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Federal Legislation

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.

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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.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Senator introduces bills to restrict private possession of big cats, primates

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Ten years ago, Americans were stunned by a pet chimpanzee’s vicious attack on a Connecticut woman, Charla Nash. The animal bit off Nash’s fingers and toes, tore off most of her face, and left her fighting for her life. The chimpanzee, Travis, was shot and killed by a police officer concerned for his own life. Two years after that incident, we were shocked once again by a report from Zanesville, Ohio, where a mentally disturbed man released his private menagerie of 50 tigers, lions, cougars, bears, wolves, and primates before committing suicide. In the ensuing chaos, law enforcement officials were forced to kill most of the animals.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS

Most of us find it difficult to comprehend why anyone would wish to keep a chimpanzee as a pet or house lions and tigers on their property. But, in fact, across the United States, thousands of these animals are being held in terribly inadequate conditions in private garages, basements, and backyards, and in ramshackle enterprises like roadside zoos and animal exhibitions. Their plight not only raises serious animal welfare concerns, but they are also public safety disasters waiting to happen.

That’s why Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have made the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act and the Captive Primate Safety Act in Congress a priority. Last week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., reintroduced both bills in the Senate. Sen. Blumenthal had met with Charla Nash, a constituent of his, after her attack, and quickly came to understand the danger and folly of private ownership.

The House version of the Big Cat Public Safety Act was introduced in February by Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and has 148 bipartisan cosponsors. It has already passed the House Natural Resources Committee. A House version of the primate bill, introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Fitzpatrick has 48 bipartisan cosponsors. The Captive Primate Safety Act passed the Senate unanimously back in 2006.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act, S. 2561 and H.R. 1380, would prohibit public contact with captive tigers, lions, and other big cat species, and it would prohibit the possession of big cats by individuals and roadside zoos and other businesses unless they are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bill would not impact professionally run zoos and sanctuaries or their conservation programs.

It is especially important that we stop roadside zoos, whose exhibitors make money by offering the public opportunities to pet, feed, or take selfies with infant animals, like tiger cubs, or even swim with them. Just a few months later, when the animals are too big to handle, they end up being warehoused at substandard operations and pseudo-sanctuaries, and the roadside zoos breed new litters to meet tourist demand. It’s a vicious cycle, with no relief for the animals trapped in it.

Animals owned by individuals fare no better. Last year, we told you about a tiger found in the garage of a deserted Houston home. When rescuers came upon the 350-pound animal, he was sitting in a cage on rotting meat, mold, maggots, and his own waste. The tiger has since found a permanent home at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch where he is finally living a peaceful and contented life.

The Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 2562 and H.R. 1776, would prohibit interstate or foreign commerce of nonhuman primates for the exotic pet trade, while exempting licensed facilities such as zoos, circuses, research institutions and sanctuaries. Right now, anyone in the United States can easily buy a primate from an exotic animal dealer or over the Internet. But primates are highly intelligent and social wild animals, and their natural behaviors make them unsuited for life as pets. Adults of even smaller primate species are powerful, unpredictable, and often aggressive. Primates can also spread potentially deadly infections and diseases to people, including tuberculosis and the Herpes B virus, exacerbating the health and safety risk.

Since the incidents in Connecticut and Ohio, most U.S. states have moved to ban the private possession of big cats and large primates—a change we pushed for and applaud. But to wipe this problem out for good, we need strong federal laws that will prevent unscrupulous people from forcing animals to spend their entire lives in abject misery, while creating a public safety nightmare. Please join us by calling on your Senators and Representative in Congress to cosponsor the Big Cat Public Safety Act and the Captive Primate Safety Act. Let’s make this the year we collectively, as a nation, say no to the exploitation of innocent animals who suffer immensely in roadside zoos or as pets.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Breaking news: Key Senate committee signals support for animals, like wild horses and whales, with spending bills

Today, the U.S. Congress once again provides good news for animals. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two Fiscal Year 2020 bills that cover funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Commerce—including federal agencies whose activities and programs have enormous consequences for animals. The proposed measures include a commitment for non-lethal management of wild horses and burros featuring increased fertility control approaches, funding to protect critically endangered north Atlantic right whales, and increased funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo courtesy iStock.com

Similar to the bills passed by the House of Representatives, the 2020 bills also repudiate years of cuts to the budgets of key agency programs responsible for implementing these and other animal protection commitments.

