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Food

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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

EPA gives factory farms a free pass on toxic air emissions

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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Photo by iStock.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Animal welfare on the ballot in November

When voters go to the polls this November, they won’t only be making critical decisions about who represents them in the White House, Congress and state and local offices. In a number of states, the people will vote on the humane treatment of animals—deciding whether to adopt policies on factory farming, wildlife trafficking, and other animal protection issues.

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Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

Since the early 1990s, The Humane Society of the United States and allied organizations have been involved in about 50 statewide ballot contests, and voters have sided with animals about 70 percent of the time. They’ve banned cockfighting in three of the last states where it remained legal (Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma), set humane treatment standards for dogs in the largest puppy mill state (Missouri), stopped extreme confinement of animals on factory farms (Arizona, California, and Florida), and adopted new policies to restrict greyhound racing; horse slaughter; body-gripping traps and poisons; trophy hunting of bears, cougars, and wolves, and more. When politicians in the state legislatures have been held captive by special interests—such as big agribusiness, the trophy hunting lobby, or even organized cockfighting groups—animal advocates have petitioned to put these questions directly to the people.

This year in Massachusetts, voters will decide on Question 3, which would phase out the extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens in small crates and cages where they are virtually immobilized for their entire lives, and will remove inhumane and unsafe products from the Massachusetts marketplace. Backed by the MSPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England, and hundreds of Massachusetts veterinarians and family farmers, more than 170,000 Massachusetts voters signed petitions to place Question 3 on the ballot. Question 3 adds momentum to what’s already occurring in the marketplace, with McDonald’s, Walmart and 200 other major food retail brands pledging to change their procurement practices and source only cage-free eggs and meats.

In Oregon, voters will weigh in on Measure 100, which will help save endangered sea turtles, elephants, rhinos and other wild animals threatened with cruel poaching and extinction. Every day close to 100 elephants are brutally killed in Africa, their tusks hacked off to supply the black market for ivory trinkets. Poachers poison watering holes with cyanide, killing hundreds of elephants at once. Organized criminal gangs and armed rebels use military weapons to kill wildlife for the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade. Measure 100 will ensure that Oregon does not provide a market for endangered species products resulting from wildlife poaching and trafficking. If passed, Oregon will join California, Washington, Hawaii, and other states in shutting down local markets for those who seek to profit from this destructive wildlife trade. 

In Oklahoma, family farmers and animal advocates are opposing State Question 777, a measure referred to the ballot by politicians to amend the state constitution with a so-called “right to farm.” It would protect corporate interests and foreign-owned big agribusiness at the expense of Oklahoma’s family farmers, land, and animals. The measure is so broadly worded that it could prevent future restrictions on any “agricultural” practice, including puppy mills, horse slaughter, and raising gamefowl for cockfighting. Even the president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau said the language is flawed, and “I wish that language weren’t in there.”

Those aren’t the only states where voters will see ballot issues related to animals. Californians will vote on Proposition 67, to protect the state’s ban on plastic grocery bags, which wash into our rivers, lakes, streams, and ocean, where they are ingested by or entangle sea turtles, otters, seals, fish, and birds. Some ocean animals mistake bags for food, fill their stomachs with plastics, and die of starvation. Montanans will vote on I-777, which would restrict the use of cruel traps and snares on public lands. In Colorado, Amendment 71 would make it more difficult for citizens to have a say on future constitutional ballot measures, including those dealing with animal protection. The HSUS and HSLF favor the California and Montana measures, but strongly opposes the Colorado measure as an attack on citizen voting.

When you enter the voting booth or send in your mail ballot this November, make sure you don’t stop after the candidate races. Continue down the ballot and review the issues at stake, and you could have a role in promoting the humane treatment of animals and protecting these creatures from cruelty and suffering, and preserving your rights to participate in democratic decision-making in future elections.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Veal Slaughter Plant Closed, Time to Finish the Job on Downer Calves

Catelli Bros., a veal and lamb slaughter plant in New Jersey, quietly announced this week that it will no longer slaughter animals. This is the same location where, two years ago, an HSUS investigation revealed abusive handling and inhumane slaughter practices, including still-conscious calves struggling while hanging upside down on a conveyor belt, calves being shot numerous times before reaching unconsciousness, a truck driver dragging a downed calf with a chain around the animal's neck, and plant managers twisting calves’ ears and pulling them by their tails. The investigation also documented employees shocking, hitting, and spraying calves with water. The exposé led to a weeks-long shutdown of the plant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

The latest news in this story is a reminder, though, of unfinished business at the USDA: The agency has yet to finalize a rule, seven years in the making, to ban the slaughter of downed veal calves.

