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June 2019

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our animal protection agenda wins big in House Appropriations funding package

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There’s a reason why the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States invest substantial time and effort in seeking to shape funding decisions within the U.S. Congress; it pays off big for animal protection. Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted 227-194 to pass a large package of fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills to fund several federal departments, including Agriculture, Interior and Commerce. H.R. 3055 features a number of great provisions for animals. Some of the most important include:

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photo by iStock.com

Halting trophy imports—Prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from issuing permits to import elephant or lion trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia or Tanzania (an amendment offered by Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., approved by 239-192 vote).

Saving North Atlantic right whales—Provides $2.5 million for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research and monitoring of these critically endangered whales (a floor amendment by Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., that increased funding by $1.5 million was approved by voice vote; a harmful amendment by Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine was defeated by 84-345 vote).

Enhancing wildlife trade detection—Encourages USFWS to allocate an additional $200,000 for its Wildlife Detector Dog Program, which uses dogs to sniff out illegal wildlife products at key U.S. ports of entry, curbing wildlife trafficking (an amendment by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., was approved by voice vote). 

Restoring purged USDA data—Directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act; documents must be promptly posted in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos and other businesses cited for violations (Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., incorporated this and several other pro-animal items on this list in his base bill).

Providing shelter for people and pets fleeing domestic violence—Allocates $2 million for a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to help provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals; directs USDA and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development to work together quickly to establish and carry out this grant program (Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., led efforts to secure these provisions).

Stopping horse slaughter—Prohibits USDA spending on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing the reopening of horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. for FY20.

Punishing horse soring—Provides $294,000 increase (raising the program’s funding to $1 million) for stronger USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to prevent the cruel practice of soring Tennessee walking horses and related show breeds.

Curbing cruelty in swine slaughter—Suspends USDA’s swine slaughter rule that allows slaughterhouses to send pigs down the line as rapidly as possible, with serious negative implications for animal welfare, food safety and worker safety (an amendment by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and David Price, D-N.C., was approved in committee).

Shutting down Class B dealers—Renews the prohibition on USDA’s use of funds to license Class B dealers, notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through fraudulent means, including pet theft, for research and testing (Rep. Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., championed this measure).

Requiring AWA inspections documentation—Calls on USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), to reverse concealment tactics that the agency has promoted during the past few years.

Engaging the USDA Inspector General—Presses this important office to step up efforts against animal fighting and to audit USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA).

Supporting veterinary care and services—Boosts funding by $1 million (to $9 million total) for student loan repayment program for veterinarians who commit to practice in underserved areas. 

A number of key provisions on which we reported earlier for wild horses and burros, wolves, marine mammals, other wildlife and alternatives to animal testing are also contained in today’s House-approved package. So are measures calling for greater oversight of animal welfare and transparency at  Agricultural Research Service labs, strengthened HMSA enforcement for live animal handling at slaughterhouses and funds for USDA to help state and local governments address the needs of people with pets in their disaster planning.

By any standard, this has been a banner year so far in our work shepherding strong animal welfare initiatives through the federal budgeting process. We are so grateful to the legislators who led the charge on these provisions and to their colleagues who voted for the package. And we’re grateful to the many engaged advocates who have stood strong behind us in our efforts. Now we’ll urge the Senate to follow suit and get these provisions enacted! 

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

EPA gives factory farms a free pass on toxic air emissions

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In an unlawful move, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to exempt massive factory farms from reporting their toxic air emissions—released from animal waste created by these facilities—to state and local authorities. The rule, finalized last week, will leave American residents who live in rural areas surrounding factory farms in the dark about potentially dangerous air pollutants that these facilities could be discharging into their environment, posing a serious health hazard to them and their families.

