Commenting Guidelines

    • The HSLF invites comments—pro and con. Keep them clean. Keep them lively. Adhere to our guiding philosophy of non-violence. And please understand, this is not an open post. We publish samplers of comments to keep the conversation going. We correct misspellings and typos when we find them.

Farm Animals

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

VICTORY: Court rejects challenge to federal cockfighting ban in Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. territories

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A federal court has rejected an attempt to stop Congress from closing a loophole that allowed cockfighters to continue operating in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam, despite the fact that cockfighting is a felony in all U.S. states.

Hslf-cockfighting-300x200
Photo by Heather Severt/the HSUS

Cockfighting organizations had challenged the ban, but a federal district court for the District of Puerto Rico ruled this week that Congress was well within its power to make amendments earlier this year to the Animal Welfare Act in order to clarify that an existing ban on cockfighting in all U.S. states applies equally to U.S. territories.

The court rejected all of the plaintiffs’ claims, including an argument that the law violates principles and rights protected under the U.S. Constitution, such as the right to free speech and association. "A live-bird fighting venture does not fall within any expressive or non-expressive protected conduct," the court said.

The court also declined to stay implementation of the law while the plaintiffs seek an appeal of this ruling, meaning the law will take effect as planned on December 20 this year.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice had filed a brief strongly defending the expansion of the law.

Cockfighting is a despicable business that pits one animal against another for gambling and entertainment, and it is a felony in all U.S. states. But unless U.S. territories are included in the ban, we cannot truly wipe out these bloody spectacles entirely. Puerto Rico and Guam are a hub for American cockfighting, with enthusiasts openly raising birds and participating in fights. Cockfighting arenas are even located near airports to attract tourist dollars.

A ban on cockfighting can also protect communities from crimes associated with animal fighting, like illegal drug dealing and human violence, and from disease transmission risks, including bird flu and diseases that can decimate poultry flocks. Moreover, it’s also what a majority of Puerto Ricans want—a 2017 poll of 1,000 registered voters found that two out of three Puerto Ricans favor a ban on cockfighting.

For all of these reasons, and for the sake of the millions of birds who are now trapped in a gruesome industry that profits off their injury and death, we applaud the court’s ruling. These protections for roosters are long-overdue and well-deserved, and we are excited that very soon, they will be in effect in every U.S. jurisdiction, with no exceptions.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Breaking news: Department of Justice defends federal cockfighting ban for Puerto Rico, Guam

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The federal government has filed a brief strongly defending a law that would expand the ban on cockfighting in the United States to Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. territories.

Hslf-cockfighting-300x200
Photo by Heather Severt/the HSUS

Cockfighters seeking to overturn the ban have challenged it in federal court, claiming it would cause them to lose “lawful business opportunities, loss of income and profits.” But the U.S. Department of Justice said in its brief this week that federal precedent is clear: Congress not only has the authority to ban animal fighting across all 50 states, but it can also apply it to U.S. territories.

The Farm Bill that passed Congress last year clarified a U.S. ban on animal fighting to include U.S. territories—a ban the Humane Society Legislative Fund fought hard to get into the bill.

Cockfighting is a despicable business that pits one animal against another for gambling and entertainment, and we are pleased to see the DOJ standing firm and defending the language that was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Farm Bill. The law goes into effect later this year, on December 20, and it couldn’t come sooner for the millions of birds trapped in this gruesome industry that profits off their injury and death.

Puerto Rico has been a refuge and a hub for American cockfighting, with enthusiasts raising birds and participating in these bloody spectacles, often quite openly, including at a major cockfighting arena located near the airport, with the aim of attracting tourists and the interstate flow of money connected with the fights. But support for cockfighting is almost non-existent within Puerto Rico, with the exception of a few outliers. Most of Puerto Rico’s citizens agree it’s time to end this animal cruelty. A 2017 poll of 1,000 registered voters in Puerto Rico, conducted by Remington Research on behalf of the HSUS, revealed that among residents with a definite view of cockfighting, there was a two-to-one majority favoring a ban on the practice.

