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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Omnibus for Animals

Federal lawmakers last night unveiled their $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government for the remaining eight and a half months of Fiscal Year 2014. The giant package includes several very positive outcomes for animals, and one harmful provision.

On the positive side, the omnibus bill contains language that halts any effort to resume horse slaughter for human consumption on U.S. soil. The provision—which was approved by both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, as amendments offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and the late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla.—will forbid spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on inspections at U.S. horse slaughter plants, reinstating a ban on domestic horse slaughter for the fiscal year. A similar spending prohibition had been included each year from 2005 to 2010, but was not renewed in 2011.

270x240 horse slaughter kmilaniThe provision is urgently needed as some companies in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico are actively working to open equine abattoirs. Americans do not want to see scarce tax dollars used to oversee a predatory, inhumane enterprise. The horse slaughter industry doesn’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. We don’t have dog and cat slaughter plants in the United States catering to small markets overseas, and we shouldn’t have horse slaughter operations for that purpose, either.

The omnibus includes good news for wild horses, too. The bill prohibits the Bureau of Land Management from spending funds on the killing of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros, or on the agency’s sale of wild horses and burros to kill buyers. It also allows BLM to enter into multi-year contracts with private entities for the long-term care and maintenance of wild horses and burros, not to exceed 10 years. And finally, it allows the U.S. Forest Service to transfer funds to BLM to remove and adopt out wild horses and burros on national forest lands.

Also importantly, especially given the stiff competition for budget dollars, the omnibus bill includes boosts in funding for the enforcement of animal welfare laws. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., marshaled the bipartisan support of 34 Senators and 164 Representatives on joint letters calling for these funds. The omnibus package includes the following amounts for FY2014:

  • $28,010,000 for USDA’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, which sets basic standards for care of animals at almost 28,000 sites across the country—commercial breeding facilities (including puppy mills), laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and airlines; up more than 6 percent from $26,406,304 in FY2013
  • $697,000 for USDA’s enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to end the cruel practice of “soring” show horses (deliberately inflicting severe pain on the horses’ legs and hooves to make stepping down painful, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes); up nearly 3 percent from $678,510 in FY2013
  • $16,224,000 for USDA’s Investigative and Enforcement Services division, whose responsibilities include investigation of inspectors’ findings regarding alleged violations of federal animal welfare laws and the initiation of follow-up enforcement actions; up more than 2 percent from $15,866,009 in FY2013
  • $89,902,000 for USDA’s Office of Inspector General, whose responsibilities include enforcement of the federal animal fighting statute, as well as investigations and audits of the agency’s enforcement efforts to improve compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and regulations to protect downed animals; up nearly 4 percent from $86,779,028 in FY2013
  • $4,790,000 for the veterinary student loan program that helps ease the shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural communities and in government positions (such as those overseeing humane slaughter, AWA, and HPA rules), by repaying student debt for those who choose to practice in one of these underserved areas; up nearly 3 percent from $4,669,627 in FY 2013

These increases—particularly in a tough political climate as Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility and many programs and agencies compete for finite federal dollars—will have a big impact for animals on the ground. Today, for example, there are 136 inspectors enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which is more than double from just 60 in the 1990s.

AddaxThe bad news for animals in the omnibus is a rider that would force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow the blanket killing of three endangered antelope species—scimitar-horned oryx, addax and dama gazelle—in canned hunts, where shooters pay top dollar to kill captive animals for trophies. The agency already allows the canned hunting of endangered antelope, but only after obtaining a federal permit, and such permits can only be issued for conservation purposes. Getting a permit and demonstrating some conservation value is apparently too heavy a lift for the trophy hunting crowd: their rider, pushed by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, would force FWS to reissue a regulation that punches a hole in the Endangered Species Act, and would likely insulate that regulation from judicial review—making a mockery of separation of powers. It could embolden trophy hunters to seek congressional riders to eviscerate other parts of the ESA that stand in the way of sporting or commercial interests. Based on this precedent, Congress could order the agency to permit other canned hunting or abuses of endangered species.

The House and Senate will soon vote on the giant spending package, with no opportunity for amendments. Enactment is needed to restore some order to government funding and avoid the type of shutdown we saw last year. We really hope it passes, to grant a much-needed reprieve for domestic horses from slaughter for human consumption, to prevent wild horses and burros from being needlessly killed due to government mismanagement, and to provide modest boosts in funding for enforcement of animal welfare laws—though we’re very disappointed that it will take a step backwards for the Endangered Species Act and the trophy killing of near-extinct animals.

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