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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Highlights for Animals From the 113th Congress

The 113th Congress, spanning January 2013 to December 2014, may be remembered for its relative lack of productivity and growing polarization. In terms of general lawmaking, it appears this Congress enacted fewer laws, by a wide margin, than any other since at least 1947, the date to which the House clerk’s records go back.

Yet despite two years of gridlock, Congress delivered a number of important successes for animals in the past two years. There were some major setbacks and disappointments, too. But the successes in the areas of animal fighting, chimpanzee sanctuaries, horse slaughter, wildlife trafficking, fending off the King amendment, and more demonstrate that even when little else is getting done, animal protection can bridge partisan divides in Congress.

Positive Steps

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Photo: Kent Gilbert/AP Images for The HSUS

Animal Fighting: The final Farm Bill signed into law in February 2014 (P.L. 113-79) includes a provision to strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an organized animal fight. The language of the freestanding animal fighting spectator bill was part of the Senate Farm Bill from the beginning, as introduced in the Agriculture Committee. For the House, related language was approved as an amendment during committee markup with a strong bipartisan vote of 28-17. It had already won approval in 2012 by the House Agriculture Committee and twice by the full Senate, but final action on the Farm Bill stalled that year.This legislation was widely supported by nearly 300 national, state and local law enforcement agencies (covering all 50 states), including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and is the fourth upgrade to the federal animal fighting statute since 2002. Forty-nine states already had penalties for animal fighting spectators, but the provision was needed to sync up the federal and state laws since many of these animal fighting raids are multistate and multijurisdictional. Closing this gap in the legal framework will help law enforcement crack down on the entire cast of characters 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.

Chimpanzee Sanctuary: In late 2013, Congress passed a bill (P.L. 113-55) to help hundreds of chimpanzees warehoused in barren laboratory cages and facilitate their retirement to natural sanctuaries. Earlier that year, the National Institutes of Health announced its plans to retire about 90 percent of government-owned chimps from laboratories to sanctuary—where they can live the rest of their lives in peace—and to significantly scale back funding for chimpanzee research. But there was a hitch that had to be overcome: the law Congress enacted in 2000, establishing the national chimpanzee sanctuary system, imposed a cumulative ceiling on the funding that NIH could devote to it. NIH was due to reach that limit in mid-November 2013, which not only jeopardized the retirement of chimps in labs slated for transfer to sanctuary, but also funding for the continued care of chimps already living at Chimp Haven in Louisiana. This would be terrible for the animals and also for taxpayers, since retirement to sanctuary is less costly than warehousing chimps in labs. Fortunately, there was bipartisan support in Congress to solve this problem. On November 14—just under the wire before the cap was reached—the Senate gave final approval to a legislative fix passed by the House just days earlier. P.L. 113-55 amends the 2000 CHIMP Act to allow NIH the flexibility to continue using its existing funds for sanctuary care. Signed into law the day before Thanksgiving, this humane, cost-effective, common sense outcome gave us all something to cheer about.

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Photo: Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse Slaughter: For fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Congress reinstated a vital “defund” provision that had been in place from 2007 to 2011 barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from funding inspections at horse slaughter plants, effectively making it illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption in this country.The agency itself requested this provision for the first time in the president’s recommended budget for FY14 and then renewed the request for FY15. The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills followed suit, with successful amendments offered during committee markup in both chambers both years.The omnibus spending package signed into law just last week (P.L. 113-235) will sustain this protection for horses until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2015. It is urgently needed, as some companies have been poised to open horse slaughter plants in the United States. It makes no sense for the federal government to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to oversee new horse slaughter plants at a time when Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility. Horses suffer in long-distance transport and in the slaughter process. Rounded up from random sources, they have also been given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are not intended for and are actually prohibited from being introduced into the human food supply. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. Its agents don’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. Combined with the recent announcement from the European Commission that it will ban the import of horsemeat from Mexico, maintaining the defund provision is a major one-two punch against the North American horse slaughter industry.  

Ivory and Wildlife Trafficking: The National Defense Authorization Act for FY15, also enacted last week (P.L. 113-360), contains a Senate provision adding authority for the Department of Defense to partner with civilian law enforcement on joint task forces to combat wildlife trafficking. The FY15 omnibus spending bill dedicates $55 million to combat wildlife trafficking, with at least $10 million of that directed to programs to protect rhinos from being poached for their horns, and it prevents the United States from assisting certain countries and military groups if they are found to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking. Harmful language that had been part of the House Interior Appropriations bill—to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from cracking down on the illicit trade in elephant ivory—was kept out of the final omnibus package. And the Senate committee reports accompanying the appropriations bills for the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security spoke of the seriousness of this problem and directed those agencies to report back on their actions to address it. We hope these provisions will provide some relief for many imperiled species by curbing the illegal trade in wildlife parts that has become a source of cash to finance terrorist networks and transnational organized crime. More than 30,000 African elephants are killed each year by poachers who typically hack the animals’ faces off, since that’s the easiest way to run off with the ivory. This vicious cruelty is destroying elephant populations.

Wild Horses: The FY15 omnibus includes language to encourage the Bureau of Land Management to consider new, more humane methods of wild horse population management, including $1 million for a related study, so that the agency can move beyond its current inhumane and costly system of round-ups and long-term penning. It also contains language prohibiting the destruction of healthy wild horses and burros for human consumption.