Guam also has openly allowed horrific cockfighting to persist for many years. So, this new animal fighting ban will save thousands of animals across all the U.S. territories.

Putting an end to this bloodsport has been a big priority for us and the Humane Society of the United States. The HSUS has made massive investments to turn around the fortunes of animals in Puerto Rico, including Spayathon™ for Puerto Rico, equine wellness, and a shelter medicine program, and through their rescue and relief work there following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Cockfighting undermines the very culture of kindness to animals we and others are helping to create there.

Roosters caught up in cockfighting enterprises suffer immense cruelty: they spend their lives tethered outside to small A-frame huts or barrels, vulnerable to harsh weather. The animals are often drugged to heighten their aggression and forced to keep fighting even after they’ve suffered grievous injuries such as broken bones, deep gashes, punctured lungs and pierced eyes. Birds often have metal weapons attached to their legs and typically suffer slow painful deaths. We cannot have such cruelty against some animals continue even as we work to protect others.

Animal fighting is often associated with other crimes such as illegal drug dealing and human violence and with disease transmission risks including bird flu and diseases that can decimate poultry flocks. Residents of the U.S. territories are well aware of the dangers this enterprise poses to their own safety.

Cockfighting and dogfighting have been felonies in all 50 U.S. states and federal law for many years now—laws HSLF and the HSUS were instrumental in bringing about. The protections for roosters and dogs in Puerto Rico, Guam and the other U.S. territories are well-deserved, and we stand ready to defend them with all of our might, even as we look forward to that day in December when cockfighting and dogfighting will no longer be allowed in any U.S. jurisdiction.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Breaking news: USDA eliminates speed limits for killing pigs at slaughterhouses

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Slaughterhouses in the United States are already allowed to kill pigs at a lightning speed of up to 1,106 animals per hour. Under a new federal rule announced today, some of these facilities can dial up those speeds even further, with no limit whatsoever, creating an animal welfare and worker safety nightmare as never before.

Pigs-hslf-istock-shaun-lowe-blog
Shaun Lowe/iStock

The new inspection system created by the rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is also likely to reduce the number of federal inspectors at slaughterhouses and it requires slaughterhouse employees, instead of federal inspectors, to conduct initial sorting of live pigs. Requiring slaughterhouse employees to conduct initial sorting of live pigs will increase the risk of animal abuse and improper treatment of pigs, especially of animals who are so sick or exhausted that they can’t stand or walk.

Even under existing line speed regulations, slaughter facilities are among the most dangerous and difficult places to work in America. Employees handling animals work under immense stress at breakneck speeds, performing repetitive motions in cold, slippery conditions, using dangerous equipment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meatpacking workers experience injury rates nearly 2.5 times higher and illness rates almost 17 times higher than the average for all industries. Forcing workers to process the animals faster will only exacerbate these problems, while increasing the risk of contaminated pork being introduced into the U.S. food supply.

Faster line speeds also heighten the risk of inhumane incidents, such as pigs being inadequately stunned and therefore remaining conscious during slaughter—a violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

These are not changes the American public wants or supports. Consumers today increasingly want animals used for food to be treated more humanely, and when the USDA first proposed this plan, tens of thousands of you spoke out overwhelmingly against it. According to one analysis, of “84,000 public remarks made on the rule, 87 percent were either opposed or expressed negative opinions about the proposal.” Another recent poll found that 64% of the public opposes elimination of speed limits on pig slaughter lines.

Even members of Congress have pushed back against this rule, with 16 of them sending a letter to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General raising concerns about the worker safety data USDA used in developing its rule, leading to the Inspector General launching a probe. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., sent a letter requesting that the Inspector General expand the investigation’s scope to include animal welfare violations and food safety concerns.

But the reason the USDA rushed to finalize the rule despite the overwhelming opposition and the ongoing Inspector General investigation is because it is kowtowing to industry interests. These are changes the meatpacking industry has sought for years so they can increase their profits, and in the current administration they have a willing ally. In a similar show of support for the meat industry, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service last year created a waiver system that allows chicken slaughterhouses to kill birds at reckless speeds of nearly three birds per second.