Unfortunately, what happened at Catelli Bros. was not an isolated case, but rather another instance of abuse and mishandling in the calf slaughter industry. Back in 2009, a similar HSUS investigation at Bushway Packing, a Vermont veal facility, revealed that calves only a few days old—many with their umbilical cords still hanging from their bodies—were unable to stand or walk on their own. The infant animals were kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment. The USDA shut the Vermont facility down and the case resulted in a cruelty conviction.

The USDA should be commended for its swift response in both New Jersey and Vermont when these abuses came to light. But there is something even more important at stake, and that is the need for a strong federal policy to protect young calves and prevent and discourage these abuses before they occur. That can be done by closing a loophole in the current downed animal regulations that invites cruelty by allowing these animals to be slaughtered for food if they can be made to stand.

Following the 2009 investigation in Vermont, The HSUS filed a legal petition asking the USDA to require that calves brought to slaughter unable to rise and walk be promptly and humanely euthanized and excluded from the food supply. More than 50,000 people wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack supporting the change. And last May, the USDA finally released a proposed rule to close this loophole.

Without a clearly-stated ban, current regulations create an incentive for workers to do everything they can—kicking, beating, prodding, and dragging—to force downed calves to slaughter. The proposed rule would reduce immense suffering and bring regulations for downed veal calves in-line with those already in place for downed adult cows.

In fact, one of President Obama’s first actions on animal welfare when he took office in early 2009 was to close a loophole that allowed the slaughter of mature downed cattle too sick or injured to walk on their own, in the wake of the Hallmark investigation that resulted in the largest meat recall in U.S. history and schools in dozens of states pulling ground beef off their lunch menus. Now, in his final year in office, President Obama can finish the job on this long-awaited rule and apply the same protections to young calves.

We’re grateful for the help from many members of Congress who encouraged USDA to implement this policy. In joint letters last year, 92 members of the House, led by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and 14 Senators, led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., wrote to USDA in support of the proposal and urged the agency to finalize this rulemaking effort as soon as possible to protect animal welfare and food safety.

It’s just common sense that young, vulnerable calves should have the same protections under the law already given to adult cattle. The USDA has acknowledged that this regulatory loophole needs to be closed, and it shouldn’t wait for another investigation to uncover even more abuses. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to take a consistent approach to animal welfare and to make final the rule and plug this downer loophole.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Are Your Lawmakers Making the Grade?

As we approach the end of the 113th Congress (which spans 2013-2014), HSLF is posting a preview of our 2014 Humane Scorecard. I hope you will check it out and see how your U.S. senators and U.S. representatives have performed so far in this Congress on animal protection issues. If they did well, please thank them; if they have room for improvement, please let them know you’re paying attention, and that there is still time for them to do better before the final scorecard is wrapped up at the end of the year.

Capitol for Scorecard Blog
istock.com

In this preliminary report, we evaluate lawmakers’ performance on animal protection issues by scoring a number of key votes, but also their support for adequate funding for the enforcement of animal welfare laws, and their co-sponsorship of priority bills. We provide extra credit for legislators who took the lead on one or more animal protection issues.
 
You’ll see among the key votes this session how lawmakers sided on whether to weaken the Endangered Species Act, to curb massive subsidies to factory farms, and to open wilderness areas to sport hunting and trapping, dump toxic lead ammunition into the environment, and give a sweetheart deal to millionaire big-game hunters who want to import sport-hunted polar bear trophies. Because the Farm Bill comes up only once every five or six years, we have given weight to several critical votes—opposing the package when it included the dangerous and overreaching “King amendment,” which threatened to nullify hundreds of state and local laws on food safety, animal welfare and agriculture, and supporting the final Farm Bill when it nixed the King amendment and included an upgrade to the animal fighting law.
 
