February 06, 2015

Enlisting Farmers in the Cause of Animal Welfare

I was pleased to be the keynote speaker on Friday morning in Omaha at the annual conference of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, a non-profit organization consisting largely of farmers concerned about the future of agriculture. It was an honor to be invited to address these farmers and to know that this group and its leadership want to hear about The HSUS’s perspective on animal protection. 

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We are seeing major reforms in the veal, pig, and laying hen industries and we hope to see the end of the era of intensive confinement. Photo: iStockphoto

It was an interesting time to be in the state after yesterday’s press conference in Washington, D.C., focused on a legislative response to the terrible abuses that the New York Times brought to light in a front-page story two weeks ago about the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in western Nebraska.  Yesterday, The HSUS announced its support for H.R. 746 and S. 388 – the Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act, introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) – which would amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to have standards for the care of farm animals used for agricultural research at federal facilities. Today, in Nebraska, the farmers I spoke with were appalled by what we had all just recently learned about the routine abuses at the center, which is operated by the U. S. Department of Agriculture – reproductive research on cows and pigs to cause them to produce inordinately large numbers of offspring; research that left mother and babies debilitated or dead; perhaps more than 20,000 sheep left without protection or maternal care and starved, killed by extremes of weather, or coyotes; and extreme cases of cruelty like a cow who had been immobilized and raped by a half dozen bulls, leaving her legs broken and her insides torn apart.

In advocating for reform, including more transparency and the premise that USDA facilities not be exempt from Animal Welfare Act standards, it helps immensely to have farmers within our camp who care about these issues and bring their voices to the public discussion. These farmers are part of The HSUS, and I am proud to have them involved in our enterprise of reducing the amount of pain and suffering that animals endure.

At The HSUS, we take a big-tent approach to animal advocacy. We want to have a conversation with everyone in society, and especially with the people, like farmers, who have animals under their care and control. Recently, The HSUS formed its ninth state Agriculture Council, in Wisconsin, building on the work of councils in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oklahoma. These are working farmers who are upholding standards of animal care and advocating for an end to intensive confinement of animals on factory farms and calling on consumers to connect more directly with their food choices. Our first agriculture council was established right here in Nebraska, and it was the inspiration of cattle rancher Kevin Fulton. It’s grown dramatically since that time, and we plan on announcing new councils in other states soon.

We are seeing major reforms in the veal, pig, and laying hen industries and we hope to see the end of the era of intensive confinement. With our HSUS Agriculture Council members, we are in a stronger position than ever to address these problems and other serious animal welfare crises in industrial farming. And together, we are working on market-based solutions, such as promoting the more widespread use of animal welfare certification standards, like the Global Animal Partnership (where I serve on the board of directors). Though the GAP program has been largely restricted to animal products at outlets of Whole Foods Market, there are now 290 million animals who live on farms that are certified under GAP’s auditing program and under more humane standards than animals in conventional production systems.

Once GAP is more widely used by food retailers, then consumers will have more information in making conscious buying choices in the marketplace. When that happens, farmers who provide better care to animals will be rewarded in the marketplace and we will be building a more animal-welfare-friendly farming system in our nation.

February 05, 2015

Breaking News: Bill in Congress Proposes End to Farm Animal Torture at Federal Labs

Imagine if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spent tens of millions of dollars on animal experiments designed to increase reproductive rates of deer on captive hunting facilities – to benefit private operators who offer up deer in a guaranteed kill arrangement. In the process, they treated the deer horribly, all for the purpose of setting up more cruelty by the canned hunt operators and their patrons. Is that a proper function of government – to serve as a handmaiden to some of the most cruel and deplorable practices and industries using animals?

At the taxpayer-funded U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, researchers conduct cruel experiments on farm animals, like trying to increase the number of cows who birth twins. Photo: iStockphoto

This is what’s happening with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the factory farming industry, as recently reported by Michael Moss of The New York Times in a front-page exposé of ghastly experiments conducted on farm animals at a USDA facility in Nebraska, known as the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC).