The USDA has a professed duty under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act to ensure that animals are treated humanely and that the food people eat is safe; and the American public has a right to know the risks that animals and people will face under this rule. By finalizing it, the USDA has failed to do its job and it has failed the American people, and we will not back down. Key members of Congress are already fighting this rule, Rep. DeLauro, along with Rep David Price, D-N.C., led an amendment to the annual Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2020 to delay the implementation of the rule, and it was retained in the final bill because of the strong fight put up by groups like HSLF and the HSUS, food safety watchdogs, and labor organizations. We now need your help to encourage the Senate to adopt a similar measure, which could block the implementation of this rule.

Please urge your Senators to support all efforts to stop the USDA from implementing the rule at least until the agency addresses the recommendations in the Inspector General's report. Ask them to include language in the final FY20 appropriations bill to block the rule until the Office of the Inspector General issues its report, and to encourage the Inspector General to assess all impacts on animal welfare in addition to its review of the effects on worker safety. This rule has nothing to offer except fatter bottom lines for an industry that puts profits above people and animals, and our nation will be better off without it.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Where do the Democratic presidential candidates stand on animal protection issues?

By Brad Pyle

With the Democratic election field for 2020 in play, we thought it timely to examine the animal protection records of candidates for president. This two-part series will highlight the pro-animal commitments of the candidates. Following the order of the Democratic Party’s second presidential debate, here’s what we know:   

ISTOCK-479747398_476683Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has been a steady and consistent supporter of animal protection during his time in Congress.

In the current session, Sanders is cosponsoring legislation to create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty and crack down on horse soring abuses.

In previous sessions, Sanders cosponsored bills to curtail abusive puppy mills and animal fighting, to restrict the private trade in big cats and primates as exotic pets, and to ban barren battery cages for egg-laying hens. He supported strong enforcement of federal animal welfare laws, and opposed the weakening of the Endangered Species Act.

He helped to lead the effort in the 111th and 112th Congresses to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire them to sanctuaries.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has continually supported animal protection legislation while in the U.S. Senate.

Currently, Warren is cosponsoring legislation to create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty and crack down on horse soring abuses.

In previous sessions, Warren has introduced legislation to strengthen oversight of antibiotic use in animals. She also co-filed an amendment to the Farm Bill to correct abuses by commodity checkoff programs such as those for beef, pork, and eggs.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg’s accelerated rise to the forefront of American politics has presented him with little opportunity to affect animal protection policy.

During his 2018 State of the City address, Buttigieg highlighted South Bend’s Animal Care & Control successes in doubling the number of pet adoptions and reducing the euthanasia rate for cats and dogs.

Pete has two rescue dogs, Truman and Buddy, who appear frequently on social media.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke supported critical animal protection legislation while in Congress, and was a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

O’Rourke supported the full range of animal protection legislation through his votes and cosponsorships. This includes voting to protect wildlife in Alaska, crack down on animal fighting, and against stripping ESA protections from gray wolves in the Lower 48 states.

Amy Klobuchar

In the current session, Senator Amy Klobuchar is cosponsoring legislation to crack down on horse soring abuses.

In the past, she cosponsored legislation which would require furs to be labeled, enabling consumers to make informed decisions. She also voted against legislation which allowed egregiously cruel and unsporting hunting methods on more than 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.  

Tim Ryan

Congressman Tim Ryan has received scores ranging from 25 to 100 on the Humane Scorecard.

In the current session, Ryan is cosponsoring legislation to crack down on malicious animal cruelty, eliminate the shark fin trade, and prevent the export of American horses for slaughter overseas. This year he voted for the PAST Act, which would end horse soring abuses.

Previously, he voted to establish a recovery program for the Southern sea otter and to expand funding for marine turtle conservation.

John Delaney

Former Congressman John Delaney consistently received top marks on the Humane Scorecard, receiving an impressive score of “100” over each of his last 5 years in office.

