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May 2013

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saving California’s Bobcats

An axiom of wildlife management is that wild animals are for the benefit of the entire public, not for private commercial profit. But there are some forms of commercialization of wildlife that still exist today, and the market is driving the unsustainable killing of creatures with no limits. Bobcats are under such a threat in California, which currently allows the unlimited trapping of bobcats for commercial purposes.

Christine Jensen/The HSUS
A bobcat recovering at The Fund for Animals
Wildlife Center in Ramona, Calif.

Commercial trapping efforts can be concentrated just outside the borders of national parks and other conservation areas and wildlife corridors. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that property owners found traps on their private lands on the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park. Numerous bobcats that had long been observed, photographed and appreciated by residents and tourists within and along the boundaries of the park abruptly disappeared during the trapping season.

Rising demand for bobcat pelts for use in luxury clothing in China and other foreign markets is now driving the bobcat trapping half a world away—as pelt prices climb, so does the level of killing. The price of bobcat pelts has reportedly increased nearly ten-fold in just a few years, from $78 per pelt in 2009, to as much as $700 per pelt this year. In the 2011-2012 trapping season, the number of trappers reporting bobcat harvest more than doubled over the previous season, while the number of harvested bobcats rose by more than 50 percent. In the region that includes Joshua Tree National Park, bobcat trapping has increased more than 800 percent over the past two years.

State Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has introduced legislation to curb the commercial killing and place reasonable restrictions on bobcat trapping. A.B. 1213 would  address the problem of commercial fur trappers targeting the wildlife near state and national parks; stop commercial trappers from catching and killing bobcats on private property without the consent of the property owner; and direct the Fish & Game Commission to set trapping license fees at the level necessary to recover state government costs associated with bobcat trapping.

The bill has passed two committees and will go to the Assembly floor this week. If you live in California, please contact your Assemblymember today, and urge him or her to support A.B. 1213 and help protect the state’s bobcats from commercial killing for luxury pelts.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Recognizing Humane Legislators on Capitol Hill

Yesterday evening the Humane Society Legislative Fund and The Humane Society of the United States hosted our annual congressional Humane Awards, where we honored a bipartisan group of legislators who led the way for animals during the last year.

Barbara Boxer
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was honored with the
2012 Humane Legislator of the Year Award.

Nearly 50 members of Congress plus staff members from dozens of other offices 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 Sebastian from the office of Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., Cali from the office of Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., Bunker from the office of Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Maya from the office of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

The top awards went to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who were honored as the 2012 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. Boxer was recognized for her leadership in fighting harmful legislation on toxic lead in ammunition and on polar bear trophy imports, as well as securing needed funding to strengthen U.S. Department of Agriculture enforcement of key animal welfare laws, and advancing bills to protect primates and other wildlife species:

  • Leading a successful effort to challenge legislation that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action to address the devastating effects of lead ammunition on wildlife and people – even tying the hands of agency scientists to evaluate the associated risks – when many forms of non-toxic ammunition are readily available and cost nearly the same.
  • Helping to block an unneeded bailout for polar bear trophy hunters that would have encouraged the continued reckless killing of imperiled species in other countries, as hunters figured they could store the trophies in warehouses and simply wait for their allies in Congress to get them a waiver on the imports in contravention of laws such as the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.
  • Working to get a bipartisan group of 35 Senators to join in seeking funding for USDA to improve its oversight of puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, 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.
  • Introducing legislation to prohibit interstate and foreign commerce in primates for the pet trade (the Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 1324), guiding it to unanimous approval in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which she chairs.
  • Playing a pivotal role in winning approval in committee for the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (S. 810) to help chimpanzees who languish in barren but expensive laboratory cages and should be retired to less costly and far more humane sanctuary space. 
  • Ensuring committee approval of a host of other wildlife conservation measures, and fending off a variety of anti-wildlife legislation.