Building the number of co-sponsors on a bill is an important way to show that there is a critical mass of bipartisan support for the policy, and to help push the legislation over the finish line. Already in the last few weeks, we’ve seen a dramatic jump in the co-sponsor counts for each of these bills, and we need to keep the momentum going with your help.

The bill to crack down on the cruel practice of horse soring has 305 co-sponsors in the House and 59 in the Senate; the bill to end the trade of primates as pets has 143 co-sponsors in the House and 23 in the Senate; the horse slaughter bill has 181 co-sponsors in the House and 30 in the Senate; the egg industry reform bill has 151 co-sponsors in the House and 18 in the Senate; and the animal fighting spectator bill has 230 co-sponsors in the House and 41 in the Senate.
 
These are impressive numbers, and they show the strength of our cause and our grassroots support. In fact, thanks to the large showing of support for the legislation making it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight, it was attached to the final Farm Bill and enacted into law in February—the fourth successful upgrade to the federal animal fighting statute in just the last dozen years. Members can still technically co-sponsor the animal fighting legislation this year, but since it’s already been enacted, co-sponsorship of the four other bills is a higher priority.

Please check the scorecard charts and call your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative today. Thank each of them for their support of the bills that they’re already on and urge them to co-sponsor any of the five animal protection bills being counted on the 2014 Humane Scorecard that they’re not yet co-sponsoring. If they decide to join on before the end of the 113th Congress, they’ll receive credit on the final version of this Humane Scorecard that will be printed in January.

You can look up your federal legislators here, and then call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected to each of your legislators. Here are the animal protection bills that will count on the scorecard and we hope will gather additional cosponsors before year’s end:

Horse for Scorecard Blog
The HSUS

Horse Soring—S. 1406 and H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. Introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; approved on a unanimous voice vote by the Senate Commerce Committee in April—to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and certain other breeds to exaggerate their high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to “cook” those chemicals deep into the horse’s flesh for days, and attaching heavy chains to strike against the sore legs and heavily weighted shoes and “stacks” that force the horse’s legs into an unnatural angle and conceal bolts. This legislation will amend the existing Horse Protection Act to end the failed industry self-policing system, strengthen penalties, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and make the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling it illegal, as well as directing another to do so.
 
Captive Primates as Pets—S. 1463 and H.R. 2856, the Captive Primate Safety Act. Introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; approved on a voice vote by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in July—to prohibit the interstate trade in primates as pets, for the sake of both animal welfare and human safety. Primates bred for the pet trade are typically forcibly removed from their mothers shortly after birth. While they’re in high demand as infants, people quickly discover that maturing primates can be destructive, messy and dangerous. This often leads to frustrated primate owners abandoning their pets by dumping them on animal shelters, or keeping pet primates in small cages, chained in backyards, or otherwise confining them in a way that fails to meet these animals’ most basic behavioral needs, causing significant animal welfare problems. Primates can be very aggressive and regularly bite people, and also pose significant public health challenges, as these animals often carry dangerous viruses such as Herpes B, Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, and Brucellosis.
 
Horse Slaughter—S. 541 and H.R. 1094, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act. Introduced by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.—to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. Legislators also receive credit if they voted in favor of a related amendment, offered by Sens. Landrieu and Graham and Rep. Moran during markup of the Senate and House Agriculture Appropriations bills. American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given hundreds of drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses—but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. It makes no sense for the federal government to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to oversee new horse slaughter plants at a time when Congress is so focused on fiscal responsibility.
 
Eggs and Hen Housing—S. 820 and H.R. 1731, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments. Introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.—to provide for a uniform national standard for the housing and treatment of egg-laying hens, phased in over a period of 15-16 years (during the normal course of replacing aged equipment for many producers), which will significantly improve animal welfare and provide a stable and secure future for U.S. egg farmers. Under this legislation, each laying hen will ultimately be provided nearly double the amount of current space, along with enrichments such as nest boxes and perches that permit hens to better express natural behaviors.

