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June 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014

Taking Action on Animal Testing at Home and Abroad

Today the Taking Action for Animals conference wraps up in Washington, D.C., where more than 1,250 animal protection advocates gathered to hone their skills, celebrate the progress made in our cause, lobby their congressional offices on animal welfare legislation, and learn more about how to bring advocacy tools back to their own communities. But today there is also exciting news on the international front about the critical “Be Cruelty-Free” campaign to end animal testing for cosmetics globally.

China Vshine
"Be Cruelty-Free" activists in China/VShine-HSI

After decades of Chinese government policy requiring that every new cosmetic product be tested on animals, the tireless work of our colleagues at Humane Society International has led to the repeal of this regulation for most Chinese-made beauty products. This landmark change was brought about by the Chinese government’s sensitivity to growing public awareness of the inhumane and unnecessary use of animals in cosmetics testing, and demand for the same cruelty-free consumer choices that we in the U.S. have come to take for granted.

So where does our country stand in the cruelty-free trend now sweeping the globe? We’ve fallen behind the European Union, India, Israel, and Norway, which have banned all animal testing of cosmetics, and in all but one case, also the import and sale of newly animal tested beauty products. And now other developing beauty product markets, such as Australia, Brazil, China, and Taiwan, are also positioning themselves to overtake the United States on cosmetics regulation.

The U.S. can’t lag behind on this issue, and that’s why one of the bills animal advocates are pushing on Capitol Hill this week is H.R. 4148, the Humane Cosmetics Act, sponsored by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.— the recipient on Saturday evening of The Humane Society of the United States’ Lifetime Achievement Award for his career-long commitment to animal welfare policymaking — and Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. This bill would prohibit animal testing for cosmetics manufactured or sold in the U.S., ending painful tests that rabbits, mice, rats, and guinea pigs endure to assess the safety of cosmetics.

Humane and safe cosmetics can be made using the thousands of existing ingredients, and several non-animal safety tests are already available for new ingredients. These non-animal alternatives can be cheaper, faster, and more relevant to humans, and therefore more reliable at predicting safety. Help make animal testing of cosmetics in the U.S. a thing of the past—just like in the other parts of the world where cosmetics animal testing has already been phased out. Please take action and ask your members of Congress to pass the Humane Cosmetics Act.

P.S.—Tied in with the TAFA conference this weekend, The HSUS hosted a 60th anniversary gala, attended by more than 500 people, to celebrate our public policy and enforcement work. After we brought out a puppy rescued by our HSI team last week from the dog meat festival in Yulin, China, the crowd pledged more than $100,000 to establish an HSI office in Vietnam, which has a central role in the dog meat trade in southeast Asia. This office will concentrate on expanding the reach of our public policy work and banning the dog meat trade in the nations where it’s still legal.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Missouri’s Right-to-Harm Amendment

The August 5th primary election in Missouri will ask voters there whether to approve Amendment 1, which seeks to enshrine the “right to farm” in the state constitution. It’s being pushed by the same politicians and special interests who tried to overturn a voter-approved ballot initiative in 2010 to crack down on puppy mills. They want to prevent the state’s voters from protecting dogs subjected to cruel treatment in Missouri's puppy mills or from helping animals suffering the cruelties of intensive confinement agriculture. No on 1 Logo

The opposition to Amendment 1 is being led by family farmers in the state, and a broad coalition of groups that see through this charade, including humane societies, environmental groups, food safety advocates, faith-based groups, and others. They argue that this isn't Missouri's right to farm, but China's right to farm. Amendment 1 will guarantee foreign corporations the right to own Missouri farm land and do as they see fit without any check and balance from the people or the legislature, effectively letting China and other foreign countries and companies control what happens in Missouri’s towns and counties.

