the walking horse industry appear to be leaning on USDA and discouraging inspectors from doing everything they can to stop soring. As Roy Exum reported in The Chattanoogan, U.S. Rep. Scott DeJarlais, R-Tenn., wrote a letter stating he is “concerned” about USDA’s enforcement actions, and believes “they are unacceptable and create great uncertainty for the industry.” (As Exum noted, DesJarlais also opposed strengthening the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting.)

Thankfully, other members of Congress from the region are strongly supporting USDA’s work to enforce the law and prevent illegal cruelty to horses. U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., sent a letter this week to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, to express their “support for USDA’s efforts to detect, eliminate, and punish the cruel soring of Tennessee Walking Horses.” The lawmakers thanked USDA “for finalizing a rule requiring Horse Industry Organizations to issue mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act” and applauded the agency “for taking this step to strengthen enforcement of the HPA and end this inhumane practice.”

Reps. Whitfield and Cohen further noted, “With this year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration commencing this week, we urge USDA to establish and maintain a strong enforcement presence at that show. We recognize the tension underlying this year’s Celebration, given resistance to the new rule and recent criminal prosecutions under the HPA. We commend USDA and its inspectors for executing their inspection duties with diligence and integrity.”

The letter from the lawmakers included a press release issued by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners also calling for strong enforcement at the Celebration. These key veterinary groups cited the widespread violations of the Horse Protection Act, noting that “SHOW, a horse industry organization (HIO) that will be inspecting horses during this year's Celebration, is one of three HIOs for which the USDA is pursuing decertification, citing failure to comply with USDA mandatory penalties. Despite SHOW's claim of a 98.5 percent compliance rate with the HPA at events they inspect, USDA swab tests on 52 horses at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration resulted in 52 positive findings for foreign substances.” They urged veterinarians to take steps to report violations and said there “must be zero tolerance for this abuse.”

We are grateful to USDA for its work to enforce the Horse Protection Act and end criminal soring abuses, and to Reps. Whitfield and Cohen and the veterinary community for standing on the side of law enforcement and horse protection.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Failing Fido, from Maryland to Miami

Tuesday was a disappointing day for dogs on the east coast, as Maryland lawmakers and Miami-Dade County voters in Florida both missed an opportunity to correct policies discriminating against pit bull-type dogs and their families.

The Maryland General Assembly held a special session this week to consider casino gambling legislation, and also attempted to address the recent Court of Appeals decision that declares all pit bull-type dogs as “inherently dangerous.” The widely-criticized court ruling may have far-reaching and unintended consequences, as Maryland families are forced to face a painful and life-changing decision—move out of their homes or give up their beloved dogs. As a result of the decision, animal shelters braced for an influx of pit bull-type dogs, landlords sent warning notices to renters with dogs, condo associations considered changing their policies, and local governments scrambled to protect themselves from liability at city dog parks and other public spaces.

Pit_bull_sad_face_270x224The state Senate and House of Delegates passed different bills to turn the chaotic situation around and provide clarity to dog owners, landlords, property managers, and others, but they reached an impasse over their different approaches to the issue and did not pass a final bill before adjourning late Tuesday night. Because the legislature does not convene again until January 2013, impacts are sure to multiply over the next four months, putting thousands of Maryland families and their dogs at risk.

In Miami-Dade County, voters yesterday rejected a ballot measure seeking to repeal the county’s 23-year-old ban on pit bull-type dogs, by a vote of 63 to 37 percent. Florida state law prohibits municipalities from banning specific breeds, but Miami’s policy was grandfathered in. The issue came to light when Marlins pitcher Mark Buehrle and his wife Jamie could not live in Miami with their dog, Slater, and settled in neighboring Broward County instead. Miami-Dade’s county commissioners had the opportunity to repeal the outdated ban in February, but in a feckless act, they punted it to the voters for the primary election ballot instead.

Let’s hope that Maryland and Miami-Dade officials find the political will and fortitude to remedy these problems in the future, and move their communities forward for dog welfare and public safety. The current policies don’t work, because breed alone is not predictive of whether a dog may pose a danger. A dog’s propensity to bite is a product of several factors including early socialization, a dog’s living conditions and the owner’s behavior. For example, chained dogs and non-neutered dogs are much more likely to bite.

And who’s to decide whether a dog is a pit bull and therefore unwelcome with a cursory visual exam? According to a recent study by the Maddie’s Fund Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, which looked at a group of 120 dogs at four animal shelters, 55 of those dogs were identified as “pit bulls” by shelter staff, but only 25 were confirmed as pit bulls by DNA analysis. Additionally, the staff missed identifying 20 percent of the dogs who were pit bulls by DNA analysis, while only 8 percent of the “true” pit bulls were identified by all staff members. (Even DNA testing is not 100 percent reliable, but it underscores why breed-specific policy is unworkable.) The National Canine Research Council has a clearinghouse of resources demonstrating that breed labels assigned to dogs of unknown origin are usually inaccurate.

