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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

King Amendment Out, Animal Fighting Spectator Penalties In

The Farm Bill, after fits and starts over two years of debate, is one step closer to becoming law, with the House passage of the conference report this morning by a vote of 251 to 166. The compromise package includes two major wins for animal protection, and we expect it to pass the Senate soon.

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A dog rescued from a suspected fighting operation in late 2013. Photo by HSUS

The final bill includes an HSLF-backed provision making it a federal crime to attend or bring a child under the age of 16 to an animal fighting event. The provision is based on the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, S. 666/H.R. 366, sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jim Moran, D-Va.—it was part of the Senate Farm Bill from the beginning thanks to the leadership of Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and was added to the House bill as an amendment by Rep. McGovern approved by a committee vote of 28 to 17.

With the provision in the final bill, we will further fortify the federal law against organized and barbaric dogfighting and cockfighting rings, a law that has been upgraded several times over the last decade to fix gaps and make animal fighting and the possession and training of fighting animals a federal felony. Closing the loophole on spectators will give law enforcement the additional tools they need to crack down on all of those involved in animal fighting, including those who finance the activity with admission fees and gambling wagers, provide cover to animal fighters during raids, and expose children to the violence and bloodletting that occurs in the fighting ring.

The Farm Bill also jettisons the dangerous and overreaching “King amendment,” which sought to nullify state laws setting standards for agricultural production and threatened so many laws on animal welfare—including farm animal confinement, horse slaughter, puppy mills, shark finning, and others—and a range of issues beyond animal welfare as well. HSLF and our coalition partners representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, religious, and other concerns made it a top priority to stop this federal power grab. The Wall Street Journal reported today:

Opponents of an amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) secured a victory when negotiators excluded a provision that would have prohibited states from setting mandatory agricultural production standards. The amendment would have imperiled a California law requiring all eggs sold in the state be laid by hens in cage-free settings. The Humane Society of the United States led the effort to defeat the amendment, saying it threatened dozens of state laws on animal protection.

“There was just overwhelming opposition from many, many corners,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said of Mr. King's provision.

We are grateful to the bipartisan set of 23 Senators and 169 Representatives—led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich.—who wrote to the conference committee opposing the King amendment, and we thank all the conferees—especially Chairwoman Stabenow, and Reps. Schrader, Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Jim Costa, D-Calif.—who worked hard to keep it out of the final package.

Although we’re disappointed the final Farm Bill didn’t include important reforms curbing agribusiness subsidies to large-scale factory farms, we are pleased that the conference report preserved Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) of meat products and the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule, given that we support labeling and competition provisions to give small farmers a fair chance to make it in the marketplace.

We are also disappointed that a House amendment sponsored by Reps. Denham and Schrader to provide better living conditions for laying hens was not allowed a vote as part of the Farm Bill process. But with the King amendment defeated, we’ll now redouble our efforts in Congress to get the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, S. 820/H.R. 1731, passed through different legislative avenues. It’s a more rational alternative to the King amendment, as it would set national standards for the housing of laying hens and level the playing field for all U.S. egg producers, while phasing out barren battery cages and improving the treatment of 285 million hens across the country.

Like any large compromise package, the Farm Bill is far from perfect, but it moves the ball forward for animal protection in a very meaningful way. It brings us one step closer to eradicating dogfighting and cockfighting in the U.S., a day that cannot come soon enough, and it drives a stake in the heart of the radical and overreaching King amendment, which would have turned back the clock on countless measures enacted at the state level concerning animal welfare, food safety, and environmental protection, issues about which Americans care deeply.

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