Sen. Brown was honored for his leadership in 2012 on legislation to strengthen the federal animal fighting law, to prevent importation of polar bear trophies and live beluga whales, to establish tougher penalties for violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to provide more humane housing for egg-laying hens, and to end horse slaughter for human consumption:

  • Prime sponsorship of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, S. 1947, to close a loophole in the federal animal fighting law and make it a crime to attend or take a child to a dogfight or cockfight. Spectators finance organized animal fights and make them profitable with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and they provide cover to animal fighters who blend into the crowd during law enforcement raids. 
  • Helping win approval – by a vote of 88-11 – for the animal fighting legislation as an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill, and being instrumental in getting S. 1947 passed by voice vote as a stand-alone bill.
  • Co-leading efforts to remove a polar bear trophy import provision from the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 (S. 3525), which would have allowed 41 wealthy trophy hunters to import their sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, despite polar bears being listed as a threatened species. 
  • Following the illegal killing of grey seals on Cape Cod beaches, authoring the Marine Mammal Protection Amendment Act, S. 1402, to increase fines from $20,000 to $50,000 for knowingly killing or importing marine mammals.
  • Sending a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service opposing the importation of 18 wild-caught Beluga whales – who were to be transported across thousands of miles at great risk – so that they could be exhibited at aquarium facilities. 
  • Original cosponsorship of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, S. 3239, to phase-out barren battery cages in the egg industry and improve the treatment of hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens, as well as the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, S.1176, to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
  • Cosponsoring the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, S. 707, to crack down on abusive large-scale puppy mills selling directly to the public via the Internet or other means, by requiring them to be licensed and inspected under the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates other commercial breeders, and sending a letter to USDA urging the agency to expedite its proposed rule to regulate large-scale commercial dog breeders selling puppies over the Internet.

In addition to the top awards for Senators Boxer and Brown:

  • Humane Champion awards went to 28 legislators who took the lead on animal welfare legislation or a letter to an agency and also received a perfect score on the 2012 Humane Scorecard.
  • Legislative Leader awards went to 87 legislators for their leadership as prime sponsors of pro-animal legislation or a letter to an agency.
  • Humane Advocate awards went to 29 legislators who received a perfect score on the 2012 Humane Scorecard.

In total, 146 legislators – one-third of the Senate and more than one-quarter of the House (representing 38 states, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia) – received awards for their work in 2012. 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 2012 Humane Awards.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Companion Ticket

You can take your dog or cat on an airplane, and stay with your pet in many hotels. But why can’t a companion animal travel with your family on a passenger train?

That’s the question being asked by U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who this week introduced H.R. 2066, the Pets on Trains Act of 2013. The bipartisan legislation would require Amtrak, the national rail operator, to implement a pet policy to allow passengers to travel with domesticated cats and dogs on certain trains.

Dog“My dog, Lily, is part of our family and travels with us to and from California all the time. If I can take her a on a plane, why can’t I travel with her on Amtrak, too?” said Congressman Denham. “Allowing families to bring their animals with them will facilitate transportation and efficiency while also providing a much-needed source of revenue for Amtrak.”

Under the legislation, Amtrak would be required to develop a policy for people to travel with their pets, and to designate, where feasible, at least one car of each passenger train in which a ticketed passenger may transport a dog or cat. There would be reasonable requirements for pet owners who want to take advantage of this policy, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier, traveling less than 750 miles, and paying a fee that covers the cost of administering the policy.

“Those of us lucky enough to have pets are greatly blessed with their companionship,” said Congressman Cohen. “When travelling on Amtrak, families should be able to bring their pets along. Our bill would establish a pet policy on Amtrak trains so pets—which are a part of the family—won’t be left at home to fend for themselves.”

Rep. Denham is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, and Rep. Cohen is a member of that subcommittee, which oversees Amtrak’s operations. We hope Congress will take up and pass this common-sense legislation, which won’t cost the federal government or Amtrak any additional funds, but will help millions of American pet owners and strengthen the human-animal bond.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Good and the Bad in the Farm Bill

The House Agriculture Committee, late last night, approved its version of the Farm Bill, and with it included an important provision to close a loophole in the federal animal fighting statute and help crack down on people who attend and bring children to dogfights and cockfights. The animal fighting amendment, offered by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., passed the committee by a bipartisan vote of 28 to 17. It’s based on H.R. 366, sponsored by Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., McGovern, John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jim Moran, D-Va.

The opponents of the provision, led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., argued that animal fighting laws should be handled by the states, and that the penalties were too severe, potentially breaking families apart when the parents go to prison just for bringing their child to a dogfight. Rep. McGovern and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who is one of only two veterinarians in Congress, forcefully made the argument that the federal government has an important role to play because a large share of these fights attract participants from multiple states who finance the operations and allow them to thrive, and that if parents are bringing their children to animal fights it may not be a suitable environment to raise a child.

