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Thursday, February 14, 2019

A budget deal has been reached, and it's good news for animals

After months of negotiations, and the longest shutdown in United States history, a deal has emerged for funding to cover all the remaining federal agencies whose Fiscal Year 2019 budgets have been in limbo. While the package has been agreed to by key House and Senate negotiators, it still has to clear some hurdles. We are hopeful that this turning point shows that Congress stands united, and that President Trump will sign the bill into law. Although earlier appropriations bills in the House and Senate contained worrisome provisions and excluded important protections for animals, we are happy to report that the final version has resolved many of those problems.

Duchess_horses_jkunz
Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

The Humane Society Legislative Fund worked with animal protection champions in both chambers and with other stakeholders to secure these key outcomes:

Maintaining the ban on horse slaughter: The bill prohibits government spending on horse slaughter inspections, which effectively bans horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This language has been in place in almost every year’s budget since 2005, and was initially secured in the FY19 Senate version of the bill.

Protecting wild horses and burros: The bill prevents the Bureau of Land Management and its contractors from sending wild horses and burros to slaughter, and from killing excess healthy horses and burros. In addition, the bill leaves out harmful language contained in the House version of the bill to launch a program of mass surgical sterilization—a procedure which research has yet to prove can be conducted humanely. The conferees have requested that the BLM provide them with an updated humane management plan within 180 days, and that the agency include in its fiscal year 2020 budget request an outline of its proposed strategy and the funding necessary for implementation.

Preserving ESA protections for gray wolves: The bill omits an assault on gray wolves contained in the original House version of the bill. If enacted, it would have directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from wolves in the entire contiguous 48 states, and barred judicial review of those actions and of the 2012 removal from the ESA of gray wolves in Wyoming.

Allowing grizzly bear recovery: The bill excludes a provision contained in the House version which strove to block funding for the reintroduction of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington State. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service released an environmental impact statement in 2015 to launch the reintroduction process, which former U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke endorsed in March 2018. Instead, the conferees have directed FWS and NPS to re-open the public comment period regarding the draft environmental impact statement with proposed alternatives for the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem—and to work with ranchers, conservation groups, local governments, and other local partners to reduce conflicts between grizzly bears and livestock, drawing upon lessons learned with the Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Program to improve conservation outcomes while limiting effects to agricultural producers.

Oversight of farm animals used in research: In 2015, the New York Times brought to light terrible abuses of farm animals at a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility in Nebraska, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Congress responded forcefully with directives to USDA to begin inspecting these facilities for animal welfare compliance and providing quarterly reports to the Appropriations Committees.This bill includes harsh criticism of USDA’s progress reports, noting that “ARS did not report a single specific negative finding by APHIS inspectors, despite the fact that numerous violations have been found involving the death of numerous animals and serious health issues of many more. The failure to report these problems to the Committees is unacceptable. The conferees direct ARS to submit a single report covering all violations found by APHIS to date and the specific actions taken to prevent them from recurring within 60 days of enactment.”

Animal testing alternatives: The omnibus sustains level funding of $21.41 million (rejecting a $4.2 million cut proposed by the President) for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Computational Toxicology program to develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Class B random source dealers: The bill contains the same language as in the past few years prohibiting the USDA from licensing Class B random source dealers, who are notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means such as pet theft to sell them to research facilities. Our colleagues at the Animal Welfare Institute have led this fight.

USDA data purge: Following bipartisan expressions of outrage, the House Committee Report (in a provision deemed adopted in the final package) directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore inspection reports and enforcement records for horse shows, puppy mills, roadside zoos, laboratories, and other facilities which were purged from the agency’s website in February 2017.

Providing needed funding: The bill provides a $500,000 increase for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and a $500,000 boost in a veterinary services grant program. It sustains funding for other key accounts including enforcement of the 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, encourage veterinarians to locate in underserved areas, support the Marine Mammal Commission’s crucial work, and crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

The omnibus package is not perfect. For example, it renews a harmful provision that blocks the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition and fishing tackle, which poisons and kills wildlife. But overall, the Humane Society Legislative Fund is very happy that Congress has taken a stand on so many important animal protection issues. We look forward to working with the 116th Congress to ensure these protections are maintained and to build on them with additional vital measures.

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