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September 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Don’t Penny-Pinch on Wildlife Services Audit

At a time when Congress is in gridlock over federal spending, there should be heightened scrutiny of unnecessary and wasteful programs. A prime example is the USDA’s Wildlife Services lethal predator control program―one of the most destructive and indefensible government programs that causes untold suffering to animals, while costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

In the wake of animal cruelty investigations, family pets killed and injured by government traps and poisons, investigative news reports by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee and by Cristina Corbin of Fox News exposing the agency’s culture of cruelty, and editorials in papers such as The New York Times, the Sacramento Bee, and the Eugene Register-Guard, there is growing opposition to this federally funded wildlife-killing program to benefit private ranchers, trophy hunters, and other special interests.

Maggie was a victim of a federal government wildlife-killing
program. photo: Predator Defense

The USDA’s Office of Inspector General had previously announced plans to conduct an independent audit of the Wildlife Services program. It’s a long time coming, and would provide an opportunity to examine the agency’s lack of transparency and public accountability, and its ineffective spending of more resources on lethal predator control operations than livestock producers actually lose to predators.

The OIG audits have historically proven very valuable in identifying problems such as USDA’s long history of lax oversight of commercial dog breeders under the Animal Welfare Act and the industry self-regulation of show horses under the Horse Protection Act. These reports led to important policy reforms and new regulations to crack down on puppy mills and horse soring; the same opportunity is now needed to examine and reform Wildlife Services.

Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, USDA has to decide which OIG audits can take place, and the intended review of Wildlife Services may now be on the chopping block. U.S. Reps. Gary Peters, D-Mich., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., wrote to the Inspector General last week, urging that the Wildlife Services program “be a top priority for an audit and that the OIG should undertake an audit of WS as soon as practically possible.”

As the lawmakers wrote, “Wildlife Services’ lethal predator control activities, including its use of poisons and aerial gunning, are primary concerns. Wildlife Services’ predator control program primarily benefits a small proportion of the nation’s private agriculture and big-game management interests while depending on costly and indiscriminate lethal control activities. We question the benefit of these activities to U.S. taxpayers. Our concerns are not limited to predator control issues. Wildlife Services is not adequately accountable and transparent, failing to provide complete information to the public about their activities and use of taxpayer dollars.”

There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts, providing training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past, exterminating wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill.

An OIG audit is a critical step toward identifying solutions and needed reforms, and skipping it due to budget constraints would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. A small investment now can lead to long-term savings for taxpayers, can make government run better, and can find a new way forward for wildlife management.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Growing Tide of Opposition to King Amendment

The House of Representatives is likely to take up the nutrition assistance portion of the Farm Bill again this week. While the House has not yet named its conferees and much work has yet to be done to negotiate a final House-Senate package, there’s growing opposition to one toxic provision in the broader bill, which was offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and is the last thing they need if they want to get Farm Bill programs done this year.

BatterycageUSA Today published a lead editorial yesterday panning the King amendment, which would gut “a wide swath of state laws on everything from food safety to the regulation of livestock, which in some states includes dogs and puppies.” As the paper wrote, “States, of course, have long set rules on products sold within their borders. Alabama and Mississippi, for example, require labels on out-of-state catfish.” And “there’s no need for such an extended battle, because a better solution exists: a compromise struck by the Humane Society and the United Egg Producers. These natural adversaries agreed on an “enriched colony cage” that would allow the birds more space, to be phased in gradually.”

The County Executives of America, which represents top-level elected local government officials, wrote to House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders expressing its opposition to the King amendment. The group said, “Passage of the King amendment would centralize decision making on an entire set of issues in the hands of the federal government, removing the rights of states, counties, cities and towns to enact our own standards for agricultural products based on the needs and interests of our local constituencies. The King amendment would negatively impact laws and ordinances on everything from animal welfare issues to invasive pest management, from food labeling to environmental standards.”

And Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, urging them to oppose the King amendment. “Due to the provision’s vagueness and overly broad language, it is unclear exactly what impact the King Amendment could have on our state’s ability to enforce its own laws and to protect Mississippi businesses and consumers….For instance, Mississippi’s law requiring that all catfish products sold in Mississippi be labeled with their country of origin would be subject to challenge by any non-Mississippi catfish producer under the King Amendment’s restrictions.”

These opinion leaders and public officials join a building chorus of others speaking out against the dangerous and overreaching King amendment, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, nearly 200 Democrats and Republicans in the Congress who signed letters to Agriculture Committee leaders, and a broad coalition of 82 organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, public health, fire safety, labor, conservation, animal welfare, and other concerns. You can join them and take action today: let your representative and senators know that the King amendment is a poison pill, and they should reject this radical attack on animal welfare and state and local laws.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

USDA Rule Takes a Bite Out of Online Puppy Mills

The Obama administration today took a major step to improve the treatment of thousands of dogs languishing in large-scale commercial puppy mills. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a final rule to close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act regulations which currently requires breeders selling wholesale to pet stores to be federally licensed and inspected, but leaves those selling directly to the public over the Internet completely unregulated.