Pit Bull for Scorecard blog
The HSUS

Animal Fighting Spectators—S. 666 and H.R. 366, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. Introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and David Vitter, R-La, and Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jim Moran, D-Va.; similar legislation adopted as part of the Farm Bill enacted in February 2014—to establish misdemeanor penalties for knowingly attending an organized animal fight and felony penalties for knowingly bringing a minor to such a fight. Representatives also receive credit if they voted in favor of a related amendment, offered by Rep. McGovern during markup of the Farm Bill in the House Agriculture Committee. Spectators are more than mere observers at animal fights. They are participants and accomplices who enable the crime, paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling wagers, and helping conceal organizers and handlers who try to blend into the crowd when a raid occurs.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What to Do on Your Summer Vacation

Congress finishes its work today before heading into a month-long recess, and it provides an opportunity for animal advocates to take action during the August break. You may not be able to travel to Washington to meet with your representatives and senators in person, but you can meet with them in their district and state offices close to home. In fact, lawmakers often have more time to visit with constituents in their district offices, because their Washington schedules are so hectic.

Capital looking up
Credit: Morguefile/Kevin Connors

Take the time to schedule a meeting with them in August, and talk to them about federal animal protection policies that are important to you. With the congressional session winding down and only a couple months of work left when they return, the timing couldn’t be better to help push a number of pending bills over the finish line this year. You can also invite them to learn more about animal protection work by taking them on a tour of your animal shelter, pet adoption center, spay/neuter clinic, wildlife sanctuary, horse rescue, or other local program.

Here are some tips from my friend Stephanie Vance, adapted from her book “Government by the People: How to Communicate with Congress”:

Don’t ignore the District / State Congressional Office. We all know that in order to be successful, advocates must build positive long-term relationships with their Representatives and Senators. One terrific means of doing so is to engage the district or state office in your issues.

Generally, district or state staff may have slightly more time to delve more into the nuances of your issues and understand better how those issues affect the Congressperson’s constituents. In fact, an effective advocate can turn the district staff into a “lobbyist” for them within the Congressional organization. It’s also important to know that every Representative has a “home-style” and a “DC-style”.

Frankly, many Representatives are much more relaxed and receptive in their home districts. So be sure to meet with the Member and/or their staff in the district office. Or, invite the district staff to an event or a tour of your facility – any activity that will get them involved in your issues and policy concerns. Finally, associations, business groups, or other organizations might want to consider having a “District/State Lobby Day” in addition to the traditional Washington, DC lobby day. This would be a day designated for association members to meet with their federal representatives in their home offices.

So if you’re taking a “staycation” this summer, stay in touch with your federal lawmakers close to home, and keep them informed of critical legislation to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. Here are a few of the priority bills you can ask them to cosponsor, if they have not already done so. If they are already cosponsoring, thank them and ask them to do all they can to get this legislation enacted quickly:

  • S. 1406/H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds to exaggerate their high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows.
  • S. 1463/H.R. 2856, the Captive Primate Safety Act, to prohibit the interstate trade in primates as pets, for the sake of both animal welfare and humane safety. 
  • S. 541/ H.R. 1094, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. 
  • S. 820/ H.R. 1731, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens and give consumers more information on egg carton labels. 
  • S. 973/H.R. 2012, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, to crack down on the doping of horses in the racing industry, and provide oversight by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association, the independent body that has helped root out doping in other professional sports.
  • S. 1710/H.R. 2066, the Pets on Trains Act, to direct Amtrak to propose a pet policy that allows passengers to travel with companion dogs and cats on certain trains.
  • S. 1381/H.R. 1998, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, to prohibit the private ownership and breeding of tigers, lions, and other dangerous big cats as exotic pets.
  • H.R. 4148, the Humane Cosmetics Act, to phase out the use of animals in cosmetics testing and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics.
  • H.R. 3556, the Humane Care for Primates Act, to allow the importation and care of abused, injured or abandoned nonhuman primates at legitimate wildlife sanctuaries.

 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Poultry Slaughter Rule Still in (Fowl) Play

There’s some potential good news for birds, consumers and workers: although the rule is not final yet, there are indications that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has pulled back on its plan to increase line speeds at poultry slaughter plants.