Today, I stood with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and my colleague Matt Bershadker of the ASPCA to announce a proposal to correct just one small part of the problem – the government’s double standard in inspecting research facilities involving the use of animals, while not applying the same rules to federal facilities like USMARC. Congressman Blumenauer announced he had introduced H.R. 746, the Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act, which would amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to finally protect farm animals used for agricultural research at federal facilities. In a bizarre and unacceptable exclusion for the factory farming industry, the AWA, the main federal law that covers the use of animals in biomedical research, currently excludes farm animals “used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber.” 

Congressman Blumenauer is joined by Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) in introducing this legislation. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate. 

The USMARC has received nearly $200 million from government coffers since 2006, clandestinely doing the research and development of the factory farming lobby. Some examples of experiments at the center include researchers trying to increase the number of cows who birth twins, increase litter sizes of pigs, and breed “easy care” lambs. According to the report, at least 6,500 animals died of starvation and many suffered during exposure to extreme weather or attacks by predators. Several whistleblowers, including a veterinarian with 25 years of experience at the facility, shared stories of outrageous cruelty and neglect there.

USMARC isn’t the only federal entity conducting such research; it is one of 40 facilities that are part of the Agricultural Research Service, a division of the USDA. A rough accounting reveals that these facilities received a total of $4.6 billion between the years 2006 and 2013. There is no reason that the ARS facilities shouldn’t be required to follow basic standards for adequate food, housing, shelter, veterinary care, and alleviation of animal suffering. Ironically, the USDA is the agency tasked with enforcing the AWA at facilities that conduct biomedical research; therefore, if these same animals were used in a laboratory for human health research they would be protected under this federal law.

The USDA says it’s putting together an animal welfare plan over the next 60 days and appointing an independent panel to examine various aspects of ARS activities. We have urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop the research at USMARC immediately while these investigations are underway.  But for today, I hope you will reach out to your legislators and urge support of the AWARE Act because Congress must step up to address this cruelty. If you want to find examples of government’s abuse of power, its misuse of dollars, and its lack of transparency, look no farther than the diabolical work of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

February 04, 2015

News Break: Court Ruling Favors Prop 2 – Again

I’m excited to share with you breaking news from California: a federal appeals court has upheld Prop 2, California’s new law banning the inhumane confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves in cages so small the animals cannot stretch their limbs, lie down, or turn around. The court rejected an egg producer’s argument that Prop 2 is vague, ruling that any “person of reasonable intelligence” could understand the law.

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After today’s ruling, it’s time for retailers and egg producers to stop litigating and start complying with the law that bans the sale of eggs  from hens kept in inhumane conditions. Photo: The HSUS

This is the fifth court ruling favoring  the proponents of Prop 2 and its companion law, AB 1437, which bans the sale of eggs in California from hens kept in such inhumane conditions. Previously, the district court had upheld Prop 2 in this same case, ruling that it “does not require the investigative acumen of Columbo” to apply the standards. And last October a federal district court rejected a challenge to AB 1437 from six large agribusiness states, finding that the states were improperly suing on behalf of private special interests.

With today’s ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, it’s time for retailers and egg producers to stop litigating, and start complying with the law. Prop 2 imposes clear animal welfare and food safety requirements, requiring plainly that hens have enough space to perform basic natural behaviors. We’ve said from the start that the only economically viable systems to allow these performance standards for hens are cage-free ones. Many companies, including Trader Joe’s, are almost certainly selling eggs from hens in cages, and that violates the law.

In our first-ever press release about Prop 2, when we launched the campaign in October 2007, we wrote that the law “will prevent the use of inhumane factory farming practices such as ... battery cages for egg-laying hens.” Our opponents acknowledged this, citing a University of California economic analysis that assumed Prop 2 “would eliminate the use of cage systems for laying hens in California,” and writing after our victory that "[c]ages for laying hens … will certainly be outlawed.”

Californian voters and legislators overwhelmingly voted to end battery cage confinement. In fact, almost two thirds of Californians voted for Prop 2—amassing more votes than any other citizen-led ballot measure in American history at  that time—even after our opponents claimed in the state’s official voting guide that Prop 2 would “forc[e] hens outdoors for most of the day.”  And Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 1437, which passed with bipartisan votes of 65 to 9 in the assembly and 23 to 7 in the state senate even after we made clear that “one effect of Prop 2 is to halt the use of cage systems that are commercially viable.”