ELEPHANT_PHOTOS_203589Animal Welfare Enforcement: For both fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Congress again came through with needed funding for the USDA’s enforcement and implementation of key animal welfare laws—the Animal Welfare Act (which requires minimum standards of care for animals at breeding facilities, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other regulated facilities), Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as for programs to address the needs of animals in disasters and to incentivize veterinarians to practice in rural and inner-city areas and to apply for USDA inspection positions.The omnibus just signed into law preserves funding for each of these programs without any cuts, as requested by a bipartisan group of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives, despite intense competition for budget dollars.

Alternatives to Animal Testing: The committee report accompanying the FY15 House Interior Appropriations bill contains language encouraging continued development of non-animal alternatives for chemical testing.

Captive Marine Mammals: The FY15 omnibus retains a House-approved floor amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill directing the USDA to study the effects of captivity on marine mammals and finalize a much-needed upgrade of its Animal Welfare Act regulations for captive orcas and cetaceans—a reform that has been languishing for nearly 20 years—so these rules will better address the animals’ physical and behavioral needs.

Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act: Congress enacted legislation (P.L. 113-143, signed into law in August) to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow veterinarians to transport, administer, and dispense medications outside of their registered locations. This will ensure that veterinarians can provide proper care to animal patients in rural or remote areas, including pets in disasters, cruelty cases, mobile spay and neuter clinics, animal sanctuaries, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and more.

Defending Against Harmful Measures

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Photo: Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

King Amendment: The final Farm Bill nixed the destructive provision that had been folded into the House bill during committee, with minimal debate, at the behest of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa—Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642.The King amendment aimed to gut state laws protecting farm animals. By negating most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products, it could have preempted laws addressing intensive confinement on farms and a host of other animal protection concerns such as puppy mills, sale of horse meat, and shark finning, as well as laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes. Hundreds of public officials and organizations representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, health, fire safety, environment, labor, animal welfare, and religious concerns opposed the measure.This included nearly 200 Senators and Representatives, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the County Executives of America, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Mississippi and Arkansas attorneys general, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Safe Food Coalition, professors from 13 law schools, and editorials in a number of papers such as USA Today, the Des Moines Register, and the Washington Post. This strong and unified opposition successfully fended off this controversial attack on states’ rights, food safety, and animal welfare.

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Photo: Alamy

Sportsmen’s Act: This sweetheart deal for millionaire trophy hunters and special interests was defeated in the Senate on a procedural vote. The Sportsmen’s Act would have carved out the latest in a series of loopholes in the law for wealthy hunters to import sport-hunted trophies of threatened polar bears (encouraging the killing of rare species around the world), opened sensitive federal lands to sport hunting and trapping, and stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect wildlife, habitat, and people from lead poisoning through exposure to toxic ammunition despite the ready availability of non-toxic alternatives (unfortunately Congress subsequently enacted a harmful provision on lead ammunition in the omnibus).

Otters: Language sought by commercial fisheries and the Department of Defense, to provide an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act that would allow them to harm sea otters off the southern California coast, was kept out of the final National Defense Authorization Act.

Ivory/Wildlife Trafficking: As noted above, Congress rejected a harmful rider that would have prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from restricting the devastating trade in elephant ivory—a crisis that cannot be resolved without our country adopting strong policy reforms, since the United States is considered the second largest retail ivory market in the world after China.

Setbacks

Of course, along with the successes, there were some major setbacks, with Congress caving in to extreme segments of the trophy hunting and factory farming lobbies, and working to block common-sense reforms.The omnibus package recently enacted includes terrible provisions seeking to block the EPA from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition, to interfere with Endangered Species Act listing of the sage grouse, and to discourage the USDA from trying to reform the corrupt beef check-off program that finances agribusiness lobbying against animal welfare improvements.That same massive spending bill also blocked the EPA from requiring reporting or the issuance of Clean Air Act operating permits for greenhouse gas emissions from animal agricultural sources—an act that the Los Angeles Times panned today in an editorial. We must redouble our efforts to correct these problems in the new Congress.

And some crucial measures were left unfinished, such as the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to end the cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses. With the overwhelming bipartisan support of 308 House cosponsors and 60 Senate cosponsors and endorsements by an extraordinarily broad coalition of veterinary, horse industry, animal welfare, and other groups, the PAST Act is ripe for final action. It was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee but blocked from Senate and House floor consideration by a few legislators doing the bidding of the horse sorers, who don’t want Congress upsetting the status quo that has been so profitable for them. There’s no excuse for not passing the PAST Act. It must be addressed as a priority in the upcoming year.

Congressional leaders also failed to allow votes on other critical reforms, such as the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, which would codify an agreement between animal welfare groups and the egg industry to improve the treatment of laying hens and provide a stable and secure future for egg farmers nationwide. Despite having the support of all major stakeholders, including veterinarians, consumers, and the industry actually impacted by the reform, lawmakers allowed petty caterwauling by the pork and beef lobbies to prevent egg producers from controlling their own destiny.

As we look ahead to the new Congress, we take stock of the many challenges still facing animals. But we also take a moment to celebrate the significant victories and draw strength from them, knowing that the public demand for a more humane future can still yield real results in Washington. Together, we can and must keep the momentum going—and gear up for the new session of Congress to convene in January, where we will once again advance a mainstream and common-sense agenda to close the gaps in the legal framework and protect animals from cruelty and abuse.

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