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Photo by iStock.com

Factory farms—also called CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations—confine many hundreds or thousands of animals such as dairy cows or pigs, or millions of smaller animals such as chickens, on each of their properties, causing not only an incredible amount of suffering, but also a staggering amount of urine and feces. This waste emits a number of dangerous air pollutants, including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, both toxic gases that can cause serious health problems like headaches, eye and nose irritation, and severe respiratory problems. People living near factory farms have been documented as experiencing increased rates of these types of ailments and can even suffer premature death.

Federal law requires industrial polluters, including factory farms, to notify local communities and first responders when they threaten air and water quality. The EPA says that exempting massive factory farms from reporting toxic air emissions from animal waste will eliminate reporting requirements for industry, but it is clear that the agency is doing this mainly to pander to powerful lobbies (in this case meat, egg, and milk corporations) with deep pockets—a pattern we have noted across other federal agencies in recent years, including the Department of the Interior and the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Factory farms already treat the animals in their care as mere commodities and they now have our government’s sanction to disregard human health as well.

The EPA’s action is also a disservice to small, independent farmers who work hard to raise their animals in ways that minimize environmental impact and animal suffering. Smaller operations like these are unlikely to emit hazardous substances at levels that trigger reporting requirements. On the other hand, these farmers, their families, and the animals they tend to, can also be among the victims of factory farming pollution, because they live in the same rural communities that will now be negatively affected by the changed reporting requirements.

This is not the first time the EPA has made such an overt move pandering to factory farms. In 2017, the HSUS, in coalition with numerous public interest groups, successfully defeated a Bush-era rule that created similar reporting exemptions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit determined that rule was illegal, but shortly after the EPA sought to flout the court’s decision, issuing so-called “guidance” on its website that created a new exemption for factory farms from reporting emissions. The HSUS, along with other organizations represented by Earthjustice, are currently challenging this “guidance” in federal court.

More akin to big industrial operations than actual farms, CAFOs are responsible for a tremendous amount of animal suffering. It is estimated that each year more than nine billion animals are raised and killed at these facilities in the United States alone for meat, milk, and eggs. The animals are often confined their whole lives to cages so small they can barely move. These massive facilities have also been responsible for disease outbreaks, like the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in commercial poultry in 2014-15, which led to the killing of more than 48 million birds across 15 states in 223 facilities.

The last thing these enterprises, which operate with little regard for humans, animals, and the environment, need is another free pass to continue polluting our air with no consequences. You can rest assured we will battle the new “guidance” and this rule in court. Our government should know better than to shield factory farms and the havoc they wreak.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Horse deaths at Santa Anita underscore need for racing reform nationwide

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The number of horses dying at the Santa Anita racetrack in California since December 2018 has led to widespread concern in the horseracing world and beyond, and prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom to call for closing the racetrack until the safety of the horses can be guaranteed. These mysterious deaths—29 so far—also underscore why we have been calling for urgent reforms within the horseracing industry.

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Photo courtesy of marlenka/istock.com

The causes of the horse deaths at Santa Anita are under investigation, and one of the explanations in play is the rampant drugging of horses to get them onto the track when they should be resting and recovering from injuries.

The Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita Park, has introduced new safety initiatives, including better veterinary oversight in the form of a five-member team of independent veterinarians and stewards who will provide additional review of horses’ medical, training, and racing history and will have the authority to scratch horses that do not appear fit to run. 

That’s good but it’s not nearly enough. We shouldn’t be waiting for crisis to strike before acting to ensure the safety of racehorses. Horseracing is in a state of crisis, and we need urgent nationwide reform. That’s why we are supporting the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R. 1754/S. 1820, a federal bill to regulate the use of drugs and medication in racehorses. Almost all American racehorses are injected with race-day medication, a practice banned by nearly every other country, and it’s time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world.

Last week, we joined horseracing industry leaders to provide a briefing before the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus on the bill, sponsored by Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., in the House, and by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., in the Senate. Its passage would create the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, a private, not-for-profit regulatory authority established and led by the United States Anti-Doping Agency or USADA, to implement rules regarding the use of permitted and prohibited substances and develop anti-doping education, research, testing, and adjudication programs.