But some egg producers and retailers – who spent the six-year phase-in period fighting in court instead of preparing to implement the new standards – have now claimed that they don’t need to provide hens with that much space. Instead, they’re claiming that compliance with an unrelated California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) regulation is sufficient.

It’s not. As today’s ruling makes clear, Prop 2 and AB 1437 require hens to have enough space to turn around, lie down, and fully spread their wings. The CDFA regulations, which require 116 square inches of cage space per bird and are a definite improvement over conventional production methods, still don’t provide birds with enough space to fulfil Prop 2’s wing-spreading requirement.  The California regulation is an egg safety standard, and not a humane standard.

By buying caged eggs that only meet the CDFA egg safety standards, many California retailers are openly flouting AB 1437. In the coming months, we’ll be working to ensure 100 percent compliance with the new law 

Thankfully, many egg producers are converting to or expanding their existing cage-free production to meet the consumer demand for higher welfare eggs. And major food companies—including food service giants Aramark, Compass Group, and Sodexo—have already converted to 100 percent cage-free shell eggs in their California operations to comply with the laws.  Others—from Burger King to Starbucks and Unilever (Best Foods/Hellmann’s)—are going cage-free nationally.

The laggards need to catch up. Today’s ruling makes absolutely clear that the future in California is cage-free. 

February 03, 2015

Should the Federal Government Fund Animal Protection or Animal Cruelty?

We live in a nation where animals are used for food, fashion and clothing, entertainment, research, and in wildlife-associated recreation – in both harmful and benign ways – to generate hundreds of billions of dollars in commerce. The pork industry alone – which kills more than 100 million pigs each year – is a $100 billion enterprise. Add in the other sectors of animal agriculture, and then consider the uses of animals in wildlife management, in fashion, the pet trade, and so many other sectors. It’s endless, and the amount of economic activity is perhaps more than a trillion dollars a year, just in the United States.

The budget once again defunds horse slaughter plant inspections. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

What do we as individuals – and collectively as a nation– owe the animals in return? Most people would say we at least owe them humane treatment – to be raised on farms or in laboratories without suffering pain and distress, or in wildlife management not to be killed needlessly and certainly not by means that cause torment. When we kill animals, there should be humane standards.

Sadly, in too many instances, laws are not in place to guarantee even minimal standards for all animals, as the recent New York Times investigation of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center revealed.  Poultry are excluded from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Birds, rats, and mice bred for use in research and farm animals used in agricultural research are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act. What’s more, our government subsidizes a wide array of abusive activities, including predator control programs with traps and poisons and intensive confinement of animals on factory farms.  

We as a nation should do better – so much better, infinitely better. At The HSUS, we believe that the law must act as a shield against abusive conduct, and in terms of the executive branch, federal agencies should vigorously enforce the modest range of animal protection laws on the books.

The president’s budget, just released, does not speak to these larger issues, except in relatively small ways. Although the $4 trillion budget contains positive provisions – funding anti-wildlife trafficking measures and defunding horse slaughter inspections – it also funds a wasteful program that kills millions of wild animals every year and continues through agriculture subsidies to allocate more money to harming animals than to helping them.

Most of these anti-animal welfare expenditures are authorized in long-running and often opaque laws, with programs seamlessly funded as directed by Congress and with special interests expecting these government handouts to subsidize their industries. The only response is to chip away at these programs and to ask that the government play more of a role as protector of animals rather than promoter of animal exploitation. In the end, it can only turn around when lawmakers and the president recognize that animal protection matters to average Americans – and that continuing subsidies and cruel programs won’t win votes. 