While in the U.S. House, Delaney voted to crack down on animal fighting in the U.S. territories, and against stripping ESA protections from gray wolves in the Lower 48 states. During his last term in office, he cosponsored legislation to end horse soring abuses, crack down on malicious animal cruelty, and end the domestic shark fin trade.

Delaney was a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson is a member of the Humane Society of the United States’ Faith Advisory Council. In this capacity, she plays a leading role in reminding people to be responsible stewards and caretakers of God’s creation. She also serves as an ambassador for the HSUS in her community.

Williamson’s presidential platform contains promising animal protection language, stating, “As custodians of this planet, we are intended to care for the animals that share the land with us.”

Steve Bullock

Few animal protection bills make it to the desk of Steve Bullock, Montana’s governor since 2013.  Montana currently ranks 42nd in the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane State ranking.

 In 2015, Bullock vetoed a bill which would have restricted Montana’s ability to relocate bison within the state.

During a campaign stop in Iowa, Bullock said large animal confinements known as CAFOs are a state issue, not a federal one, not a promising animal welfare position for someone seeking the presidency.

Closing Remarks

Please remember to update your voter registration, and take other steps to ensure that  your voice is heard in our democracy. Tomorrow’s blog will cover the candidates featured in night two of the second presidential debate.

Brad Pyle is political director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

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.

Hslf-calf-face-blog-300x200
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.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Agriculture spending bill directs USDA to resume posting inspection reports; prevents horse slaughter; funds domestic violence/pet shelter program

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has just voted to approve its Fiscal Year 2020 bill, and there’s great news for animals, including wildlife, companion animals, and horses.

NCPUPPYMILL_0740_359091
Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in no uncertain terms, to resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act, without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses cited for abusing animals in their care. It requires the agency to restore these records on its website, in a searchable format and in their entirety, within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.

We have been fighting for this outcome since the agency abruptly purged this information from its website in February 2017, leaving Americans in the dark. Renewed access to these taxpayer-financed records is crucial for deterring violations, guiding consumer decision-making, and holding the USDA accountable for its enforcement efforts.

Among other key provisions, the bill would:

  • Prohibit government spending on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This “defund” language has been enacted nearly every year since 2005, but it wasn’t included in last year’s House bill (the Senate had to insist on its inclusion in the final package). This is the first time it’s been part of the House chairman’s base bill. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., led a letter signed by 111 Representatives seeking this provision.
  • Provide shelter options for people with pets who are fleeing domestic violence: The bill includes $2 million to fund a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which will provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. Abusers often threaten or inflict harm on pets to exert control over their partners and prevent them from leaving. Only 3% of domestic violence shelters currently allow pets, so these funds will help ensure that more facilities are able to accommodate them or arrange for pet shelter. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., introduced the PAWS Act and led efforts to secure this funding.
  • Crack down on horse soring: The bill provides a $294,000 increase (raising the program’s funding to $1 million) for stronger USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. Weak oversight of this law has allowed the cruel practice of “soring” to persist—with unscrupulous trainers continuing to deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds using caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait known as the "Big Lick" and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. 
  • Enforce humane slaughter requirements: The bill maintains staffing for inspections and enforcement related to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Oversight of humane handling rules at slaughter facilities is vital not only to protect animals from abuses like those documented in HSUS undercover investigations, but also to reduce the chance of associated food safety risks and costly product recalls.
  • Renew the prohibition on licensing Class B dealers: The bill prevents USDA from using funds to license “Class B random source” dealers, who are notorious for obtaining cats and dogs through fraudulent means, including pet theft, holding them in awful conditions and then selling them into research. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., championed this language.

Our biggest thanks go to subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., for his extraordinary leadership in including these items in the chairman’s bill that he put forward. Thanks also to subcommittee Ranking Member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., for his support of the bill, to all the legislators who championed these pro-animal measures, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Christopher Smith, R-N.J., for their outstanding bipartisan mobilization of 188 Representatives who requested many of these provisions.

This bill demonstrates, once again, that legislators across the political spectrum agree on the need for stronger animal protections. We are still a long way from final enactment of this legislation, but it’s off to a very strong start and we are determined to see these important provisions over the finish line.