Currently there is no national rulebook for horseracing and 38 separate racing jurisdictions have separate and remarkably different rules that govern the sport in each of their states. This patchwork of laws has jeopardized the safety of horses, led to inconsistent and confusing rules, and given cheaters ample opportunity to game the system, with horses and jockeys paying the price when a horse breaks down on the track.

The Horseracing Integrity Act would address pervasive drug use in the industry while enhancing oversight. The bill includes stiff penalties for cheating that apply nationwide, with possible sanctions including lifetime bans from horseracing, forfeiture of purses, and monetary fines and penalties. It would also, importantly, ban race-day medication of horses, and require an increase in out-of-competition testing.

Under the current system, trainers often know when horses will be tested and which drugs will be screened for. This system has been exploited by racehorse trainers. One trainer, Stephanie Beattie, testified during the 2017 doping trial of two-time Penn National trainer Murray Rojas that she routinely had her horses illegally treated with medications on race day by the same veterinarians who provided drugs to Rojas. “Almost everybody did. 95 to 98%. It was a known practice. We wanted to win, and they weren’t testing for those drugs at that time,” she said.

At Santa Anita, despite the concerns, the organizers continue to race horses. We have called for them to stop until the investigation results have been released and until reforms are implemented in full. Meanwhile, we will be doing all we can to push for the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act in Congress, and we need your help. You can play a critical role in protecting racehorses by contacting your federal legislators. Ask them to cosponsor this important bill to ensure that America’s equine athletes are safe on the racetracks. 

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

New USDA animal care fact sheets focus more on gloss than truly improving animal care

The Animal Welfare Act is supposed to ensure the humane treatment of animals—from dogs to elephants—at zoos, commercial breeders, research labs, and other regulated facilities. For years, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have pressed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve its enforcement of this critical law by updating its regulations to account for scientific developments, explicitly prohibiting certain practices known to cause animal suffering, and providing appropriate guidance to its inspectors, as well as by working with Congress to significantly boost the agency’s enforcement budget.

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Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

Over the last few years, however, the USDA’s enforcement of the AWA has moved almost entirely in the wrong direction. That’s why we were hopeful when we saw that USDA had recently updated its website with “easy-to-understand informational guidance” on a range of animal care issues.

Unfortunately, these fact sheets are woefully insufficient to address the numerous problems associated with the agency’s implementation of the AWA.

For example:

  • Eight new fact sheets on Primate Care Topics illustrate the social needs of primates, including the importance of mother-infant relationships and problems with social isolation for monkeys and apes. This is critical information for regulated facilities to incorporate into their practices, but these infographics are not a real substitute for formal guidance on how to meet the AWA’s primate psychological well-being requirements, as we requested in a legal petition in 2015.

  • Three new fact sheets on Nondomestic Cat Care Topics highlight the fact that captive big cats develop metabolic bone disease when fed improper diets. But USDA has failed to amend its regulations, as we requested in a 2012 petition, to address the primary cause of big cat suffering: the endless cycle of cats bred only to be torn away from their mothers as infants to be used for photo ops and bottle feeding. Qualified facilities housing big cats should already be well versed in carnivore dietary needs, and the real issue is that the agency needs to take action to prevent public contact with these animals to prevent a lifetime of medical and behavioral problems.

  • Four new fact sheets on Bear Care Topics—from nutrition to habitat design—are useful but insufficient. We have long advocated that the agency adopt formal standards for humane bear treatment, as the animals are currently only protected by generic catchall regulations that do not apply to bear-specific behavior.

  • Four new fact sheets on Canine Care Topics include basic information about dental and coat care. For our part, we continue to await the implementation of necessary regulations related to dental care and grooming as requested in our 2015 petition for rulemaking .

The posting of such rudimentary information in the form of fact sheets leaves us with troubling implications concerning the regulated businesses of the entities involved. Rather than putting glossy infographics online, the USDA should be taking stronger action on enforcement and reform across the range of the enterprises it regulates.

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