While that’s our vision, we live in the here and now, and we deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Within the realm of limited expectations, there are indeed some good proposals. As such, here are key proposals for animals in the president’s FY16 budget:

Department of Agriculture

  • Horse Slaughter Defund: The 2016 budget once again defunds horse slaughter plant inspections. The language is included for the third year in a row. For nine of the last 11 years, including 2014 and 2015, we’ve been able to get this defund language in the federal spending bills, preventing new horse slaughter plants from opening on U.S. soil. The public overwhelmingly opposes horse slaughter and Americans do not eat horses, so this common sense proposal is critical to ensure that tax dollars are not wasted to fund this inhumane industry.
  • Predator Control: We are thrilled to see the president cut over $9 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program. Wildlife Services kills millions of wild animals every year as a subsidy to private ranchers and other resource users throughout the country. We think this is a great start and are glad that the administration is recognizing that the program needs to be reformed.
  • Horse Protection Act/Animal Welfare Act Enforcement: While the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service's overall budget for 2016 decreased from 2015, funding for Horse Protection Act enforcement increased slightly, and funding for Animal Welfare Act enforcement remained stable. Effective enforcement of these laws is vital for animals at thousands of puppy mills, circuses, roadside zoos, laboratories, and horse shows. The HSUS will pursue legislation amending the Horse Protection Act to crack down on illegal horse soring and legislation amending the Animal Welfare Act to close loopholes that exclude oversight of farm animal research in federal facilities.

Department of the Interior

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    The Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Program was increased by $1 million. Photo: Alamy
    Wildlife Trafficking: The Obama administration has made combating wildlife trafficking a top priority and this is reflected in the budget. Wildlife trafficking not only poses a threat to some of our globe’s most beloved wildlife—it also threatens U.S. national interests and security in fragile democracies around the world. Trafficking in ivory and other wildlife products has become a lucrative trade for terrorist organizations and crime syndicates that incentivizes poaching of many protected wildlife species. The budget provides for a $4 million increase for the Fish and Wildlife Service to fight illegal wildlife trafficking, and another $4 million increase to augment the FWS’ wildlife forensics capacity, improving the agency’s ability to provide evidence for prosecution of wildlife crimes. Additionally, funding for key conservation programs was increased from last year:

    • The African Elephant Conservation Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to protect African elephants and their habitats, including anti-poaching activities, was increased by $1 million.
    • The Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Program, which provides conservation grants to protect rhinoceros and tiger populations and their habitats within African and Asian countries, was also increased by $1 million.
  • Wild Horses/Slaughter: The Wild Horse and Burro Program received a $3 million increase in its budget this year, which will allow the agency to aggressively implement the recommendation of the June 2013 National Academy of Science report, “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Management Program -  A Way Forward,” including expanding research on population control methods. The HSUS is hopeful that the increase in funding will allow BLM to begin curbing reproduction of wild horses on the range, a necessary step to reduce costs and eliminate the need to remove animals from the range. As the budget makes clear, appropriations may not be used for destruction or sale of wild horses and burros for processing into commercial products (i.e., slaughter).
  • Sage Grouse: The President’s budget included $60 million, an increase of $45 million from last year’s budget, to work on implementing the Sage Grouse Conservation Strategy. The HSUS is pleased that the Department of Interior has pledged to continue working towards developing a long-term conservation plan for the sage grouse. 

Department of State

  • Wildlife Trafficking: Funding for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) at the Department of State will be used to support combatting wildlife trafficking.

    • No less than $55,000,000 will be dedicated to combating wildlife trafficking, at least $10,000,000 of which will go towards fighting rhinoceros poaching. 
    • No funding will be provided to any foreign military unit if the Secretary of State determines that such unit was credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking (unless doing so is in the national security interest of the United States).

 Environmental Protection Agency

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    The EPA will continue to work with the NIH and the FDA on a federal project expected to substantially reduce the current reliance on animal testing. Photo: iStockphoto
    Alternatives to Testing on Animals:  The EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability Research Program is leading the development of new computational systems and models of pathways and tissues to support innovative research on chemicals and materials. The EPA will continue to work with the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration on the Tox21 consortium, a federal project expected to substantially reduce the current reliance on animal testing.

There are many other key items tucked within this massive budget document, and I’ll be giving more feedback on them as our staff reviews thousands of pages, numbers and line items. In addition, we’ll be calling on you to contact your lawmakers to act to influence the outcomes, since it is Congress that pins down the numbers. We expect a major fight over the horse slaughter language, especially with the departure of Senator Mary Landrieu and Representative Jim Moran, two champions of the provision through the years, and we’ll be working hard to get adequate funding for enforcement of our most important federal laws to protect animals. 