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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Did your Members of Congress make the grade? The 2018 congressional year in review for animals

The final 2018 Humane Scorecard is now online, and we invite you to check it out and see how your federal legislators stood on a range of key issues last year. Please also share this scorecard with family, friends, and fellow advocates and help spread the word!

Capitol
iStock Photo

To recap, the 115th Congress second session had its share of frustrating setbacks, but the FY18 omnibus appropriations deal signed into law in March and the farm bill enacted in December contained some spectacular wins for animal protection. Here’s a snapshot of major actions in 2018:

Farm bill
Some of our biggest victories in this massive, multi-year package were defensive plays:

  • Most importantly, we blocked a terrible amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that threatened to gut countless state and local laws on animal protection, food safety, and other agriculture-related concerns.
  • We also successfully countered amendments to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requirement for annual U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at animal research laboratories and amendments to weaken Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.

We secured three key pro-animal measures in the final package:

  • The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters and other entities arrange shelter for survivors with pets.
  • The Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act clarifies that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including territories where cockfighting is still openly practiced.
  • The Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act prohibits the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, preventing an appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthening our standing to end it worldwide.

Appropriations
The FY18 omnibus spending bill enacted in March contained many pro-animal items:

  • Equines: Renewed “defund” provision that effectively prevents horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil. Restated prohibition on sending wild horses or burros to slaughter for human consumption.
  • Wildlife: Struck riders that would have eliminated ESA protections (and barred judicial review) for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Eliminated rider allowing extreme methods of hunting on National Park Service lands in Alaska.
  • Animal welfare enforcement: Following requests by 184 representatives and 38 senators, provided a $2 million increase for AWA enforcement, added $1.5 million to a student loan repayment program that helps veterinarians work in underserved areas, and sustained funding in other animal welfare accounts. Also criticized the USDA for thwarting access to AWA and Horse Protection Act inspection reports and directed the agency to comply with earlier requirements “that the online searchable database should allow analysis and comparison of data and include all inspection reports, annual reports, and other documents related to enforcement of animal welfare laws.”
  • Research and testing: Maintained funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop replacements for animal tests and increased funding by $36 million for a National Institutes of Health program that helps transition science to non-animal test methods. Encouraged NIH to expedite retirement of chimpanzees in research facilities and to expand the national chimpanzee sanctuary system. Maintained prohibition on USDA licensing of “random source” dealers, who are notorious for acquiring dogs and cats through fraudulent means (including pet theft), keeping them in inhumane conditions and selling them for research.
  • Wounded warriors: Doubled funding (a $5 million increase) for Department of Defense grants to nonprofits providing therapeutic service dogs to veterans and active duty personnel suffering from physical injuries and emotional trauma, and boosted by $1 million a Veterans Affairs program providing equine therapy for veterans with mental health issues.

Some pro-animal FY19 budget provisions were enacted:

  • Provided a $105.4 million increase for the NIH program developing non-animal alternatives to animal tests.
  • Maintained $10 million for the Defense Department program that awards grants for therapy dogs, and increased by $500,000 the Veterans Affairs equine therapy program.

Other priorities in the FY19 budget await final resolution:

  • The horse slaughter defund provision is in the Senate bill but not the House bill.
  • Both the House and Senate bills include the prohibition on the slaughter of wild horses and burros for human consumption, but the House version also directs immediate initiation of a surgical sterilization program despite a lack of evidence that the method can be performed humanely or effectively.
  • The House bill contains terrible riders to undo ESA protections for gray wolves and block the reintroduction of grizzly bears in Washington State.