DogfightingThe amendment passed, with 10 Republicans and 18 Democrats supporting this anti-crime and anti-cruelty legislation. We are grateful to all the members of the committee who voted in favor of the animal fighting amendment, and you can see their names below. This vote came just a day after the Senate Agriculture Committee marked up its version of the Farm Bill, which also includes the animal fighting spectator provision, thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss, and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.  It’s based on S. 666, sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and David Vitter, R-La. With the animal fighting provision in both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill passed by both committees, there is a good chance it will be enacted into law, and we will be working hard to make sure that happens.

Ironically, while the opponents of the animal fighting provision argued that the federal government should leave these matters up to the states, they had just minutes earlier passed a separate amendment that would substitute the judgment of the federal government for the judgment of state legislators, voters, and regulators across the country. The committee approved, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that seeks to nullify hundreds of state laws on agriculture products, including animal welfare, food safety, labor, and environmental standards. A number of lawmakers spoke passionately and fought hard against this federal power grab and trampling on the historic power of the states—including Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Jim Costa, D-Calif., John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Schrader—and cautioned the committee that this provision is so overbroad and far-reaching there’s no telling how many state and local laws could be impacted.

The states have a major role in agriculture policy, just as the feds do. They are partners, and Congress should not treat them as underlings. If there are rules or laws that regulate agriculture, those standards were duly considered by regulators, lawmakers or voters. What an insult to negate their work and to substitute the judgment of Washington for theirs, from thousands of miles away. It’s clear that some lawmakers will trot out arguments about states’ rights when it’s convenient, such as when they want to oppose a tough anti-dogfighting law, but will trample all over states’ rights when they don’t like what state legislators or voters are doing. We’ll be working to address this federal takeover as the Farm Bill progresses.

Voting YES to crack down on animal fighting spectators:

Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.
Chris Collins, R-N.Y.
Jim Costa, D-Calif.
Joe Courtney, D-Conn.
Rodney Davis, R-Ill.
Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.
Jeff Denham, R-Calif.
Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio
Pete Gallego, D-Tex.
John Garamendi, D-Calif.
Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.
Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.
Richard Hudson, R-N.C.
Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H.
Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.
Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
Rick Nolan, D-Minn.
Martha Roby, R-Ala.
Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.
Austin Scott, R-Ga.
David Scott, D-Ga.
Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.
Scott Tipton, R-Colo.
Juan Vargas, D-Calif.
Filemon Vela, D-Tex.
Ted Yoho, R-Fla.
Tim Walz, D-Minn.

Voting NO on the animal fighting amendment:

Dan Benishek, R-Mich.
Mike Conaway, R-Tex.
Rick Crawford, R-Ark.
Scott DesJarlais, R-Ga.
Bill Enyart, D-Ill.
Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.
Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio
Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.
Steve King, R-Iowa
Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.
Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
Randy Neugebauer, R-Tex.
Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
Colin Peterson, D-Minn.
Reid Ribble, R-Wisc.
Mike Rogers, R-Ala.

Abstaining on animal fighting vote:

Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Radical Federal Attack on States’ Rights

The House Agriculture Committee will take up the Farm Bill tomorrow morning, and will consider an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that seeks to negate most state and local laws regarding the production or manufacture of agriculture products. It’s a radical federal overreach that would undermine the longstanding Constitutional rights of states to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens and local businesses.

Battery_cage_hen_featherless_270x224The amendment takes aim at state laws such as California’s Proposition 2, approved overwhelmingly by voters across the state in 2008—to ban extreme confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves in small crates and cages—and a law passed subsequently by a landslide margin in the state legislature, with the support of the egg industry, to require any shell eggs sold in California to comply with the requirements of Prop 2. In addition, the King amendment seeks to nullify state laws in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington (and a bill that could be signed into law soon in New Jersey) dealing with intensive confinement of farm animals. It could also undo laws on horse slaughter and the sale of horsemeat in California, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas, bans on the sale of foie gras produced by force-feeding ducks and geese, bans on possession and commerce of shark fins in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, a series of farm animal welfare regulations passed by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, and potentially even bans on the sale of dog and cat meat.