February 02, 2015

Euthanizing Healthy Pets Is a Scandal, Says Bellamy Young

Bellamy Young with her dog, Bean, and cat, Sadie. Photo: Yvonne Bennett/The HSUS

One of the latest HSUS supporters to show her shelter pet love is Bellamy Young of ABC’s Scandal, who appears with her dog Bean and her cat Sadie in a lovely new video reminding folks just how wonderful shelter animals can be as companions, and celebrating their presence in her own life. I just love the energy and beauty of her message, and I think it’s one of the best videos in the “Meet My Shelter Pet” series. In it, Bellamy reveals so much of herself as a fostering and rescue advocate, and as a strong believer in the mission of our nation’s shelters. 

Together with our partners on The Shelter Pet Project , Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council, we’re reaching millions more Americans through a public service campaign encouraging adoption from shelters and rescue groups as a first choice for those adding a pet to their family. In 2014, the campaign generated over $42 million in donated media – and it’s generated $224 million in free advertising to promote shelter pet adoption since its launch in 2009. This kind of national marketing campaign by The HSUS and our partners lifts up the entire field of animal sheltering and rescue work, and we are seeing the results, with more adoptions and declining euthanasia rates. Of course, it’s just one part of a multi-faceted campaign to end the euthanasia of healthy and treatable dogs and cats – along with our campaigns against puppy mills and dogfighting, our spay-and-neuter promotions, our support programs for shelters and rescue groups, and so much more. Thanks to Bellamy for joining us to help spread the word.  Check out her video below:

January 30, 2015

The Fur, Feathers, and Scales of Justice: Scoring the Highs and Lows of Attorneys General on Animal Protection

Last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring burnished his pro-animal record when he established an Animal Law unit in an attorney general’s office. The unit will serve as a resource for local law enforcement and state agencies on animal fighting and animal cruelty prosecutions, providing the expertise and firepower to bring those responsible for animal cruelty, suffering, and abuse to justice. For the unit’s first project, it’s partnering with The HSUS to reach out to Virginia pet stores as part of an effort to crack down on puppy mills.

Eric Schneiderman
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an Animal Protection Initiative to fight animal cruelty. Photo: John Minchillo/AP Images for The HSUS

In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an Animal Protection Initiative to shut down criminal animal fighting rings, protect consumers from unscrupulous pet sellers, and prevent other forms of cruelty to animals. Just last month, Schneiderman secured felony convictions in the case of two men who ran the largest known cockfighting ring in New York history, and he specifically requested that their guilty pleas include bans on them owning animals in the future. In November, Schneiderman wrote to all of New York’s 1,034 municipal and local governments offering to help them draft enforceable laws to crack down on puppy mills and the pet stores that sell dogs and cats from mills.

In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi has made animal protection a serious priority. Last July, she shut down a Jacksonville puppy mill and puppy importer, who had been hawking sick English Bulldog puppies to unsuspecting sellers over the Internet for as much as $2,300 a puppy. She’s strongly supported decoupling greyhound racing and casino-style gambling, and also supported legislation to require greyhound tracks to report injuries (greyhound euthanasia rates have fallen sharply in states that have adopted injury reporting laws). On a personal level, Bondi brings an adoptable shelter dog to every cabinet meeting to promote adoption.

And in California, Attorney General Kamala Harris has defended a series of pioneering animal protection laws. Alongside HSUS attorneys, she’s now been on the winning side of four separate challenges to Prop 2 and AB 1437, California’s new farm animal welfare laws that went into effect earlier this month. (Unfortunately, a court recently overturned California’s pioneering ban on the sale of force-fed foie gras, though we’re hopeful that Harris will appeal that ruling.) And, drawing on the work of the HSUS Animal Protection Litigation division, she successfully defeated a challenge to California’s ban on the possession and sale of shark fins, which has helped us crack down on the brutal practice of shark finning.