Among the highlights of the bills that passed the committee today:

New milestones for wild horses and burros: The bill that covers the Interior Department provides $35 million to move the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program away from calls to use lethal management methods like slaughter. The increased funding for a non-lethal program included in the FY 2020 report is for proven, safe, and humane fertility control tools and the onboarding of improved science as it becomes available, which does not include sterilization. The strategy, developed over years of negotiations with key stakeholders and proposed by the Humane Society Legislative, the Humane Society of the United States, and several other organizations, directs the BLM to work with key organizations to implement the program, which will involve vigorous application of fertility control alongside strategic removals, the relocation of removed horses and burros to pasture facilities, and increased focus on adoptions. This is the first time that lawmakers have championed such a multifaceted, non-lethal wild horse and burro management concept and is an historic achievement. We will continue to work with appropriators to ensure that scientifically-proven, safe, and humane reversible fertility control tools—which do not include surgical sterilization—become the heart of the BLM’s wild horse and burro management. Like the House of Representatives, the Senate is reinstating a prohibition on killing healthy wild horses and burros, including sending them to slaughter by the BLM.

Conservation of marine mammals: The bill covering the Commerce Department funds vital research and monitoring for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, providing $3 million for research and conservation efforts for the species, $1 million of which is to be dedicated for a pilot program to develop, refine, and field test innovative fishing gear technologies designed to reduce North Atlantic right whale entanglements. The legislation maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission, rejecting the administration’s bid to close this key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems.

Funding for wildlife protection programs: For years, Congress has cut funding for programs vital to wildlife protection, to the point where there is insufficient capital to ensure their effective functioning. The bill covering the Interior Department increases monies for the FWS’s Ecological Services program, which is central to on-the-ground activities to protect and recover ESA-listed species. The bill proposes $5 million more than Ecological Services received for FY 2019, and $17 million above the administration’s FY 2020 budget request. It also boosts funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, designed to protect iconic global species such as elephants and great apes, by over $1 million from its FY 2019 level and by almost $7 million from the administration’s FY 2020 proposal.

Animal testing alternatives: The bill also provides level funding for EPA’s Computational Toxicology Program, which develops replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act. With the recent historic announcement by the EPA’s Administrator Wheeler calling for an end to animal testing, it is imperative that Congress increase funding for the agency’s Office of Research and Development including the Computational Toxicology Program.

These bills are a testament to the importance of animal protection issues within all agencies of our federal government. The fights are real and we must keep the government honest about its commitments to protecting and preserving species on land and in the sea. As these bills are taken up by the full Senate, we are committed to seeing that these vital funding provisions for animals are included.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Bunnies take over Capitol Hill to find Some Bunny to Love

Rabbits are docile, loveable animals who we view as companions. Unfortunately, they, along with guinea pigs, mice, and rats, are still used for cosmetics testing for products like lipstick, toothpaste, lotion, and shampoo. In fact, approximately 500,000 animals suffer and die worldwide every year due to cosmetic testing where substances are forced down animals’ throats, dripped into their eyes, or smeared onto their skin, and they are left to suffer for days or weeks without pain relief.

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Photo by Paul Morigi/AP Images for the HSUS
HSLF President Sara Amundson, left, and
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, right, with bunnies
Paxton and Andre

That is why the Humane Society Legislative Fund, along with Congressman Tony Cárdenas  (D-Calif), hosted a bunny awareness event on Capitol Hill yesterday where we provided educational tools on how consumers can become more aware of cruelty free cosmetics while also interacting with some adorable rabbits available for adoption at local rescue groups. Staff and volunteers from Friends of Rabbits, a Baltimore/Washington D.C.-based rescue group, and Last Chance Animal Rescue, based in Waldorf, MD, brought about a dozen adoptable rabbits to the event. Hundreds of Congressional staffers came by to meet the rabbits and learn more about humane cosmetics.