Legal safeguards and standards that protect by far the majority of Americans, maybe all Americans depending on ultimate interpretations, as well as protections for untold millions of farm animals, would be upended by this power grab. All of these laws were duly passed by legislators, voters, or regulators. It’s not the proper role of Congress to eviscerate what the states are doing, especially when so many lawmakers say they are for states’ rights. The states have a role in agriculture policy, too.

In fact, Rep. King’s proposal violates the Tenth Amendment’s guarantee that the states’ sovereign rights cannot be abridged by Congress, and tries to eliminate states’ police powers within their borders, destroying the fundamental principles of federalism that have guided our nation since its founding. It would force states to allow commerce in products they have banned. As the Supreme Court has made clear, the Commerce Clause allows Congress to regulate commerce; it doesn't give Congress the authority to mandate its creation, nor to require anyone to participate in commerce they find objectionable.

The King amendment is most directly an attack on the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, H.R. 1731 and S. 820, which would ratify an agreement between the egg industry and animal welfare groups. Historically, when Congress preempts state laws it is in order to replace them with a uniform national standard, and that is the idea behind the egg bill. If there is a problem with interstate commerce caused by conflicting state laws, such as on the housing of egg-laying hens, it should be solved with a uniform national standard that provides regulatory certainty and is supported by the key stakeholders—the egg industry, veterinary groups, animal welfare groups, and consumer groups—as is H.R. 1731/S. 820. Rather than having a reasonable national standard, King wants no standards at all, state or federal.

While the King amendment ostensibly seeks to target animal welfare, it is so broad and vague that it could be interpreted to nullify an entire swath of state laws dealing with food safety, labeling, labor, and environmental protection. It could trigger expensive court cases about any state law related to agricultural products. Here are just some examples of state laws under the King amendment’s ax:

  • Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Washington laws requiring labeling of farm-raised fish
  • Vermont’s ban on BPA in baby food jars and infant food containers
  • Maryland’s ban on arsenic in poultry feed
  • California’s Proposition 65 requiring the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm, and businesses to notify citizens about significant amounts of chemicals in products, homes, workplaces, or released into the environment
  • state pollution standards, such as bans on spraying sewage on crops directly before they are fed to people, and laws such as Minnesota’s requiring farmers to hire a licensed sludge applicator and restricting when and how sludge can be applied to cropland or pasture
  • bans on use of dangerous pesticides on crops, such as California’s ban on methyl iodide use for strawberries
  • Iowa’s labeling requirements and germination standards for seeds
  • Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin laws restricting firewood transported into the state in order to protect against invasive pests and damage to local forests
  • Iowa’s prohibition on sale of raw milk
  • Iowa’s ban on use of any fat or oil other than milk fat in milk, cream, ice cream, and certain other dairy products
  • Iowa’s requirement for labeling of artificial sweeteners in products
  • South Dakota’s label requirements for distiller’s grains sold as livestock feed to specify sulfur percentage
  • various laws concerning agricultural employment, including child labor laws, standards for inspections and certification programs, laws governing use of dangerous farm machinery (such as Washington’s mandate for certain guards on farm field equipment including tractors), and health and safety standards for agricultural employees (such as Washington’s code regulating issues including field sanitation, pesticides, respiratory hazards, and hearing loss prevention)
Now is the time for every citizen concerned about animal welfare, food safety, labeling, environmental requirements, labor standards, and other issues to take action. Call your U.S. Representative at (202) 224-3121, especially if he or she serves on the House Agriculture Committee, and tell them to reject the King amendment and its radical assault on duly-enacted state laws covering a broad spectrum of concerns.

Friday, May 10, 2013

With Farm Bill Looming, Make a Call to Help Hens

As the House and Senate agriculture committees are both scheduled to take up the Farm Bill next week, there is much at stake for animal welfare. The Senate draft of the bill includes a provision to crack down on people who attend and bring children to dogfights and cockfights, based on the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. Federal law enforcement must have the needed tools—as state law enforcement already has in 49 states—to take action against those who are fueling the industry with their blood money, and to make sure that they and the perpetrators who blend into the crowd when the feds arrive don’t get off scot-free. We are grateful to Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., for including the animal fighting legislation in their draft, and we hope the Senate and House both approve it in the final Farm Bill.