PuppymillUnscrupulous puppy mill operators have been migrating to the Internet to escape even the most basic and minimal standards of animal care. They often set up misleading web sites showing pictures of puppies frolicking in open fields, while the reality is much grimmer—dogs confined in cramped cages, without exercise, companionship, socialization, or veterinary care. The rule, which will take effect 60 days after it’s published in the Federal Register, will level the playing field for commercial breeders, regardless of whether they sell to pet stores or directly to consumers.

The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and other groups have been pushing for this policy reform for years, and generated more than 350,000 comments from members of the public supporting the rule change. We are especially grateful to the bipartisan congressional leaders—Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., Sam Farr, D-Calif., Bill Young, R-Fla., and Lois Capps, D-Calif.—who introduced and championed the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, S. 395 and H.R. 847, to close this Internet puppy mill loophole. With USDA taking action on the rule, it essentially achieves the same reform sought by the PUPS Act. 

As Sen. Durbin said, “Too often, the media reports stories about dogs rescued from substandard facilities—where puppies are housed in stacked wire cages and routinely denied access to veterinary care. Unfortunately, online dog sales have contributed to the rise of these sad cases. Today’s announcement by the USDA brings much needed oversight to the previously unregulated business of online breeders and puppy mills. This is an important step towards ensuring that all dogs—whether they are sold online or in a pet store – are treated with care and compassion.”

Sen. Vitter added, “I applaud USDA’s work to close loopholes that unscrupulous breeders exploited with Internet sales. Finalizing this rule is a big step forward in ensuring that puppies are treated humanely and bred in safe and sanitary facilities, and that consumers can purchase healthy pets for their families.”

Rep. Farr said, “By a small rule change, the USDA has taken a huge step toward regulating and reforming online puppy mills. Animals depend on us to safeguard their welfare and protect them from abuse, neglect and other forms of mistreatment. By changing the definition of retail pet store, the USDA will now have the authorization needed to inspect puppy mills and enforce the standards of animal well-being laid out by the Animal Welfare Act.”

It’s an important day for dog protection and for the fight against abusive puppy mills. Thanks to USDA and the White House for finalizing this important policy, to the congressional leaders who elevated the issue and made the case for reform, and to the thousands of animal advocates who took action on the issue and submitted comments in support of the rule. It demonstrates the importance of staying power, with groups and individuals remaining focused on the issue for years and pushing it over the finish line.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Light at the End of the Barrel

Thanks to five grueling days of intensive, around-the-clock care, a very fortunate Canada goose at the Cape Wildlife Center in Massachusetts narrowly escaped lethal lead poisoning this week. Unable to stand, walk, or lift his head to eat when he was first found, the suffering bird had nearly no chance of survival without emergency medical care.

He was lucky; most of the tens of millions of animals that needlessly fall sick from ingesting toxic lead ammunition every year don’t receive treatment and even fewer survive and make it back to the wild.

A Canada goose recovers from lead poisoning at
Cape Wildlife Center. photo: Deborah Millman/Cape
Wildlife Center

In fact, it’s estimated that more than 130 species—including humans—are harmed by the effects of ingesting spent lead ammunition. Whether it is by inadvertently eating lead shot pellets off the ground while foraging, or unknowingly swallowing micro-shards of lead bullets scattered throughout the carcasses of hunted animals, this toxic metal poisons animals up and down the food chain.

Fortunately there is hope.

Public health organizations, environmental groups, hunters, and animal protection organizations are heeding the warnings and are coming together to support measures that get the lead out of ammo.

In California, we are joined by nearly 100 groups in support of Assembly Bill 711, which, if it passes the Senate in the next week, will be one step closer to phasing in the use of non-lead ammunition for all hunting.

As physicians dedicated to the health of Californians, the California Medical Association has endorsed AB 711. In its letter of support the organization wrote, “The CMA holds the protection of the public health as one of its core missions, and supports the concept of environmental protection and public access to recreational areas.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife showed its support last week when it also issued a letter of endorsement, stating, “The best available science related to wildlife health shows that spent lead ammunition creates the risk of lead poisoning for wildlife."

For public health, for wildlife, and for the environment, it’s time to get the lead out. These bullets keep on killing long after they have left the chamber, and it’s an easy switch to make with so many affordable and ballistically accurate alternatives on the market, like copper and bismuth. If you live in California, please take action by calling your state Senator today.

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