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Missouri  Attorney General Chris Koster stumped for his state’s “right to farm” amendment, which could prevent regulation of puppy mills. Photo: The HSUS

But unfortunately, a few attorneys general have taken decidedly less animal friendly positions. In Missouri, Attorney General Chris Koster stumped for his state’s “right to farm” amendment, which could prevent regulation of puppy mills and factory farms (it passed by a whisker, by a mere 0.2 percent of the vote). He also sued California to try to strike down AB 1437, a law banning the sale of eggs from hens confined to inhumane battery cages. Five other attorneys general signed on to his complaint. Thankfully a court saw through their false claims that they were representing all the people of their states and dismissed the lawsuit after finding that they were really representing just a few egg producers. The failed lawsuit, which Koster said would cost less than $10,000, ended up costing Missouri taxpayers more than $83,000.

The (dis)honor of the nation’s least animal friendly attorney general, though, must surely go to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt – one of the officials who signed on to the Koster lawsuit and is now engaged in a witch hunt without warrant. For the last year Pruitt has been harassing The HSUS, apparently on behalf of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, which opposed our successful campaign in Oklahoma to outlaw cockfighting. We also defeated a Farm Bureau-backed ballot measure that would have been a de facto ban on any future animal-welfare ballot initiatives. Especially after those two electoral wins, the Farm Bureau has opposed our efforts to crack down on puppy mills, horse slaughter, the exotic pet trade, factory farming, and just about every other animal welfare issue you can think of. While Pruitt has apparently not found the time to bring any major animal cruelty prosecutions in tenure in office, nor to advocate for any pro-animal welfare positions, he’s found time to give a series of speeches and interviews to the Oklahoma Farm Bureau attacking The HSUS, making false and specious claims in the process. It’s important to note that Pruitt launched this attack on The HSUS even though he’s never received a complaint from any HSUS supporter in Oklahoma about our efforts to protect all animals.

Pruitt has mainly parroted the talking points of Washington-based lobbyist Rick Berman, who first launched his attacks on public interest groups by attacking anti-smoking advocates on behalf of tobacco companies. Since then, Berman’s made a small fortune by taking dirty money from a range of corporations to attack the American Cancer Society, Mothers against Drunk Driving, and, on behalf of anti-animal corporations, The HSUS. Last week, after Pruitt threatened to haul us to court unless we gave him confidential and privileged internal documents, we finally decided that enough is enough. Former four-term Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed a lawsuit on our behalf against Pruitt to stop his harassment. (You can read more about that lawsuit here.)

While Missouri’s Koster is taking policy and enforcement actions inimical to animal welfare, Oklahoma’s Pruitt is doing that and more, using his office in overreaching and out-of-line ways. He’s using the power of the state to target his political adversaries and trying to smear them on behalf of special interests whose favor he’s courting. It’s an abuse of power, and it’s the same sort of activity that so many conservatives rightly decried when they claimed that the Internal Revenue Service tampered with Tea Party organizations filing for federal charitable status. And more broadly, it’s a set of actions that is starkly at odds with the work of the nation’s law enforcement community, which acts with respect toward the values of animal protection and the groups doing the heavy lifting. 

January 29, 2015

Exposing 'Kill Buyers' Who Feed the Horse Slaughter Pipeline

Two high profile cases this month involving “kill buyers,” who buy horses at auction to send them to slaughter, have brought the bloody, predatory business of horse slaughter out into the light of day. They’ve also shown the kill buyer for what he truly is – the worst enemy of horses in the United States today.

Horses destined for slaughter are dragged and whipped into trucks and endure long journeys without food, water, or rest. Many die or sustain injuries during transport. Photo: Kathy Milani

Every year, kill buyers funnel more than 100,000 American horses – working, racing, and companion horses, and even children’s ponies – into the horse meat trade, going from auction to auction and gathering up young and healthy horses for slaughter for human consumption, often misrepresenting their intentions in the process.

Most horse owners who take an animal to an auction are unaware that their horse could die in a day or two with a sharp-throat-cutting exercise or a shot to the head. But at auctions all around the country, kill buyers bid against legitimate horse owners and horse rescuers, just so they can make a fast buck.

In fact, some kill buyers outbid rescues, only to resell them the horses—often for a lot more money.

Kill buyers and other key players in the horse slaughter industry trot out the notion that they are somehow “helping” horses by sending them off to slaughter, but there is nothing noble about their enterprise. Horses are dragged and whipped into trucks and endure long journeys without food, water, or rest. Many die or sustain injuries during transport, including broken legs and punctured eyes. The idea of providing veterinary care to an animal about to be slaughtered is unthinkable to these profiteers. 