Many dogs merely resembling the pit bull-type look are swept up and punished by these policies, and they may lead to expensive court battles over whether a dog is or isn’t a pit bull. With as many as 75 percent of shelter dogs being mixed breeds, these are not anti-pit bull policies, but anti-dog policies. We can do better for dogs and public safety.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Sweeping Nature" of King Amendment Threatens States’ Rights

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has been under fire in the past week for his campaign to defeat legislation that would strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to attend or take a child to a dogfight or cockfight. He said dogfighting is not a problem and there is no federal nexus—apparently forgetting about the Iowa high school teacher who was sentenced under federal law in 2010 for his part in a massive interstate dogfighting ring and a series of other major animal fighting incidents that have occurred in the state in recent years.

Rep. Steve King
Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert lampoons Steve King's
stance on animal fighting.
(Click image to view the video clip.)

But it’s another campaign by Steve King that has recently gotten the attention of state officials. He claims to be in favor of states’ rights, but King introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill seeking to wipe out dozens of state and local agriculture-related laws that promote animal welfare and food safety. Apparently he is only for states’ rights when he agrees with what the states are doing; otherwise, he is perfectly fine with federal mandates telling states what they can and cannot do.

In a letter sent to the California congressional delegation, Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food & Agriculture, said the effects of the King amendment “are far broader than the stated purpose,” posing a significant threat to our nation’s food supply and severely undermining states’ rights. Secretary Ross highlighted just some of the potential impacts of the far-reaching King amendment on state policies:

  • It “would invalidate many California phytosanitary requirements that are intended to prevent the entrance of invasive species and diseases that destroy crops and natural resources…For example, just one invasive pest, the Asian citrus psyllid, and the disease it vectors, Huanglongbing, for which there is no cure, has the potential to completely destroy our $1.8 billion citrus industry. In one recent study in Florida, the presence of Huanglongbing increased citrus production costs by 40%. The King Amendment would severely hamper a California’s ability to address these threats, putting the nation’s food supply at risk.”
  • It “would severely hamper California’s food safety requirements and standards. For instance, it would invalidate dairy pasteurization requirements, egg quality and safety standards, bacterial, somatic cell and coliform standards, and pathogen standards placed on the importation of aquatic plants and animals, It would also impact California’s livestock and poultry disease prevention efforts, including Tuberculosis testing requirements, Brucellosis vaccination requirements, and poultry health entry requirements designed to prevent an incident like Exotic Newcastle’s Disease. Additionally, it would threaten our State Veterinarian’s Quarantine authority.”
  • It “also negatively impacts any state’s efforts to protect its lands and natural resources. With its sweeping nature, this amendment creates a risk to California’s aquatic resources due to lack of pathogen surveillance on importation of aquatic plants and animals. Additionally, the amendment may limit California’s ability to restrict importation of animals that we consider detrimental to our environment. Furthermore, this amendment is problematic for our forest products industry and efforts to prevent pests impacting these products. Firewood is a major vector of highly damaging invasive insects and California strongly wishes to retain our ability to require imported firewood to be heat treated to kill pests that have the potential to destroy our natural resources.”
  • Finally, it “has the potential to impact other programs, such as our feed inspection standards, fruit and vegetable quality standards, shellfish safety, organic inputs, and, possibly, labeling requirements. For instance, in the ongoing effort to minimize food safety risks, California adopted stringent aflatoxin standards; aflotoxins are known to be human carcinogens that readily transfer to milk when feed inclusion levels exceed the threshold ability level for the liver to detoxify the metabolites feed safety standards.”

As Secretary Ross said, “We must retain the ability to protect the nation’s food supply against these threats. The King amendment would undermine these efforts.” Members of Congress who care about protecting states’ rights to make decisions that are good for the economy, agriculture industry, consumers, and animal welfare, should make sure the King amendment is eradicated like an infectious pathogen from the Farm Bill.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Creating a Safer World for Cats and Wildlife

There’s a lot of attention to the age-old conflict between cats and birds this week, with the release of a new study of cat predation on native wildlife species. The limited study tracked only a few dozen cats (less than one feline subject for every million pet cats in the U.S.) but found that a majority of kitties in the group did not stalk, chase, or kill any songbirds or other wild animals while they were roaming outdoors.