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More than eight billion chickens and turkeys are raised in the United States for food each year, but they are excluded from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Photo by Compassion Over Killing

As I wrote last month, the agency had proposed allowing poultry companies to slaughter 175 chickens per minute, up from the current maximum speed of 140 per minute. The faster moving lines would undoubtedly have meant more inadequately stunned birds entering scalding-hot tanks of water while still conscious, more fecal matter contamination as stressed birds defecate in the water and spread pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter, and more grueling labor conditions for workers, many of whom already exhibit symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

After objections from members of Congress, worker safety, food safety, and animal protection groups, the USDA was right to rethink a dramatic acceleration of already fast-moving shackled birds on slaughter lines, and we hope this change is part of the final rule. As Politico reported, “The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will not divulge the details of the final modernized poultry inspection rule it sent Thursday to the White House Office of Management and Budget. In a statement, the USDA said only that it made changes to its previously released proposed rule to address ‘worker safety’ issues.” 

It’s a step in the right direction, although the USDA’s proposed poultry slaughter rule is still problematic. It would eliminate 800 federal inspectors by transferring their responsibilities to the poultry industry. At a time when there are more and more salmonella outbreaks and chicken recalls, we need to improve our federal inspection system—not dismantle it through deregulation. 

And it underscores a gaping hole in our nation’s animal protection laws: More than eight billion chickens and turkeys are raised in the United States for food each year—that’s about a million birds every hour of every day—and the USDA excludes them from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. By the agency’s interpretation, the federal law requiring that animals be rendered insensible to pain before they’re killed for food is not even applicable to more than 90 percent of farm animals used in agriculture production. It’s this arbitrary gap in the law that enables birds to be hung upside down, shocked into paralysis, have their throats cut, then drown in hot water—often while still conscious. They’re sentient creatures whose capacity to suffer pain is every bit as developed as our own. 

Roberto Ferdman of The Washington Post’s Wonkblog noted that poultry is expected to become the world’s most popular meat over the next few years, as chicken consumption increases and pork consumption declines. Although per capita poultry consumption has dropped in the United States in recent years—from 104.6 pounds in 2006 to 99.1 pounds in 2014—a growing percentage of U.S. poultry is exported to foreign markets. Our federal agencies must keep up with changes in the marketplace, and our laws intended to protect animals from inhumane slaughter practices must be relevant for those animals in the real world. When the USDA talks about modernizing poultry slaughter inspections, a real modernization would be to give chickens and turkeys the same legal protections already afforded to cows and pigs. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tightening Slaughter Rules for School Lunches

There’s good news for our continuing efforts to fortify enforcement and crack down on inhumane practices at slaughter plants. The Agricultural Marketing Service, the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that buys meat for the National School Lunch Program, just announced that it will strengthen its humane handling audits for the slaughterhouses that supply it with meat.

During these audits, AMS inspectors monitor the compliance of their suppliers with a humane handling checklist. Previously, suppliers could pass the audit despite improperly stunning up to five out of every 100 animals, or allowing one out of every 500 cattle, or one out of every 1,000 pigs, to regain consciousness during the slaughter process. Under the new policy, AMS will have a zero tolerance policy on both points—meaning that a single mis-stunning or case of an animal regaining consciousness will result in an automatic audit failure.

The-National-School-Lunch-Program1
Photo: USDA via Flickr

AMS is also strengthening its cooperation with the Food Safety Inspection Service, the USDA division charged with enforcing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Under AMS’ new guidelines, whenever FSIS cites a slaughter plant for a missed stun or for allowing an animal to regain consciousness following stunning, AMS will immediately audit the plant. AMS auditors will also now inform FSIS of all their audit findings to make it easier for FSIS inspectors to crack down on inhumane slaughter practices. And AMS will inform the public of its audit results, so that there’s an additional level of transparency to hold slaughterhouses accountable. Those audit results are available here.