Three of the state’s largest newspapers have also weighed in, and are urging Missourians to reject this boondoggle. Here’s what they had to say:

No single industry or occupation deserves constitutional immunity. It’s the legislature’s job to determine the delicate balance among the interests of farmers, consumers and communities. In putting Amendment 1 on the ballot, lawmakers sought to shirk that responsibility. Voters shouldn’t let them get away with it.—Kansas City Star, June 23, 2014

It is the fearful farm faction’s overreaction to the puppy mill reforms. They’re barking at the moon. Because it’s their right. But the rest of the state shouldn’t bark with them.—St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 16, 2014

Although proponents’ literature doesn’t specify, the August amendment is a virtual "No Trespassing" sign aimed at pesky groups concerned with animal welfare, genetically modified food, use of antibiotics in livestock, etc….The undefined "production" and "practices" are an invitation to sue, which essentially will move the debate from the legislative arena, where it belongs, to the judiciary.—Jefferson City News Tribune, June 8, 2014

If you live in Missouri, please spread the word to friends and family, and ask them to vote No on Amendment 1 on August 5th. Don’t let the politicians and special interests get away with this radical and overreaching right-to-harm amendment.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tightening Slaughter Rules for School Lunches

There’s good news for our continuing efforts to fortify enforcement and crack down on inhumane practices at slaughter plants. The Agricultural Marketing Service, the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that buys meat for the National School Lunch Program, just announced that it will strengthen its humane handling audits for the slaughterhouses that supply it with meat.

During these audits, AMS inspectors monitor the compliance of their suppliers with a humane handling checklist. Previously, suppliers could pass the audit despite improperly stunning up to five out of every 100 animals, or allowing one out of every 500 cattle, or one out of every 1,000 pigs, to regain consciousness during the slaughter process. Under the new policy, AMS will have a zero tolerance policy on both points—meaning that a single mis-stunning or case of an animal regaining consciousness will result in an automatic audit failure.

Photo: USDA via Flickr

AMS is also strengthening its cooperation with the Food Safety Inspection Service, the USDA division charged with enforcing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Under AMS’ new guidelines, whenever FSIS cites a slaughter plant for a missed stun or for allowing an animal to regain consciousness following stunning, AMS will immediately audit the plant. AMS auditors will also now inform FSIS of all their audit findings to make it easier for FSIS inspectors to crack down on inhumane slaughter practices. And AMS will inform the public of its audit results, so that there’s an additional level of transparency to hold slaughterhouses accountable. Those audit results are available here.

This is a welcome announcement by USDA and a sign of strong leadership by new AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo and her team. As a main purchaser of meat products for federal programs, AMS has a major role to play in working with its suppliers and helping to shape the marketplace on important animal welfare issues. For example, AMS banned the purchase of beef from downer cows for the National School Lunch Program in 2000, several years before the USDA prohibited the processing of all downer cattle at federally-inspected slaughter plants and required these sick and injured animals to be put out of their misery and kept out of the food supply.  

Of course, we’ve still got work to do to reduce the suffering of animals in slaughter plants across the country. In the short run, we hope that FSIS will soon issue a proposed rule to close the downer calf loophole, which allows slaughter plants to hold veal calves too sick and injured to walk in prolonged suffering. In the longer run, we remain committed to seeing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforced strongly to protect all animals—including the chickens and turkeys who make up 95 percent of the animals slaughtered for food each year. We are pleased to see USDA taking positive steps on animal welfare enforcement, and express our gratitude to the administration.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Taking Stock of Progress in Maryland

Just in time for early voting to begin in the Maryland primary election, we are pleased to release the Maryland Humane Scorecard, a joint project of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and our good friends at Maryland Votes for Animals. We publish this report to inform Marylanders how their state senators and delegates performed on a broad range of animal protection issues over the 2011-2014 legislative session. Maryland citizens who care about animal protection can use this record to find out if their elected lawmakers are representing their views in Annapolis, and to help advance animal protection work in the Free State. Md. Humane Scorecard

The scorecard gives us an opportunity to look back over the last few years and chart the progress of our public policy work on behalf of animals in Annapolis. The last Maryland Humane Scorecard covered the 2007-2010 legislative sessions, and included all of the floor votes on animal issues from those four sessions—11 in the Senate and seven in the House. This year, we scored 15 votes in the Senate and 13 in the House, and there were even more animal protection measures that came up for votes. During the 2014 session alone, five important animal welfare reforms were signed into law.

