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June 2013

Friday, June 28, 2013

Obama Moves to Resume U.S. Horse Slaughter

The Obama Administration today sharply disappointed HSLF and other animal advocates by announcing its plans to allow operations for the first horse slaughter plants to open in the U.S. since 2007. The U.S. Department of Agriculture today granted permission for a horse slaughter plant to open in New Mexico, and says it plans to grant similar requests to plants in Iowa and Missouri as well.

The decision flies in the face of the White House’s rhetoric opposing the slaughter of American horses. The President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2014 called on Congress to restore the prohibition on spending federal tax dollars to inspect horse slaughter plants, which would prevent horse meat from being processed, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently called for “a third way” to deal with unwanted horses besides killing them and exporting their meat for human consumption. The House and Senate appropriations committees both have approved provisions to block horse slaughter inspections, but rather than wait for Congress to complete its work and for the agriculture spending bill to become law, the White House has almost inexplicably granted plants the right to open just before Congress is going to shut them down.  Here’s another example of the lack of common sense that characterizes national politics at work.

Horse slaughterActions speak louder than words. The Administration had plenty of reasons, and defensible legal options, to deny or at least defer the return of domestic horse slaughter. Indeed, HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue presented two detailed legal petitions to USDA and FDA documenting serious food safety issues with the slaughter of horses, which are routinely given numerous substances throughout their lifetimes prohibited for use in food animals. USDA denied the petition today, without seriously addressing the superabundant evidence that horse meat is tainted with a wide variety of substances prohibited for human consumption. Nor has USDA apparently undertaken the legally required environmental review of the impacts of horse slaughter, including the problems of disposing of large amounts of blood, organs, and remains of horses whose tissues likely contain significant amounts of dangerous substances.  As was the case in both Texas and Illinois before horse slaughter was halted in 2007, the process will inevitably result in toxic runoff, contaminating local streams, rivers, and groundwater, and negatively impacting the lives of humans and animals who live near slaughter plants.

The horse slaughter apologists say the only way to help horses is to butcher them, but it’s an Orwellian framing of the issue. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses—but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and inhumanely kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

When horse slaughter plants previously operated in the U.S., according to the USDA, 92.3 percent of the horses arrived healthy and in good condition. These are not the sick and lame and unwanted—they are horses that could have been rehomed and lived out a productive life. That is, if the “killer buyers” who gather horses from random sources and act as bunchers for the slaughter plants stop outbidding loving families and horse rescue groups at auctions, driving up the prices of healthy horses because they have the most meat and the most profit on their bones.

Horses are American icons and companions, and don’t deserve this grisly end. Americans don’t eat horses, and they don’t want them inhumanely killed, shrink-wrapped, and sent overseas for frozen lasagna or stallion-burgers. We should reject the horse slaughter industry, just as we would reject a slaughter industry for dogs or cats gathered up under false pretenses and killed for export.

With the Obama Administration allowing horse slaughter to proceed, despite its purported opposition to horse slaughter, it’s more urgent than ever that Congress step up and pull in the reins on this cruelty. Tell your members of Congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, S. 541 and H.R. 1094, to stop the slaughter and export of horses for human consumption. Animal protection groups will be taking this matter to federal court immediately, to put a stop to this inhumane, wasteful, and illegal decision. We’ll also be working with state authorities to do all we can to block these plants from opening. The Obama Administration’s announcements are certainly not the last word on the subject.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Good News in Congress on King Amendment, Horse Slaughter

The House of Representatives today shot down the $940-billion Farm Bill, by a vote of 195 to 234. It was great news for animal advocates, who vigorously opposed the bill after the House Republican leadership refused to allow floor debate of any animal welfare amendments during Farm Bill consideration—bipartisan amendments aimed at stopping the slaughter of horses for human consumption, upgrading the 1970 Horse Protection Act to crack down on the criminal enterprise of horse soring, and codifying an agreement between the egg industry and animal welfare groups to improve the treatment of laying hens and provide more economic security for egg farmers.

All three of these amendments had broad, bipartisan support, but were not allowed to have the opportunity for full and fair debate. Denying a vote on these amendments contradicted leadership’s pledge to have an open and vigorous discussion of issues of concern to the American public, and flies in the face of all their rhetoric about “an open and fair process” and “letting the House conduct its will.” It was an abuse of the process and a lack of transparency.