Additional victories

  • While the USDA budget isn’t finalized, the FY19 funding request letters (signed by a record 190 representatives and 38 senators) helped drive needed action: In May, the agency abandoned its proposal to outsource animal welfare oversight and give regulated industries (puppy mills, roadside zoos, research laboratories, etc.) the power to decide which facilities warrant federal inspections.
  • In September, the House passed a global resolution, H. Res. 401, urging all nations to prohibit and enforce laws to end the cruel dog and cat meat trade. (House resolutions don’t require Senate approval or presidential signature, so this measure is completed.)
  • The Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act was signed into law in October as part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. Introduced after a French bulldog died when an attendant insisted on stowing him in an overhead bin during a long flight, the WOOFF Act prohibits storage of live animals in airplane overhead compartments and authorizes civil penalties.
  • Several measures saw action in one chamber during the 115th Congress, setting the stage for future success. They included the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act to prohibit sales of shark fins and the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act to prohibit acts of extreme cruelty in interstate or foreign commerce. The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R. 2651), which aims to end widespread doping of race horses, had a House hearing in June (with testimony by the Humane Society of the United States), and in September the House approved the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act (H.R. 6197) to crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

Setbacks
We did encounter some serious setbacks. Legislation to bring urgently needed changes to agriculture checkoff programs—so their funds are no longer misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms—failed in the Senate. A farm bill amendment to end the cruelty of horse “soring” was blocked from House floor consideration. Numerous animal protection bills, detailed in the 2018 Humane Scorecard, garnered hundreds of bipartisan co-sponsors but stalled because House and Senate leadership refused to call them up for a vote.

Looking ahead
The new Congress presents exciting opportunities to move reintroduced bills that are ripe for swift action. We hope to see significantly fewer anti-animal measures brought to the House floor, although we’ll likely need to respond to additional regulatory rollbacks against wildlife and other animals and to press for stronger agency enforcement and accountability. We’re eager to work on new priorities as well, such as disaster planning for animals at regulated facilities, as we face increasingly frequent and extreme weather events.

For all this and more, we’ll be counting on your continued help. You have been the key to our successes in 2018, and if you keep speaking out for the animals, we can accomplish even greater progress in the 116th Congress!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Steve King, down for the count?

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution of disapproval concerning Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for recent remarks in which he questioned the offensiveness of white supremacy and white nationalism. Yesterday, the House Republican Steering Committee unanimously voted to exclude Steve King from any positions on House committees in the new 116th Congress, kicking him off the Agriculture, Judiciary, and Small Business Committees. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also issued a statement condemning King’s words.

Dog_chain_240x270_Larry_French
Larry French/AP Images for The HSUS

King’s comments to the New York Times are only the latest signals of his affinity for white nationalism. In 2017, King tweeted that America can’t restore “our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Last year, King defended his meeting with  a far-right Austrian political party with ties to Nazism, while on a trip funded by a Holocaust memorial group, and retweeted a post from British author and self-professed Nazi sympathizer Mark Collett.

Stripped of his committee assignments, King’s effectiveness as a lawmaker will further shrink. Nowhere will this be more apparent than on the House Agriculture Committee where—attempting to shape policy for an industry central to his home state’s economy—King has launched many of his attacks against animal protection over the years.

These multiple condemnations directly threaten King’s political future. Last week, Iowa State Senator Randy Feenstra announced his intention to challenge King in the 2020 Republican primary, and Iowa’s Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds, stated that she will not support King in the race. King might not even make it to that election: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) are among the Republicans who have already called for his resignation.  

The hatefulness implicit in King’s commentary concerning white nationalism spills over into his visceral opposition to animal protection. He has consistently made himself an outlier by fighting animal protection proposals of all kinds in Congress.

A prime example is King’s opposition to restricting animal fighting. Last May, King voted against an amendment to the Farm Bill, which sought to clarify that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories. This amendment passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51 and was enacted in December. In 2007, he voted against the Animal Fighting Enforcement Prohibition Act, which strengthened penalties for illegal animal fighting and made it a felony to transport animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting. In 2013, King tried unsuccessfully to block legislation that made it a crime for an adult to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight.

King is also responsible for one of the worst threats to animal protection and most egregious power grabs in U.S. history. Thankfully, Congress rejected twice—in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills—the King amendment that threatened to nullify countless state and local laws regarding animals and a range of other concerns including food safety and the environment.  