Over the last 20 years, cosmetics companies have significantly reduced their use of animal testing in favor of alternative test methods and strategies, which are generally more cost-effective and predictive of human health and safety. Because species respond differently when exposed to the same chemicals, results from animal tests may not be indicative of how they will affect humans. In addition, results from animal tests can be variable and difficult to interpret. Unreliable and ineffective animal tests mean consumer safety cannot be guaranteed.

“It’s well past time we begin moving away from cruel and inhumane animal testing, and move towards alternative, sound scientific methods that do not involve harming animals like dogs, cats, and rabbits. I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to push federal agencies to move away from unnecessary painful testing and adopt more humane methods that result in beneficial outcomes.” -Congressman Tony Cárdenas

In order to remain competitive in a changing global market, the American cosmetics industry will need to adopt humane testing methods as many other countries have banned the sale of cosmetics that have been newly tested on animals.

In 2012, HSLF, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International launched the global #BeCrueltyFree campaign with the goal of extending the EU ban to cosmetics animal testing and trade around the world.

In 2013, the European Union (EU) became the world’s largest cruelty-free cosmetics marketplace when it finalized a ban on using animal tests to determine the safety of cosmetics and the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. This ban compelled cosmetics companies around the world to end animal testing and invest in the development of alternatives in order to sell in the EU. 

As a result, similar bans were enacted in Israel, Norway, India, and Switzerland. More than 1.8 billion people can now buy cosmetics that will never be tested on animals again.

Significant support for more accurate and humane testing for cosmetics is also found here in the United States. State legislatures are hopping on board to end animal testing for cosmetics. California, Nevada, and Illinois  became the first states to pass laws  to prohibit the sale of animal-tested cosmetics. As California is the fifth largest economy in the world, it only follows that we should have a federal law. 

It is time for Congress to take action to ensure that all cosmetics produced and sold in the United States are free from new animal testing. The Humane Cosmetics Act, which would prohibit the production and sale of animal-tested cosmetics, had strong bipartisan support in the last Congress, including from Congressman Cardenas and 186 other House members. In addition, close to 300 stakeholders in the cosmetics industry, including Paul Mitchell, Coty, Lush, and The Body Shop, have endorsed the legislation.

We are nearing reintroduction of the bill with leaders from the 115th Congress. Please contact your members of Congress (you can find their contact information here) and tell them to become original cosponsors of the Humane Cosmetics Act when it’s reintroduced in the House and introduced in the Senate. Let’s make the United States the next country to #BeCrueltyFree.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Grijalva’s PAW and FIN Conservation Act gets a House hearing

The Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish In Need of Conservation Act, (H.R. 4348)—also known as the PAW and FIN Conservation Act—introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and 23 colleagues, received an important hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee today. This critical bill would stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from implementing irresponsible and dangerous rules designed to gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and decimate federal protections for our world’s most imperiled species.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

This is one of the most important animal protection fights of our time, because it will impact animals, ecosystems, and people for generations to come. The FWS and NOAA final rules in question, published in August by the Trump Administration, would block vital and necessary conservation measures to protect species threatened with extinction. Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) did the nation a great service by holding a hearing during which critics could address the dangerous executive overreach these rules entail. Now, we must work together to prevent their implementation.

To date, the ESA has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct. If it is weakened it will be much more difficult to ensure that threatened and endangered animals, including species like the grizzly bear, African lions and elephants do not go extinct. It’s wrong for the administration to ignore the intentions of Congress and to prioritize corporate profit over the protection of at-risk wildlife.

In addition to H.R. 4348, the committee discussed two other bills endorsed by HSLF: the Supporting Activities and Leadership Abroad to Move Amphibians Nearing Decline or Extinction to Recovery (SALAMANDER) Act, H.R. 4340, and the Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Act (H.R. 4341). These measures would authorize vital funding for amphibian and endangered species, respectively, whose populations are in dangerous decline.

