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Friday, December 18, 2015

With Omnibus Bill, a Big Year of Progress for Animals, Especially in Research

The U.S. House this morning passed the $1.1 trillion spending package for 2016, which includes a number of important provisions to prevent the opening of U.S.-based horse slaughter plants, retain Endangered Species Act provisions for gray wolves, and allow restrictions on the domestic ivory trade to protect elephants from poaching. But the provisions in the omnibus spending bill also cap an incredible year of exciting progress at the federal level for animals used in research.

iStock Photo

In the wake of The New York Times exposé of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center conducting ghoulish experiments on farm animals—with animals dying in steam chambers, of deformities, or left to starve or freeze to death—Congress took action to improve the welfare of animals at USDA Agricultural Research Service facilities including U.S. MARC. The omnibus bill withholds 5 percent of the ARS budget until the agency certifies it has updated its animal care policies and has a fully functioning Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The language also assigns additional funds to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to provide much needed oversight at ARS facilities using animals in agricultural research.

The bill cracks down on the unscrupulous Class B dealers rounding up cats and dogs from random sources—including flea markets, free to a good home ads, and even stolen pets—and funneling them into research labs. A provision strips the funds made available for licensing the two remaining Class B dealers, which cannot conduct business without renewal of an annual license. The National Institutes of Health has already stopped funding research involving dogs and cats from Class B dealers, and this additional action could close out the issue which has long been a concern of animal advocates.

In a tough budgetary climate with competition for federal dollars, the omnibus bill also provides an additional $53 million dollars to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the NIH. The NCATS program invests in the development of non-animal approaches, such as the human-on-a-chip program, which are more human-relevant and ultimately more effective than relying on animals. It’s this kind of enhanced funding that will help lead us away from animal testing in the future. 

In addition, the report accompanying the bill also calls for NIH to review the ethical policies and procedures regarding the use of primates in controversial maternal deprivation studies. It has spurred the agency to develop a plan to close down one of its own facilities in Maryland where the decades-long experiments on infant monkeys have been carried out. This is a positive step by NIH, and another marker of our progress on research issues.

Jenny Desmond/For The HSUS

All of this exciting news in the omnibus bill comes in addition to other major federal actions on animal research issues in 2015. In a banner year for chimpanzees, we have seen NIH grant retirement to the remaining 50 government owned chimps and get out of the business of funding invasive chimp studies. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins acknowledged there is virtually no research that requires the use of these animals and under his leadership the agency has made major advances on the issue. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed captive chimps as endangered, in response to an HSUS legal petition, making it extremely difficult for anyone to use chimps as exotic pets or for invasive biomedical research. The Hill called our campaign to get chimps out of labs one of the top 10 lobbying campaigns of the year.

And just last night, the U.S. Senate passed S. 697, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, by voice vote. The bill would improve the science behind chemical testing, encourage better safety decisions to protect the environment and human health and would reduce—if not eliminate—the use of animals. Each year, tens of thousands of animals are killed to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats and dropped in their eyes. This breakthrough bill would help make chemical testing smarter, faster and more reliable for regulatory decision-making and protect animals’ lives.

We are urging members of the House-Senate conference committee to accept the Senate animal testing language when they finalize the chemical safety bill. And we are urging the Senate to pass the omnibus bill and the President to sign it into law, with so much at stake on such a wide range of animal protection issues. Together these actions will mark a big period of progress for animals, but especially so for animals in research.

Here is a run-down of all the animal protection items included in the omnibus package: 

Gary Alvis/iStock

Horse slaughter – omnibus retains “defund” language that’s been enacted over the past several years to prohibit USDA from spending funds for inspection of horse slaughter plants. This effectively prevents the resumption in the U.S. of horse slaughter for human consumption—a practice that is inherently cruel, particularly given the difficulty of properly stunning horses before slaughter, and dangerous because horses are routinely given drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans.

Federal protections for wolves and other endangered species – omnibus rejects all the new riders in the House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that has prevented 99% of species under its care from going extinct and that calls for science-based decision making to protect wildlife and plants in danger of extinction. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90% of American voters. With the extinction of species on earth now at its highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, this law is more urgently needed than ever. 

ARS research on farm animals – omnibus contains strong language to address abuses uncovered by a New York Times exposé of the Agricultural Research Service’s Meat Animal Research Center. Language directs ARS to ensure that all of its research facilities comply with federal Animal Welfare Act standards, provides $400,000 for inspections, and withholds 5% of the ARS budget until specified animal welfare reforms are fulfilled. 

Alternatives to animal testing and stopping pointless experiments – omnibus provides a $52.7 million increase for NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which works on developing alternatives to animal testing that are more humane, faster to perform, less costly to industry, and can provide more reliable results than animal experiments not predictive of the human experience. 

Maternal deprivation – omnibus incorporates by reference House committee report language calling on the NIH to review (in consultation with outside experts) its ethical policies and processes for nonhuman primate research, language that already helped spur NIH to develop a plan to close down one of its primate facilities in Maryland where decades-long research had occurred involving maternal deprivation for infant monkeys.  

Ivory rule – omnibus rejects the House Interior Appropriations bill rider that would have blocked the Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on efforts to reduce trafficking in ivory products. Illegal poaching of elephants has reached epidemic proportions, and extinction in the wild looms unless strong action is taken to curb demand. The U.S. is the second largest market for ivory products after China, and the U.S. and Chinese presidents reached an agreement in September to take action in both countries to crack down on the ivory trade.

Wildlife trafficking enforcement – omnibus provides not less than $80 million (a $25 million increase) under the U.S. Agency for International Development to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking, and bars any expenditures to train or assist military units or personnel that the Secretary of State determines are credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking, unless the Secretary reports that such expenditure is in the national security interests of the U.S. Wildlife trafficking has become one of the most lucrative criminal enterprises internationally, helping finance organized criminal syndicates and terrorist groups such as the Janjaweed, Lord’s Resistance Army, and al-Shabaab. 

Class B dealers – omnibus denies funds for USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats, often obtained fraudulently and kept in horrible conditions before being sold for laboratory experiments. These dealers have a long history of trafficking in stolen pets, misrepresenting themselves at animal shelters and in responding to “free to good home” ads. The vast majority of research facilities long ago stopped relying on such dealers, and in recent years, NIH has prohibited funds for research involving cats and dogs acquired that way. The number of Class B dealers has gone from hundreds two decades ago to only two.

Animal welfare enforcement – omnibus maintains funding for USDA to enforce and implement key animal protection laws, including the Animal Welfare Act that provides oversight for millions of animals at more than 10,000 sites including puppy mills and other commercial breeding facilities, laboratories, zoos, and circuses; the Horse Protection Act dealing with cruel soring of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds (deliberately inflicting pain on horses’ legs and hooves to achieve an artificial high-stepping gait and win prizes); the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act; the federal animal fighting law; and a program that encourages veterinarians, through student loan repayment assistance, to locate in underserved rural areas and USDA inspection positions.

Wild horses – omnibus restates the long-standing ban on killing of healthy wild horses and burros and sale for slaughter, and directs the Bureau of Land Management to continue implementing reforms recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for more humane wild horse and burro population management, including reducing the number of animals rounded up and transferred to long-term holding pens and increasing the use of available humane fertility control methods.

Marine mammals – omnibus incorporates by reference Senate committee report language directing USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals, including orcas, dolphins, and beluga whales.

Land and Water Conservation Fund – omnibus contains a 47% increase in funding for this program that protects and improves habitat for wildlife and recreational access for nature lovers.

Pet food – omnibus provides full funding to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which includes needed reforms for safe pet food.

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