HorseWhat’s worse, the Farm Bill included the dangerous, overreaching “King amendment”—language adopted in committee at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—seeking to wipe out state rules and laws to safeguard public health, food safety, animal welfare, and environmental standards. It could overturn hundreds of state laws on puppy mill standards, horse slaughter bans, the treatment of farm animals, and so many other issues. If any single state decides to allow the sale of horse meat or dog meat, should every state be forced to accept that product? It’s the lowest common denominator approach to policymaking, and puts all states at the mercy of one or a handful of states.

The King amendment was approved late at night by the House Agriculture Committee with about 10 minutes of debate, and there was no underlying bill, no hearings held, and no opportunity for meaningful examination of a sweeping issue that could impact hundreds of state laws. Notwithstanding the opposition of 50 organizations to this provision, the full House was denied the opportunity to vote on the amendment or examine the issue during floor consideration of the Farm Bill. That’s not the way this Congress should do business with so much at stake for the states and the people they represent.

With no amendment allowed on the floor, the only way to defeat the King amendment was to defeat the entire Farm Bill. We are grateful to animal advocates who weighed in with their own legislators and urged them to vote no.

The Farm Bill did include one important provision to upgrade the federal animal fighting statute, making it a crime to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight. The spectators are responsible for financing dogfights and cockfights with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and providing cover for animal fighters who blend into the crowd during law enforcement raids. We need a federal penalty, like 49 states already have, for the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting, since many of these cases are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional. The provision was based on the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, and we will be working hard to pass it in this Congress.

HensIn other good news: Today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved, by voice vote, an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill, offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to restore the prohibition on spending tax dollars to inspect horse slaughter plants. The funding ban was in place from 2005 to 2011, and since it was not renewed by Congress, there has been a rush by horse slaughter profiteers to try to open up equine abattoirs on U.S. soil. Now that the House and Senate spending bills both include identical language to de-fund horse slaughter (the House Appropriations Committee passed a parallel amendment last week), we are hopeful that when this legislation goes to House-Senate conference and is signed into law, domestic horse slaughter for human consumption will be restored to illegal status.

But keeping horse slaughter out of the U.S. is only a partial solution to the problem. We need to also prohibit the export of live horses for slaughter in other countries, which is the subject of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (and the subject of a Farm Bill amendment that was denied consideration by House leadership). The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses—but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and inhumanely kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

The spending prohibition is a great step forward, but we need a comprehensive solution to the problem of healthy American horses and companion animals, who have been given medications and drugs their entire lives not intended for the food supply, being butchered, freeze-wrapped, and shipped overseas for a high-priced appetizer. For now, animal advocates should celebrate today’s passage of the horse slaughter de-funding measure, and the defeat of the terrible and radical King amendment.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Not So Fast, Horse Slaughter Crowd

Today, the House Appropriations Committee marked up its agriculture spending bill for Fiscal Year 2014, and it included much good news for animals. Most notably, the committee approved by voice vote an amendment offered by Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Bill Young, R-Fla., to forbid spending by USDA on inspections of horse slaughter plants on American soil.  The Senate should follow suit.

A similar spending prohibition was put in place each year beginning in 2005, but was not renewed in 2011 or 2012, leading to the opportunity for horse slaughter profiteers to initiate plans to reopen equine abattoirs in the U.S at an estimated cost to taxpayers of at least $5 million each year. If the de-funding amendment restored by the committee survives the entire legislative process, it will block any effort to resume slaughter of horses for human consumption on U.S. soil. We are grateful to Reps. Moran and Young for leading this effort, and to all the committee members who voiced their approval for the measure to save horses from brutal slaughter and save taxpayers from the gambit of wasting their money on this predatory enterprise.

HorseIn other good news, the bill approved by the committee includes strong levels of funding for the USDA’s enforcement of key animal welfare laws such as the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, animal fighting statute, and programs related to veterinary medical services and disaster planning for animals. This was despite a reduction in spending overall on federal programs, in a very competitive budgetary climate where every single program has its advocates. The animal welfare line items no doubt got a boost from the 164 Representatives and 34 Senators led by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., who signed letters to the House and Senate committees urging that they adequately fund the enforcement of animal welfare laws.