These bills also enjoyed a much higher percentage of support among lawmakers than in previous years—in fact, more than 50 percent of all members of the Maryland General Assembly received a perfect score, casting humane votes every time they had the opportunity. With their votes, we succeeded in enacting major policies like establishing a statewide program to reduce shelter euthanasia by funding spay/neuter services, banning the sale and possession of shark fins, requiring pet stores to disclose basic information about the puppies they sell, and adopting a breed-neutral dog bite law that overturned the reckless canine profiling in the state that had discriminated against pit bull-type dogs as “inherently dangerous.”

The breadth of bipartisan support for all of these humane measures confirms—yet again—that Maryland citizens and their elected officials oppose animal cruelty in all its forms and are willing to stand up for reasonable policy reforms that codify those values into law. The HSLF and The HSUS advocate for mainstream policies that legislators on both sides of the aisle can sponsor and support, with many of them becoming near-consensus positions among lawmakers.

Of course, this scorecard doesn’t tell the whole story of what happens in Annapolis. Many bills each year never receive votes at all, left to languish in committee or quietly slipped into a drawer. Some lawmakers sit on committees that regularly consider animal protection legislation, and others don’t. To get the most accurate read on your elected officials, you should also find out about their committee work, constituent service, and other issues. But the Maryland Humane Scorecard provides a snapshot of the activity in Annapolis and a basic measuring tool for holding lawmakers accountable on animal issues. If you live in Maryland, please check it out and share with others. And please, get involved in political activity for animals and continue to support this critical work in our movement no matter which state you live in.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Progress for Orcas, but Horses Still at Risk

The House started in on the annual agriculture spending bill yesterday, and began debate on a number of amendments. The appropriations bill already includes a provision, approved by a bipartisan vote in committee, preventing the use of funds to inspect horse slaughter plants in the U.S. for human consumption, and continuing the current prohibition in existing law that blocks domestic horse slaughter plants from opening. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., announced that he will offer multiple amendments to strike or weaken the anti-horse slaughter provision, seeking to clear the way for equine abattoirs on U.S. soil.

Those amendments did not come up yesterday, but will likely come up when discussion of the bill resumes next week. Between now and then, we need every animal advocate and horse lover to contact their U.S. representative at (202) 225-3121, and urge them to vote “No” on the Mullin amendments to allow horse slaughter.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: “killer buyers” purchase young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Americans do not consume horse meat, and our nation’s limited agency resources and inspectors should not be diverted from the important current duties of protecting the food supply for U.S. consumers.

The House did take up one pro-animal amendment yesterday, offered by Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the effects of captivity on marine mammals and carry out a much-needed update of its Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and cetaceans. The amendment passed by voice vote, and sends a strong message to USDA that it must finalize these rules on marine mammal captivity that have been languishing for nearly 20 years.

USDA recognized the need to update the regulations in 1995 and issued partial rules in 2001, but left many of the remaining regulatory provisions unaddressed. During this time, captive marine mammals in U.S. facilities have continued to endure conditions that are often woefully inadequate for the species’ physical and behavioral needs, as established by a substantial body of research. The HSLF and The HSUS have been urging USDA to quickly issue and finalize new rules, and we hope such rules would increase minimum space requirements, establish species-specific ambient temperature ranges, consider the effect of noise on animals, prohibit contact between marine mammals and the public, require appropriate compatible groupings of the same species, and mandate rigorous and complete water quality testing.

Photo Credit: iStock

As countries around the world—including Chile, Costa Rica, India and the United Kingdom—choose to restrict or ban outright the public display of many marine mammal species, it is unconscionable that the U.S. has delayed updating care and maintenance regulations that are now decades behind the science.