Chairman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) set the tone for the hearing by highlighting the weight of FWS’s recent decisions: “The changes [to the ESA] imposed by this administration would undermine the spirit and intent of the ESA and put more species at risk. At a time when scientists tell us we need to do more to address the anthropogenic causes of extinction, it’s inconceivable that the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA, the very agencies charged with protecting wildlife, could be making such devastating decisions.”

Speaking on behalf of the administration, Stephen Guertin, FWS Deputy Director for Policy, only offered reiterations of the FWS mantra that “the rules ensure that delistings are not held to a higher standard than listings” and “increase transparency for the public,” despite the rest of the hearing clearly demonstrating how with these rules, delistings are held to a much lower standard and, instead of increasing transparency, open a backdoor for political appointees to pander to industry over conservation.

The last several years have witnessed multiple threats to the Endangered Species Act, from both the executive branch and the Congress. We’ve stood in the gap, time after time, to defeat these measures, and we’re going to stand strong in this fight too, with congressional allies, with organizational partners, and with all those who want to uphold the strongest possible protection for wildlife species at risk.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Key House committee passes bills cracking down on trophy hunting, big cat captivity, and shark fin trade

A House committee today approved four key pieces of animal protection and conservation legislation to alleviate threats faced by some of the world’s most iconic and at-risk species, including a bill that would end harmful public contact activities with big cats, another that would crack down on the shark fin trade in the United States, one that would continue a critical conservation funding source, and a bill that would restrict the import of the body parts of endangered and threatened large animals killed overseas by trophy hunters.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

We applaud lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle who voted in favor of these bills, showing how deeply Americans care about ending our country’s role in some of the worst wildlife abuses faced by animals here in the United States and globally.

The bills, detailed below, will next move to the full House floor for a vote.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act: This bill would ban the possession of big cat species by unlicensed individuals and entities and prohibit their use in businesses that exploit them by forcing them to participate in tourist activities. In the United States, many big cats—such as lions and tigers—are owned by unqualified individuals at roadside exhibits and shoddy circuses as well as by pet owners. As past HSUS investigations have revealed, the animals are bred indiscriminately and often spend their lives in inhumane, unregulated, abusive conditions. They are typically used for tourist opportunities like selfies and cub petting, and are discarded (even slaughtered for parts) after they grow big. As we have seen only too often, wild animals held in these types of situations often escape, creating a major safety hazard for citizens and for local law enforcement officials who are not typically trained to manage big cat escapes.

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act: This bill would prohibit the import, export, trade, distribution, and possession for commercial purposes of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades because of this trade. Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in some parts of Asia but the sharks suffer terribly: fishermen slice off their fins and dump them back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. It is important we end the trade in shark fins here because the United States is an end market and transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced.

Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies (CECIL) Act: This bill would substantially restrict the import and hunting of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. It’s named after the beloved African lion Cecil, who was shot by an American trophy hunter in 2015, sparking global outrage. Trophy hunting is exacerbating population declines of key species who already face extinction and many other threats besides, including poaching and habitat loss. This practice of killing wild and at-risk animals for bragging rights is hurting local economies in African countries by crippling their tourism industries and other opportunities for economic development. We also know that trophy hunting fuels other evils, like corruption and wildlife trafficking, and it’s time the United States cracked down on it.

Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act: This bill extends the sale of the Save Vanishing Species Semipostal Stamp for as long as copies remain. This congressionally-created semipostal stamp enables consumers to support wildlife conservation every time they send a letter. To date, sales of the stamp have raised $5.4 million for international conservation of some of the world's most imperiled species, such as elephants, tigers, and sea turtles. Funds have supported more than 100 conservation projects in 35 countries, at no cost to U.S. taxpayers. Although about 50 million stamps remain in stock, the U.S. Postal Service discontinued selling them at the end of 2018 and can't resume sales until enactment of this reauthorization.

We are grateful for the leadership of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Ranking Member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for bringing these four bills to the committee’s attention, and we’ll be pushing for their passage on the House floor next. We want to ensure all four of these bills have a high cosponsor count before they go to the floor for a vote, so please contact your Representative today and urge them to cosponsor these important pieces of legislation.

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.