We are grateful to them and especially to House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif., for supporting the strong funding levels in the House committee bill to help ensure that the nation’s animal welfare laws are properly enforced. We will keep you posted on the spending levels as the appropriations bill moves through the process in the House and Senate, as well as next steps on the horse slaughter provision.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Take Action to Protect Egg-Laying Hens, State Laws

The Senate will likely conclude its consideration of the Farm Bill next week, and the House is likely to take up its Farm Bill within the next couple weeks, with a number of important animal welfare issues hanging in the balance. As the Bakersfield Californian wrote in an editorial today, lawmakers “should take a long, hard look at an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that might threaten the rights of states, California included, to enforce animal cruelty protections.”
HenThe newspaper noted that the language approved by the House Agriculture Committee “might strip states of their ability to apply their own animal protection laws, including those that address factory farm confinement, shark finning and horse slaughter,” adding that the “Senate version of the bill does not contain provisions that would threaten or invalidate state animal protection laws.” The paper urged that “Congress must carefully consider and weigh the impact on existing state laws, and to overrule any provisions that would unnecessarily invalidate the will of California voters or those of any state.”

The King amendment, if not extracted from the Farm Bill, could affect not only California but hundreds of state and local laws across the country—dealing with food safety, labeling, the environment, labor, and animal welfare. A number of state legislators are speaking out against this federal power grab. The provision is so vague it could result in expensive lawsuits over any law dealing with the manufacturing of an agricultural product. It’s a radical federal overreach, especially when there’s a much more narrow, reasonable, and workable solution ready for Congress to ratify: H.R. 1731/S. 820, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013.

Historically, when Congress preempts state laws—on car emissions, coal pollution, or other issues—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 can 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, the King amendment proposes no standards at all, state or federal.

With House action soon to occur on the Farm Bill, it’s a critical time to contact your U.S. Representative at (202) 225-3121, or send an email. Tell them to nix the King amendment and its radical assault on state laws, and support the egg bill which provides a national solution to the problem of housing 280 million U.S. laying hens.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Remembering Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Champion for Animal Protection

The animals lost a true champion in Congress today, and The HSUS and HSLF lost a great friend, with the passing of five-term U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who was the Senate’s oldest member at 89.

Throughout his nearly five terms in the Senate, Sen. Lautenberg had not only introduced animal protection legislation but had been responsible for shepherding several of these federal policies to passage. In 2000, Congress adopted some provisions of Lautenberg's bill, the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, to make flying friendlier for dogs and cats. The law requires airlines to improve animal care training for baggage handlers and to produce monthly reports of all incidents involving animal loss, injury, or death so consumers can compare safety records.

Sen. Frank LautenbergIn 2006, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which Sen. Lautenberg co-authored with the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Introduced in response to the tragedy of thousands of animals being lost or abandoned during Hurricane Katrina, the PETS Act requires state and local communities to take into account the needs of pets and service animals in their disaster planning, and allows FEMA to assist with emergency planning and sheltering of pets. We have seen the lasting impact of this federal policy, as local responding agencies have been better prepared to meet the needs of families with pets in the face of tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters across the country.

In addition, Sen. Lautenberg co-authored the Horse Transportation Act, with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., to prohibit the transportation of horses in dangerous double-decker trucks. He also introduced a number of measures to protect wildlife, such as the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, to ban the interstate commerce in tame, exotic mammals such as lions and zebras for the purpose of shooting them inside fenced pens at captive trophy hunting ranches, and a resolution calling on Japan to stop “drive hunts” in which dolphins and small whales are chased into shallow waters and stabbed with long knives or trapped with nets to be sold into captivity. Quite recently he helped block legislation to allow the imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, and measures designed to prevent federal agencies from restricting the use of toxic lead ammunition which poisons wildlife and the environment.

Animal advocates have reason to be extremely grateful to Sen. Lautenberg for his passion and effective leadership on humane issues. We mourn his passing, and we celebrate his accomplishments—knowing that his work over many years of service to the people of New Jersey and the United States helped to strengthen the federal legal framework for animal protection in ways that will long be remembered.

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