But no matter how you look at it, as advocates for both cats and wildlife, it’s time to find solutions that are safe for felines and reduce mortality of songbirds and other native creatures. One important strategy is to keep pet cats indoors—it’s better for neighboring wildlife, and the housecats have longer average lifespans since they’re at less risk from cars, dogs, coyotes, disease, and other threats.

feral cat
photo: Mike McFarland/The HSUS

Another critical strategy is to support the method of trap-neuter-return (TNR) to humanely manage community cat colonies. More than 1,550 organizations and tens of thousands of individuals manage cat colonies in the United States and Canada, and they constitute a large and indispensable volunteer labor force to reduce the numbers of cats outdoors. More research and validation work is needed, but it is already clear that by using TNR responsibly and finding homes for kittens and adoptable cats, this strategy can help reduce reproduction while improving the lives of existing ferals. The outdated strategy of trapping and killing feral cats is simply inhumane and ineffective, since it doesn’t address the sources of the problem. And if that were the only alternative, we’d lose overnight the enormous investments in cat management made by TNR practitioners and cat lovers, since they would never participate in a round-up and kill approach.

Fortunately, public officials around the country are bringing community members together on this historically divisive issue, and are finding innovative, effective, and lasting solutions to the conflict. At the municipal level, a number of improvements have been made to cat-related ordinances, allowance for TNR programs and feral cat caretaking, or general policies from cities and towns endorsing TNR. Several municipalities, colleges, and housing associations have recently adopted pro-TNR policies and are working toward effective and humane community cat programs. In Harrington, Del., city officials are working with The Humane Society of the United States, Delaware SPCA, and community volunteers to get a handle on free-roaming cat colonies as well as seeking to educate community residents about proper pet care. City officials are adopting pro-animal policies in Laurel, Md., Santa Ana, Calif., and other communities across the country.

At the statewide level, many cat-related laws are vague or non-existent. There is little consistency, and in many states, domestic cats fall into a legal gray area. A state bill to address non-native wildlife this year in Delaware was successfully modified through the work of cat advocates, to ensure that feral and free-roaming cats would not fall under the definition of non-native wildlife and be subject to lethal control. A bill in Maine this year originally would have eliminated a tax check-off program that directly funds low-cost spay and neuter surgeries, including for TNR of feral cats, but the final bill left the check-off program intact.  

Federal agencies, too, often deal with cat-related issues in a variety of ways. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently worked with The HSUS to relocate feral cats from San Nicolas Island to a permanent sanctuary at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center. Even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not immune, and cat advocates are now asking OSHA to remove feral cats from a definition of vermin for shipbuilding workplaces and harbors.

In Hawaii, as part of a promising collaboration, The HSUS has been working with a variety of state, federal and local agencies to bring together the diverse public and private interests that will be necessary as the complex and controversial policies and programs needed to reduce the presence of cats outdoors become a reality. You can read more about it here.

There is so much at stake, and we need to work even harder to craft and implement solutions that are acceptable for both cat and wildlife advocates, however great the challenge. This December, the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy is organizing, together with the Found Animals Foundation, a conference in Los Angeles, to examine and discuss the science and policy landscape of the issue. The aim of the conference is to reduce polarization around the issue and to increase the chances of finding policy options that both cat and wildlife advocates can support. It’s a great goal.

We have a long way to go to ensure that all cats have a loving home and to bring about an end to cat overpopulation, but signs of progress are all around us. With community involvement, leadership by decision-makers, and sound public policies, we can create a safer world for cats and wildlife alike.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Tuesday's Primary Results Fare Well for Animals

A number of states held primary elections yesterday, including competitive open seats and incumbent-versus-incumbent races, and there were several important outcomes for animal protection advocates. Here is a wrap-up of some of the noteworthy election results:

Gary Peters
Gary Peters won the Democratic primary
for Michigan's 14th Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters was the victor over U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke in the Democratic primary for Michigan’s 14th Congressional District, by a vote of 47 to 35 percent. Peters has been a leading champion for animal protection in Congress since he was elected in 2008, after defeating eight-term Rep. Joe Knollenberg in part due to HSLF’s campaign exposing Knollenberg’s extreme record on animal cruelty. Peters has sponsored legislation to ban the trafficking in obscene animal “crush” videos, to stop wealthy trophy hunters from shooting threatened polar bears in the Arctic and importing their heads or hides, and to save millions of tax dollars by ending subsidies for lethal predator control for ranchers, and worked to end the U.S. Army poisoning of monkeys for chemical warfare training. HSLF mailed to primary voters in support of Peters, and a dedicated group of volunteers canvassed the district for months letting thousands of households know about Peters’ leadership on animal protection.

Also in Michigan, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton won the Republican primary in the 6th Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. John Conyers won the Democratic primary in the 13th Congressional District, both by wide margins. HSLF endorsed both Upton and Conyers, who were facing competitive primary contests, and communicated with voters in the Kalamazoo and Detroit districts. Upton is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over many animal protection policies, and he has co-sponsored bills on crush videos, animal fighting, puppy mills, fur labeling, and others. As the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Conyers has helped to pass legislation on crush videos and animal fighting, and has sponsored legislation to ban horse slaughter for human consumption.