It’s an important step forward for captive marine mammals, and one on which we can take positive action.  But we must now redouble our efforts to preserve the anti-horse slaughter language we’ve fought for when the House resumes work on this bill next week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fast and Furious Line Speeds No Good for Birds or People

More than eight billion chickens and turkeys are raised for food each year in the U.S.—that’s just about a million slaughtered every single hour of every day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture exempts poultry from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, so these birds—which account for the vast majority of animals killed for food in America—lack even the legal protections afforded to cattle and pigs and aren’t required to be rendered insensible to pain before they’re killed.

At poultry slaughter plants, workers often haphazardly shackle live birds upside down on fast-moving lines. It’s such an imprecise process that nearly a million birds, according to the USDA, are inadequately stunned and slaughtered every year; those animals end up in “defeathering tanks”—essentially vats of scalding-hot water—while fully conscious and boiled alive. This is not only inhumane, but also poses food safety risks as the stressed birds defecate in the water baths and spread fecal matter to many other birds.

And it could get even worse for birds, workers, and consumers, as the USDA is now proposing rules that could further increase abuse and contamination. The agency, in another shameless sop to industry, wants to speed up poultry slaughter lines while at the same time removing government inspectors. Rather than the current maximum speed of slaughtering 140 chickens per minute, the USDA proposes allowing poultry companies to kill 175 of these animals each minute, despite the fact that the Government Accountability Office found USDA’s decision was based on flawed data.

USDA poultry inspector examines chickens at a slaughterhouse. Photo Credit: USDA/Flickr

Faster moving lines could mean even more birds entering the scalding tanks while conscious, which means more fecal contamination and, as the Washington Post described, more potential for animal suffering and food safety problems at poultry slaughter plants. The proposed rule would eliminate 800 federal inspectors by transferring their responsibilities to the poultry industry, and could increase foodborne illness and contamination from pathogens associated with poultry such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. It could also make labor conditions even more grueling for slaughter plant workers, many of whom already exhibit symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, from too-fast line speeds.

When the Agriculture Appropriations bill comes to the House floor this week, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., plans to offer an amendment to prohibit USDA from spending any funds to implement this proposed “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” rule. Please contact your U.S. representative today, and urge support for the DeLauro amendment to protect food safety, worker welfare, and animal welfare at poultry slaughter plants. USDA should be seeking to give birds in slaughter plants more protections, not fewer.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Appropriators Team Up to Help Animals

The Senate and House Appropriations Committees have each produced their agriculture spending bills for Fiscal Year 2015, and both bills contain good news for animals. While the House and Senate will need to reconcile their differences to arrive at a final package, they’re in close agreement on the key items affecting animal welfare.

Horse Slaughter

First, both committees approved amendments to bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from resuming inspections at horse slaughter plants in the United States. The Senate amendment, offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was approved by a bipartisan vote of 18-12, and the identical House amendment, offered by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., with the vocal support of Subcommittee Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Mike Quigley, D-Ill., won by a bipartisan vote of 28-22.

Horse Entering Salughter Chute
Horse entering chute at a Mexican slaughter plant

These provisions will prevent the opening of horse slaughter plants in this country and ensure that our tax dollars are not used to support the cruel and predatory practice of rounding up random-source horses for food exports. A similar spending prohibition was enacted each year beginning in 2005, but was not renewed in 2011 or 2012, leading some horse slaughter profiteers to initiate plans to open plants in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico. Fortunately, in January 2014, Congress restored the prohibition for the current fiscal year—sidelining the horse slaughterers’ plans. 

The action by both committees now sets the stage for Congress to continue this crucial moratorium, while we redouble efforts to gain passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which will permanently bar horse slaughter in this country for human consumption, and also prevent the live export of U.S. horses to Canada and Mexico for the purpose of slaughter. We don’t set up dog and cat slaughter plants in this country to deal with the homeless pet problem just because some countries consume dog and cat meat, and we shouldn’t allow it for horses either.