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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.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Justify’s story highlights urgent need to root out doping and self-policing from horseracing industry

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The saga of 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify, recently chronicled in a New York Times article, provides one of the most compelling arguments yet for reform in the horseracing industry and in particular for ending the massive leeway the industry now enjoys in policing itself in regard to the doping of animals.

According to the Times, when Justify charged across the finish line in June 2018 to win the Belmont Stakes, becoming only the second horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, he had already tested positive for a banned drug, scopolamine. The drug can act as a bronchodilator, clearing the horse’s airway and augmenting his heart rate, thereby enhancing his performance.

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Photo by Stan Rohrer/Alamy Stock Photo


What unfolded next is a study in how those in the highest power echelons of the horse racing industry bent and twisted the rules to ensure that the star equine athlete stayed in the running.

Instead of the failed drug test causing a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took more than a month to confirm the test results. “Then, instead of filing a public complaint as it usually does, the board made a series of decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for any horse found to have the banned substance that Justify tested positive for in its system,” reporter Joe Drape writes.

The board also decided not to continue with its case against Justify’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Baffert continues to deny intentionally doping Justify, even though a second test he ordered from another lab also came back positive.

There were high stakes involved. Justify went on to become only the 13th winner ever of the Triple Crown. After the Kentucky Derby, his owners had sold his breeding rights for $60 million (documents reviewed by the Times did not show any evidence of pressure or tampering by Justify’s owners). 

Justify’s story illustrates just why we need reform in the horseracing industry, where those who promote the sport are also policing it, and where both legal and illegal drugs continue to be used widely.

The industry is now beset by a drug crisis that has led to the premature deaths of thousands of horses over the years. The problem began when Congress, in 1980, decided to leave it up to states to come up with their own rules on what drugs to allow in horse racing. This has led to a confusing patchwork of state laws with no uniform national standard regarding which drugs are permitted or penalties for doping.

The widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs can lead to a multitude of problems, both for the equine athletes and for their riders. Some drugs allow a horse to push through pain, intensifying an injury, or make it possible to force worn-out horses to compete, which can result in career-ending injuries and even death.

That’s why the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (along with dozens of groups in the racing industry and animal protection arena) support passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act H.R.1754/S.1820 in Congress. The bill, sponsored in the House by Reps. Paul Tonko , D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., and in the Senate by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., would not only ban race day medication and substantially increase out-of-competition testing, it would also remove state racing commissions from oversight of all medication regulations and enforcement. The bill would also grant independent control over rule-making, testing and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to a new authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.  Finally, it would create a uniform national standard for drug testing overseen by USADA, an independent entity that oversees testing of U.S. athletes at the Olympics and many other sporting events.

We are also calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Justify’s drug test and an overhaul of drug testing policy to protect racehorses from those who place winning over racehorse welfare.

Horseracing is at a true crossroads, and it’s time things changed for the better, especially for the equine athletes. Please contact your federal legislators today and urge them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity Act and do all they can to help secure its passage. Let’s make this the year this important bill races across the finish line.

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

 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

SAVE them; it’s the right thing to do

The North Atlantic right whale was once common across the entire Atlantic. Unfortunately, this ocean giant (at more than 50 feet long and weighing some 70 tons) became the focus of whaling efforts because the species was ‘the right whale to hunt’—thus its name. Right whales are huge but slow moving and so full of fat that they floated when struck. Subsequently, by the late 1800s, the right whale had been exterminated across most of its range and hunted to the point of extinction in North America. Their population now numbers only some 400 animals and, while whaling no longer threatens the species, it faces the modern perils of entanglement in commercial fishing gear and collisions with the large and fast ships that power across its remaining US and Canadian east coast range. It’s now the most endangered large whale species in the world.

North-atlantic-right-whale-3
Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Today, Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., stepped up to help protect these majestic creatures by introducing the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered North Atlantic (SAVE) Right Whales Act, which will fund promising research and recovery actions to halt the alarming loss of North Atlantic right whales in our coastal waters. Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1568).