In state legislative races, HSLF supported a campaign to defeat puppy mill industry lobbyist Barbara York, who ran in a competitive Republican primary for an open seat in the Missouri House of Representatives. It would have been a setback for animal protection advocates in Missouri to have a leading opponent of animal welfare elected to serve in the state legislature. York lost her bid to move from lobbyist to lawmaker, and former Bates County Commissioner Randy Pike won the Republican race in the rural 126th District with 61.5 percent of the vote. On the other side of the state in St. Louis County, State Rep. Scott Sifton, backed by HSLF, won his Democratic primary for State Senate in the 1st District by a vote of 55 to 45 percent.

Joe Seng
In June, HSLF helped to defeat
Iowa “ag gag” sponsor Joe Seng.

Tuesday’s election results continued a largely successful primary season for animal advocates. In June, HSLF helped to defeat Iowa State Sen. Joe Seng, who had led the effort to pass the state’s notorious “ag gag” law to punish whistleblowers at factory farms, and he lost in the Democratic primary to U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. HSLF also ran independent expenditure campaigns to help leading supporters of animal protection with their primaries, such as U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District; former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, who had a strong record on animal welfare when she previously served, in Nevada’s new 1st Congressional District; and New York State Assemblywoman Grace Meng, who sponsored the state bill to ban the trade in shark fins, in the open seat for the Queens-based 6th Congressional District.

In other election-related news from yesterday, North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, a coalition working to strengthen the penalties for extreme cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses, submitted 25,318 signatures to the North Dakota Secretary of State—88 percent more than the number needed to qualify the measure for the November 2012 ballot. North Dakota is one of only two states (South Dakota is the other) that does not have felony-level penalties for even the worst acts of cruelty—such as maliciously or intentionally burning, crushing, suffocating, impaling and dismembering companion animals. The North Dakota ballot initiative will be a top priority for animal protection advocates, to bring us one step closer to having strong penalties against animal abuse nationwide.

Friday, August 03, 2012

New Public Health Concerns Emerge as Horse Slaughter Once Again Rears Its Head

Boosters of horse slaughter have been venue shopping—from Missouri to New Mexico—in their bizarre attempt to re-open equine abattoirs on American soil. When horse slaughter plants previously operated in the U.S. they were typically a blight on their communities, causing housing prices in nearby areas to decline and local economies to suffer. So far, no community in the nation wants to be known as the one that is killing Mr. Ed

But if any of these plants do open in the U.S., it’s becoming uncertain whether they will have any remaining markets to sell their product. There is increasing evidence that horsemeat originating in the U.S. poses a public health threat to the small pockets around the globe that fancy it. A recent notification made by the Belgian authorities to the European Commission confirmed the presence of two unauthorized substances, Clenbuterol and Phenylbutazone, in horsemeat that was imported into the European Union from Canada in June.

Horses_in_pen_270x224These unauthorized substances were found in frozen horsemeat that was subsequently distributed to Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. According to a recent audit conducted by the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office—Europe’s equivalent to our U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration—85 percent of the horses slaughtered in Canada originate from the U.S.

Clenbuterol and Phenylbutazone, known as Bute or horse aspirin, are commonly prescribed medications for horses and have been banned by the FDA and USDA for use in animals raised for human consumption. These drugs are administered to thoroughbreds and quarter horses, which are not only the horses used most for racing in this country, but are also the most common breeds sent to slaughter.

The Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue have petitioned both the USDA and the FDA to have horsemeat declared “tainted” and unfit for human consumption. The U.S. has no system in place to track the medications that are given to horses over their lifetimes. Therefore, there is no reliable way to remove horses from the food chain once they have been given prohibited substances. While horse slaughter apologists are rallying for a return to horse slaughter on U.S. soil, the USDA and FDA are rightly being asked to take a hard look at the serious and far reaching food safety concerns associated with slaughtering U.S. horses. 

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, S. 1176 and H.R. 2966, would prevent the senseless slaughter of American horses in the U.S. as well as the export of our horses to slaughter plants across our borders. This legislation will also keep tainted meat out of the food chain and prevent further food safety issues in both the EU and the U.S.

The Europeans have been well-justified in placing restrictions on American-produced meat products, such as hormone-laced beef, Ractopomine-treated pork, and chlorine-washed chickens. It’s time for them to restrict imports of drugged-up horses, where the food safety case is even more obvious. And here, back at home, we know that Americans don’t want their horses butchered, shrink-wrapped, and air freighted to Europe as a high-priced appetizer. It’s a barbaric, unsafe, discredited business. Contact your members of Congress and urge them to support S. 1176 and H.R. 2966, to protect horses and consumer safety.

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