HensAs David Rogers reported in Politico, however, the Senate bill does not include legislation based on an agreement between the egg industry and animal welfare groups to improve the treatment of laying hens. The Washington lobbyists for the beef and pork industries have been attacking the legislation, even though the egg bill focuses on that commodity only. They just don’t like any animal welfare policies at the state or federal levels, and they fear any “precedent” regardless of how reasonable the standards are. Never mind that federal law already includes standards on transport and slaughter of livestock, that these same industries are all too happy to take federal tax dollars in the form of subsidies and to have federal laws covering various other aspects of animal agriculture policy, and that the only industry that is actually impacted by this egg legislation is strongly in favor of it.

The bill amends the Egg Products Inspection Act—which has never dealt with beef or pork—and would provide each laying hen with nearly double the current amount of space, along with environmental enrichments such as nests, perches, and scratching pads so they can engage in more natural behaviors. It would also ban inhumane practices such as forced starvation molting, and create an egg carton labeling program so consumers have more clear and reliable information in the marketplace about how hens were raised. When adversaries come together and provide a solution that is good for animals, good for consumers, and good for egg producers, it should be a no-brainer for Congress, and shouldn’t be scuttled due to the petulant caterwauling of unaffected parties on the sidelines.

We are working hard to find a pathway to get this legislation passed. Now is the time to take action and tell your two U.S. senators and U.S. representative to support the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, S. 820 and H.R. 1731. Please call them today at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support this common-sense legislation to help consumers, farmers, and hundreds of millions of animals.

Meanwhile, the House committee is likely to consider an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that is a direct attack not only on the egg industry legislation but also on all animal welfare laws. The King amendment seeks to nullify state laws on animal issues, but doesn’t replace them with any uniform federal standard as a reasonable alternative, as the egg legislation would do. It’s a massive overreach, and could have an impact not only on state laws dealing with factory farming, but also shark finning, horse slaughter, puppy mills, and any subject related to food safety, labor, and environmental standards for agricultural products. The people who are saying the federal government has no business being involved in animal welfare apparently don’t think the states or their voters should have any say either—it’s an attack on states’ rights and should be vigorously opposed, especially when there is such a rational alternative put forward by the industry that’s impacted.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Horse Slaughter Not a Risk Worth Taking

I’ve pointed out many times on this blog that the horse slaughter industry in the U.S. is cruel and predatory, gathering and killing horses in particularly gruesome ways. It’s a sad fate for so many American horses—iconic companion animals not raised for human consumption but often ending up on foreign dinner plates. The entire horse slaughter pipeline, from auction to transport to the cruel slaughter process, is terrifying and inherently inhumane for horses. Slaughter-bound horses are crammed tightly into trailers, hauled long distances without food, water or rest, and are subjected to injury and even death due to inadequate conditions before many of them can even make it to slaughter.

HorseUnfortunately, the recent news of the grisly deaths of 30 horses bound for slaughter on Interstate 81 in Lisle, New York, isn’t surprising and underscores our grave concerns with this terrible industry. The horses, apparently purchased by kill-buyer Bruce Rotz at an auction in Pennsylvania, were on their way to a Canadian slaughter plant when they were burned alive in a trailer on the side of an interstate. This accident and others involving horses being transported to slaughter not only take a toll on animals but also put an unnecessary strain on law enforcement and emergency response teams that are already strapped for resources—not to mention putting public health and safety at risk.

Virtually all horses who end up in the slaughter pipeline begin their lives as American pets or sport horses who are taught from an early age to trust human beings. Over the course of their lives, a variety of legal and illegal drugs are constantly administered to these animals. Americans do not eat horses and do not raise them for food, unlike other animals raised for slaughter who are maintained within a regulated industry. Many of the substances given or applied to horses carry the explicit warning that they are not to be used in food producing animals, yet the horse slaughter industry continues to peddle the toxic product to consumers. The recent horsemeat scandal in the European Union is a preview of what could happen in this country should the USDA approve any of the applications currently in the pipeline that would give the green light to horse slaughter plants returning to American soil, operating near cattle slaughter plants and leading to concerns over comingling.