Animal Welfare Funding

In addition to the positive outcomes on the horse slaughter provision, animals fared well on funding for enforcement of critical animal welfare laws in both the Senate and House committee bills. As these items are in general agreement, they’re well positioned to be retained in the final measure sent to President Obama for his signature.

Thanks to the strong leadership of Senate Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Ranking Member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and House Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Farr, funding for USDA to enforce and implement key animal welfare laws was sustained and even modestly increased in some cases. In such a tough budget climate with so many programs competing for finite dollars, we are pleased that lawmakers understand it’s possible to achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts such as these have the funds they need. 

Here’s a rundown of what the Senate and House committee bills provide for key programs:

  • Horse Protection Act: $705,000 in the Senate bill / $697,000 in the House bill for USDA enforcement to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds  (deliberately inflicting severe pain and cooking chemicals into the horses’ legs and feet to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes). This is the first time the House bill included more than $500,000 for enforcement of this law. The current funding level is $697,000.
  • Animal Welfare Act: $28,222,000 in the Senate bill / $28,010,000 in the House bill for USDA enforcement of the important law that sets basic standards for care of animals at more than 10,000 sites across the country—including puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling circuses, and airlines. Current funding is $28,010,000.
  • Investigative and Enforcement Services: $16,362,000 in the Senate bill / $16,224,000 in the House bill for this USDA division whose responsibilities include investigation of inspectors’ findings regarding alleged violations of the AWA and HPA and the initiation of follow-up enforcement actions. Current funding is $16,224,000.
  • Office of Inspector General: $97,240,000 in the Senate bill / $97,020,000 in the House bill for this office that handles many areas including investigations and audits of USDA’s enforcement efforts to improve compliance with the AWA, HPA, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and regulations to protect downed animals. The Senate committee report specifically urges the OIG to address animal fighting violations under the AWA, in coordination with state and local law enforcement. Current funding is $89,902,000.
  • Humane Slaughter: Helpful committee report language accompanying the Senate and House bills, directing the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that funds provided for Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforcement will be focused on overseeing compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas. Similar language was included last year for FY14 Agriculture Appropriations.
  • Veterinary Student Loan Repayment: $4,790,000 in the Senate bill / $5,000,000 in the House bill for this program that helps to 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. Current funding is $4,790,000.

Without adequate funding for enforcement, the laws and rules we work to enact are mostly just exhortations. Having legislators seek that funding is crucial, especially when there are such strong competing budget pressures. We are so grateful to Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., for again leading the way, mobilizing the broad bipartisan support of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives this year who signed letters to the Senate and House committees requesting these funds. Their collective efforts set the stage for positive committee action, which in turn has put us in a strong position for good outcomes in the House-Senate negotiations.

This is only the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily working to build the enforcement budgets for these and doing this work provides a critical service to the broader movement to protect all animals. Over the past 16 years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the AWA by 205 percent (a cumulative total of more than $138 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 126 AWA inspectors, compared to about 60 during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of facilities with animals under their care. This modest investment in lobbying by The HSUS, HSLF, and citizen advocates is multiplied many times over and translates into millions of dollars toward animal welfare and a real impact on the ground.

Tennessee Walking Horse
Walking horse at a competition in Shelbyville, Tenn.

We will continue to watch the appropriations process closely and press for inclusion of the horse slaughter provision and the highest possible funding levels when the House and Senate reach agreement on the final legislation. Proper enforcement of these laws not only helps animals but benefits people, too—for example, by protecting consumers from disreputable puppy mills and from mishandling of pets on airlines, reducing food safety risks associated with poor management at slaughter plants, reducing the risk of dangerous encounters with wild animals in exhibitions, and reducing the risk of bird flu transmission via cockfighting. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and doing right by them is good policy for all of us.

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