This is a welcome announcement by USDA and a sign of strong leadership by new AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo and her team. As a main purchaser of meat products for federal programs, AMS has a major role to play in working with its suppliers and helping to shape the marketplace on important animal welfare issues. For example, AMS banned the purchase of beef from downer cows for the National School Lunch Program in 2000, several years before the USDA prohibited the processing of all downer cattle at federally-inspected slaughter plants and required these sick and injured animals to be put out of their misery and kept out of the food supply.  

Of course, we’ve still got work to do to reduce the suffering of animals in slaughter plants across the country. In the short run, we hope that FSIS will soon issue a proposed rule to close the downer calf loophole, which allows slaughter plants to hold veal calves too sick and injured to walk in prolonged suffering. In the longer run, we remain committed to seeing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforced strongly to protect all animals—including the chickens and turkeys who make up 95 percent of the animals slaughtered for food each year. We are pleased to see USDA taking positive steps on animal welfare enforcement, and express our gratitude to the administration.

 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Appropriators Team Up to Help Animals

The Senate and House Appropriations Committees have each produced their agriculture spending bills for Fiscal Year 2015, and both bills contain good news for animals. While the House and Senate will need to reconcile their differences to arrive at a final package, they’re in close agreement on the key items affecting animal welfare.

Horse Slaughter

First, both committees approved amendments to bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from resuming inspections at horse slaughter plants in the United States. The Senate amendment, offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was approved by a bipartisan vote of 18-12, and the identical House amendment, offered by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., with the vocal support of Subcommittee Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Mike Quigley, D-Ill., won by a bipartisan vote of 28-22.

Horse Entering Salughter Chute
Horse entering chute at a Mexican slaughter plant

These provisions will prevent the opening of horse slaughter plants in this country and ensure that our tax dollars are not used to support the cruel and predatory practice of rounding up random-source horses for food exports. A similar spending prohibition was enacted each year beginning in 2005, but was not renewed in 2011 or 2012, leading some horse slaughter profiteers to initiate plans to open plants in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico. Fortunately, in January 2014, Congress restored the prohibition for the current fiscal year—sidelining the horse slaughterers’ plans. 

The action by both committees now sets the stage for Congress to continue this crucial moratorium, while we redouble efforts to gain passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which will permanently bar horse slaughter in this country for human consumption, and also prevent the live export of U.S. horses to Canada and Mexico for the purpose of slaughter. We don’t set up dog and cat slaughter plants in this country to deal with the homeless pet problem just because some countries consume dog and cat meat, and we shouldn’t allow it for horses either.

Animal Welfare Funding

In addition to the positive outcomes on the horse slaughter provision, animals fared well on funding for enforcement of critical animal welfare laws in both the Senate and House committee bills. As these items are in general agreement, they’re well positioned to be retained in the final measure sent to President Obama for his signature.

Thanks to the strong leadership of Senate Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Ranking Member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and House Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Ranking Member Farr, funding for USDA to enforce and implement key animal welfare laws was sustained and even modestly increased in some cases. In such a tough budget climate with so many programs competing for finite dollars, we are pleased that lawmakers understand it’s possible to achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts such as these have the funds they need. 

Here’s a rundown of what the Senate and House committee bills provide for key programs:

  • Horse Protection Act: $705,000 in the Senate bill / $697,000 in the House bill for USDA enforcement to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds  (deliberately inflicting severe pain and cooking chemicals into the horses’ legs and feet to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes). This is the first time the House bill included more than $500,000 for enforcement of this law. The current funding level is $697,000.
  • Animal Welfare Act: $28,222,000 in the Senate bill / $28,010,000 in the House bill for USDA enforcement of the important law that sets basic standards for care of animals at more than 10,000 sites across the country—including puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling circuses, and airlines. Current funding is $28,010,000.
  • Investigative and Enforcement Services: $16,362,000 in the Senate bill / $16,224,000 in the House bill for this USDA division whose responsibilities include investigation of inspectors’ findings regarding alleged violations of the AWA and HPA and the initiation of follow-up enforcement actions. Current funding is $16,224,000.
  • Office of Inspector General: $97,240,000 in the Senate bill / $97,020,000 in the House bill for this office that handles many areas including investigations and audits of USDA’s enforcement efforts to improve compliance with the AWA, HPA, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and regulations to protect downed animals. The Senate committee report specifically urges the OIG to address animal fighting violations under the AWA, in coordination with state and local law enforcement. Current funding is $89,902,000.
  • Humane Slaughter: Helpful committee report language accompanying the Senate and House bills, directing the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that funds provided for Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforcement will be focused on overseeing compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas. Similar language was included last year for FY14 Agriculture Appropriations.
  • Veterinary Student Loan Repayment: $4,790,000 in the Senate bill / $5,000,000 in the House bill for this program that helps to ease the shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural communities and in government positions (such as those overseeing humane slaughter, AWA, and HPA rules), by repaying student debt for those who choose to practice in one of these underserved areas. Current funding is $4,790,000.