A national poll conducted in 2012 revealed that 80 percent of Americans favor a ban on horse slaughter for human consumption and recognize that we have a responsibility to protect these sensitive creatures who have assisted mankind in so many ways for centuries. The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, (S. 541/H.R. 1094) will prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the U.S. and end their export for slaughter abroad. This bill will protect our nation’s horses from the violent and predatory horse slaughter industry by guaranteeing that our horses are not butchered on domestic or foreign soil.

Tomorrow, Congressman Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., will join representatives from animal welfare organizations at the headquarters of the Philadelphia Police Department's Mounted Unit to call on Congress to pass this critical legislation. Meehan is part of a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from both the U.S. House and Senate who last month introduced the SAFE Act. The Philadelphia Police Department's Mounted Unit has partnered with Last Chance Ranch to rescue horses from potential slaughter. Horses threatened by slaughter are adopted by the Mounted Unit and receive training and veterinary care during their service with the police department.

Long-distance transport of horses to slaughter—whether in the U.S. or over our borders—is not a risk worth taking, given that it’s a fundamentally disreputable industry. In memory of the slaughter-bound horses who burned to death, as well as the thousands of other horses sent to slaughter every day, please contact your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to support the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act. Then, take action by sending an email to your legislators to reiterate your support for this bill.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Podcast: Bipartisan Support to Crack Down on Animal Fighting

Animal fightingI was a guest this week on SiriusXM’s POTUS channel, to discuss the need for the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. With all the divisive and partisan issues in Congress, here’s an example of Republicans and Democrats coming together to support a bill that would crack down on criminal dogfighting and cockfighting and make our communities safer. You can listen to the interview here, and then take action by contacting your own lawmakers in support of the animal fighting bill.

Michael Markarian - Animals & Politics Podcast

Thursday, May 02, 2013

All Eyes on the Kentucky Derby, and Needed Reform

In what other professional sport is it acceptable for 24 athletes to die each week? With millions of Americans watching the Kentucky Derby this weekend, it’s an important time to take stock of the horseracing industry and the critical reforms that are needed to protect the welfare of its equine competitors—because the toll in animal deaths and injuries year after year is far too great and so many of them are preventable.
As Joe Drape reported in The New York Times, when lawmakers return to Washington after Derby weekend, a bipartisan group will introduce legislation to address the patchwork of state laws that govern horseracing and the ongoing failure of the industry to self-police. A previous New York Times study examined 150,000 horse races from 2009 to 2011 and found that minimal oversight, doped horses, and inconsistent regulations are putting both horses and jockeys in jeopardy.
HorseU.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Joe Pitts, R-Pa., plan to introduce the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which addresses many of the most serious issues faced by the horse racing industry. In an effort to give their horses an edge, trainers abuse illegal drugs such as cobra venom and South American tree frog juice, which are far more powerful than morphine. But legal therapeutic drugs are also problematic because they can allow a horse to push through pain, intensifying an injury which can lead to breakdowns, career ending injuries, and death.
If passed, the legislation would designate the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as the independent anti-doping organization for interstate horseraces. USADA, a non-profit, non-governmental agency, is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports; it would create rules regarding the use in racing of permitted and prohibited substances and develop anti-doping education, research, testing, and adjudication programs. Any racetrack that wanted to offer “simulcast” wagering, where most of the industry’s money is made, would first need to have an agreement with USADA. That agreement would include covering the costs of the anti-doping measures. This bill would cost taxpayers nothing.
Currently each state’s racing commission sets its own rules, allowing trainers to escape oversight by simply moving to another state. With no national governing body for the sport—like an NHL, NFL, or NBA—there is no consistency across the country. The new legislation includes stiff penalties for cheating, a “one and done” lifetime ban for the most severe types of doping, a “three strikes, you’re out” for other serious medication violations, and suspensions for rules violations that apply nationwide. The bill will also prohibit race day medication of horses, with a ban on the use of furosemide (“Lasix”) to be phased in over two years.
The racing industry’s half-hearted attempts at reform have failed to protect race horses from being treated as disposable, rather than highly skilled athletes and companions, despite a number of high-profile incidents and scathing exposés. Just as Congress and the nation have taken seriously the problems of doping in baseball, bicycling, and other sports, it’s time to get serious about doping in horseracing. Please contact your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to support and cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.

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