The legislation would establish a grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders in the fishing and shipping industries with the goal of reducing the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. These funds—granted over a 5-year period—are desperately needed. With some energy and thought, we should be able to find ways to reconcile the interests of stakeholder industries while ensuring the survival of an iconic species that has suffered so much at human hands.

With our oceans warming, right whales are roaming further afield looking for food—they consume tiny plankton that live only in cold waters. That means that prior strategies of setting a short seasonal fishing closure in a small, high-use feeding area, or restricting traffic in a few busy shipping lanes along a predictable migratory route are no longer working to reduce the risk of whale deaths. In fact, some 28 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead just since 2017 with only 12 calves born in the same period.

This decline foretells disaster and demise for North Atlantic right whales unless we embrace the challenge of curbing the most serious threats to their survival, right away. Swift passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act will go a long way toward ensuring that this season’s newborn right whales will grow up not only to replenish their struggling species, but to flourish in a safer, healthier, and better marine environment. Please take a moment to contact your legislators and ask them to support this critical bill—we don’t have a moment to lose if we want to save this species.

Equine advocates gather on Capitol Hill to promote equine welfare bills

Yesterday, horse advocates from across the country came to Capitol Hill to press for passage of humane legislation at the federal level. Members of the Homes for Horses Coalition, a network of equine rescues and sanctuaries, and veterinarians from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association joined officials from Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for meetings with key members of Congress. The groups voiced their collective support for equine welfare legislation including the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, and the Horseracing Integrity Act.

Equine-lobby-day
Photo courtesy of Bryant Taylor

The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 961/S. 2006, would permanently ban domestic horse slaughter, as well as the transport of horses abroad for slaughter in Canada and Mexico—sadly still permissible. Each year more than 80,000 American horses are shipped to Canada or Mexico, where they are butchered for their meat, which is consumed overseas. The suffering begins the moment these horses enter the slaughter pipeline. After being acquired by kill buyers, at auction or otherwise, they are loaded into cramped livestock trailers with other horses and spend many hours without food and water. These frightened flight animals often panic and fight in close quarters, which results in them injuring themselves in transport.

After all the cruelty and suffering these horses endure, their meat is unsafe for human consumption. Unlike animals raised for food, the vast majority of horses sent to slaughter will have ingested, or been treated or injected with, multiple chemical substances known to be dangerous to humans, untested on humans, or specifically prohibited for use in animals destined for human consumption.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 693/S. 1007) passed the House this summer with an overwhelming 333 to 96 vote, so advocates today focused on increasing support for the bill in the Senate. The measure proposes urgently needed reforms to end horse soring—a cruel practice that inflicts pain on the horse’s feet and legs to produce an exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick.” The PAST Act will eliminate the use of devices integral to the soring process, end a corrupt industry system of self-policing, and increase fines and criminal penalties for violators.

The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R.1754/S.1820) will ban race-day medication, create a uniform medication policy for all 38 racing jurisdictions, and substantially increase out-of-competition testing for racehorses. The bill proposes to grant independent control over rule-making, testing, and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to a new Authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA ). This same agency is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for the Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports in the United States, and it’s well qualified to reinforce standards within racing. These equine athletes are the heart and soul of the sport and deserve protection from those who place winning over racehorse welfare.

The groups that gathered on Capitol Hill represent policy, rescue, and veterinary perspectives. The Homes for Horses Coalition has saved countless horses each year from the slaughter pipeline—witnessing the cruelty of the process firsthand and helping to rehabilitate survivors so that they could go on to live happy, productive lives as companion animals. As veterinary professionals, the members of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association can accurately speak to what truly qualifies as humane euthanasia and reject what occurs to horses at foreign slaughterhouses. As individuals who prescribe routine medications to horses, they are also qualified to  share their concerns regarding the doping of racehorses and the effects of illegal drugs on the health of racehorses. HSVMA members also have an acute understanding of the pain inflicted on horses who are sored and forced to perform in agonizing pain.

We helped to bring together these stakeholders to share their perspectives with members of Congress in the interests of passing life changing bills. You too can have an impact by contacting your members of Congress and asking him or her to support the SAFE Act, the PAST Act, and the Horseracing Integrity Act—together we can create a more humane world for horses!

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