Without adequate funding for enforcement, the laws and rules we work to enact are mostly just exhortations. Having legislators seek that funding is crucial, especially when there are such strong competing budget pressures. We are so grateful to Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., for again leading the way, mobilizing the broad bipartisan support of 38 Senators and 166 Representatives this year who signed letters to the Senate and House committees requesting these funds. Their collective efforts set the stage for positive committee action, which in turn has put us in a strong position for good outcomes in the House-Senate negotiations.

This is only the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily working to build the enforcement budgets for these and doing this work provides a critical service to the broader movement to protect all animals. Over the past 16 years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the AWA by 205 percent (a cumulative total of more than $138 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 126 AWA inspectors, compared to about 60 during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of facilities with animals under their care. This modest investment in lobbying by The HSUS, HSLF, and citizen advocates is multiplied many times over and translates into millions of dollars toward animal welfare and a real impact on the ground.

Tennessee Walking Horse
Walking horse at a competition in Shelbyville, Tenn.

We will continue to watch the appropriations process closely and press for inclusion of the horse slaughter provision and the highest possible funding levels when the House and Senate reach agreement on the final legislation. Proper enforcement of these laws not only helps animals but benefits people, too—for example, by protecting consumers from disreputable puppy mills and from mishandling of pets on airlines, reducing food safety risks associated with poor management at slaughter plants, reducing the risk of dangerous encounters with wild animals in exhibitions, and reducing the risk of bird flu transmission via cockfighting. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and doing right by them is good policy for all of us.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Closing Down the Downer Loophole

It’s been years in the making, but not a moment too soon, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has moved one step further on a rule to ban the slaughter of downer veal calves too sick, injured or weak to stand and walk on their own. Federal regulations already prohibit the slaughter of downed adult cattle for human consumption, requiring instead that sick or injured cows be humanely euthanized immediately. But there’s a loophole in the law that excludes calves and allows these young animals to be kept alive in suffering indefinitely, subject to unacceptable and callous cruelty.

This exemption encourages producers to starve newborn calves, denying them basic sustenance for days after they’ve been weaned, since they may yet bring in a buck even if they’re generally too weak to rise. It’s also an incentive for overt abuse, as slaughter plant workers beat, drag and prod the animals to try to get them to stand up and move them into the kill box. These were the very cruelties exposed in an HSUS undercover investigation at a Vermont slaughter plant in 2009, in which infant calves just a few days old—some with their umbilical cords still attached—were kicked, slapped, and repeatedly shocked with electric prods. They came to light once again at a New Jersey slaughter plant earlier this year, when another HSUS investigation revealed plant workers hitting and shocking calves, and dragging them by their tails and with chains around their necks.

Bushway Calf

In response to a legal petition filed by The HSUS more than four years ago and more than 50,000 public comments voicing support for that petition, the USDA has announced its intent to grant the request. But the administration has yet to propose a formal rule amending the regulations. We’re grateful for the help from many members of Congress who encouraged USDA to get on with the job. In joint letters, 72 members of the House, led by Reps. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and a dozen Senators, led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., called on USDA to stop dragging its feet and to prioritize and expedite this rulemaking effort to protect animal welfare and food safety.

It’s just common sense that young, vulnerable calves should have the same protections under the law already given to adult cattle. We are pleased to see USDA moving a step closer on protecting downer veal calves from these terrible abuses. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to finalize the rule and shut down this downer loophole.  

 

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