As if this weren’t enough, King also has a history of voting against wildlife and equines. He has repeatedly voted to promote the slaughter of American horses for human consumption in foreign countries even though 80 percent of the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. He’s voted for legislation that undermines the Endangered Species Act, removing critical protections for some of America’s most iconic and imperiled species, including grizzly bears and wolves. He also voted to restore extremely cruel and scientifically unjustified methods of trophy hunting on National Park and National Refuge lands in Alaska.

King’s great hostility toward our cause may stem from the same core lack of empathy and ethics that prompt him to embrace a racist ideology that has so bedeviled this nation throughout its history. For that and other reasons, we wholeheartedly applaud the Congress for its resounding rebuke of King’s bigotry and malice.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Farm Bill: Mission accomplished!

The 2018 Farm Bill has now been signed into law by President Trump—most importantly without the odious King amendment—which makes this a banner day for our animal protection work. Stopping Rep. Steve King (R-IA) from hooking his massive power grab—to nullify state and local laws addressing animal welfare concerns—onto the package has been our top priority. To succeed, we marshaled a broad-based coalition of more than 220 groups to oppose it. And that strategy worked. 

Hslf-blog-dog-meat-300x200
Jean Chung/For HSI

We never doubted that the King amendment would fall out as long as we could shine enough light on just how overreaching it was, but we didn’t take it for granted. If you were one of the many supporters and advocates who took action on this, we thank you. There was a lot at stake, but you came through. And together, we’ve done the whole nation a favor, because King’s amendment would have threatened more than just measures passed in the states concerning confinement of farm animals, shark finning, puppy mills, horse slaughter, and the like. It would also have jeopardized state and local laws focused on a vast sweep of social concerns including food safety, child labor, opioids, pesticide exposure, fire-safe cigarettes, and more.

Since the Farm Bill functions as an omnibus vehicle, we also worked full-tilt to see three animal protection measures incorporated into the final version. Each had been the subject of free-standing legislation for which we advocated and helped build overwhelming bipartisan support via leadership and cosponsorships. For over a year we’ve been working behind the scenes to secure their inclusion. And that worked too.

One of the measures bans domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, which was until now only illegal in six states. This legislation prevents any possibility that the dog and cat meat industry can take root in our nation, and it strengthens our standing to press other countries to end their dog and cat meat trade. This will reinforce the voice and the hand of our sister group, Humane Society International, and others working on this issue around the globe. Countries such as Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines have already enacted similar prohibitions, and earlier this year the U.S. House passed a landmark resolution urging other nations to do the same.

Another provision extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets at risk. Abusers often exploit their human victims’ attachment to their pets, and the animals become victims in their own right, along with the people trying to protect them. This measure builds on laws already enacted by 32 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico allowing the inclusion of pets in domestic violence protection orders, thereby ensuring protections throughout the country. It also authorizes grants to provide housing assistance for survivors with pets—a desperately needed resource as only 3 percent of domestic violence shelters currently accommodate pets or help arrange pet shelter. Again, we mobilized a broad consortium of domestic violence, law enforcement, veterinary, animal welfare organizations, and pet product companies in support of this legislation.

The third provision clarifies that our federal prohibitions on dogfighting and cockfighting apply across every jurisdiction, including in all U.S. territories. This marks the fourth consecutive Farm Bill in which we have strengthened the federal animal fighting law, which was first enacted in 1976. It will protect animals from vicious cruelty, communities from associated criminal activity such as drug trafficking and gangs, and the public and food supply from transmission of bird flu and other diseases.  

When you support the Humane Society Legislative Fund, you do so with the expectation that we’ll put ourselves right at the heart of the action on Capitol Hill, to secure the best possible outcomes for animals. Thanks to you, we’ve succeeded. You are the vaunted “army of the kind” that the legendary author and animal advocate Cleveland Amory called upon to protect and defend the voiceless. We’re grateful, and we’re going to enter the New Year with confidence and the good feeling that when we bring the right constituencies together, we can make really great things happen in our work.

Get Political
for Animals




Powered by TypePad