Take, for example, Dorian Ayache, a well-known kill buyer who was responsible for the deaths of several horses after causing two major accidents while transporting horses to slaughter. He reloaded the surviving and injured horses onto his trailer and proceeded to take them across the border to Mexico, where authorities rejected several due to their severe injuries. Ayache’s operation was shut down by federal authorities, but he continued transporting horses under another company name. He was eventually charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States government, for knowingly violating transport safety regulations, and for tampering with evidence. After Ayache pled guilty to a mere violation of a safety regulation, a federal court sentenced him to three months in prison, a $5,000 fine, and prohibited him from further commercial interstate transportation activities.

Ironically, horse slaughter advocates say that their enterprise prevents people from starving and abandoning horses that they don’t want. But it’s actually the kill buyers who routinely abandon horses, especially at the border when they are rejected for slaughter. They are also responsible for terrible cases of neglect. In a Kentucky case that the investigating animal control officer called “the worst case of animal cruelty I've seen," law enforcement found dozens of emaciated and dead horses on a kill buyer’s property. Larry Browning was charged with 14 counts of animal cruelty and 49 counts of failure to dispose of a carcass within 48 hours.  But earlier this month, County Attorney Jeff Dean struck a plea deal. Despite the overwhelming evidence of criminal animal cruelty, the county attorney decided to drop the cruelty charges – a great miscarriage of justice, considering that Brown had been investigated twice before by Animals’ Angels and found to have horses in very poor condition.

Browning and Ayache aren’t the only two kill buyers to have been recently exposed. In Mississippi, authorities discovered over 150 dead and emaciated horses; it was revealed that the kill buyer also has a criminal history of livestock larceny. And in South Carolina, authorities found dead and emaciated horses on the properties of two alleged kill buyers. One was also being investigated after a video was posted online, showing him beating his girlfriend’s dog.

These are just the latest examples showing that the entire horse slaughter pipeline is nothing but misery for the horses caught up in what is essentially a predatory enterprise.  Frankly, I’m astonished that anyone could believe the propaganda that these kill buyers are helping horses. The only solution to protect horses from slaughter is federal legislation that will prevent horse slaughter plants from opening in the United States and stop the export of horses abroad for slaughter. Please take action today and urge your members of Congress to pass this legislation to end horse slaughter once and for all.  And please join us in our work to secure more safe homes for horses and more protections for horses from the cruelties that threaten them. 

January 28, 2015

GoDaddy Nixes Super Bowl Spot After Advocates Tell Company to GoSendYourAdtotheMoon

On Tuesday, GoDaddy pulled an ad scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday broadcast after expressing surprise that the spot featuring an online puppy seller sparked such an immediate backlash in social media. The ad is just the latest false note on animal issues from GoDaddy, whose founder and former CEO famously flew halfway around the world to shoot a museum-full of African animals, then had the audacity to claim that he killed the elephant for the benefit of local villagers. It just so happened that the elephant was a large male with enormous tusks – the type of elephant prized as trophies. 

Turtle Rescued from NC raid
Online puppy mills victimize hundreds of thousands of dogs like Turtle who was rescued from a North Carolina mill that sold puppies online. Turtle (pictured above with the vet tech who cared for him after his rescue and later adopted him) had to have both eyes removed because of severe neglect at the puppy mill. Photo: Tracy Gould

The GoDaddy ad appears to be a parody of several touching ads by Budweiser and other companies that have highlighted the power of the human-animal bond and pet adoption, in this case with an adorable puppy finding its way home after a rough ride threw him off the bed of a truck. But the GoDaddy ad turned sour when, upon the dog’s finding his way home, a woman greets him with excitement – but only because he’s been sold and can now be shipped for sale. She’s operating an online puppy-sales business.

This commercial was probably not going to be seen as funny in any case, but certainly not when there are thousands of online puppy mill sellers throughout the country, victimizing hundreds of thousands of dogs. These mills sell to customers sight unseen, with their online marketing showing happy and healthy puppies frolicking in the fields. The HSUS has worked with law enforcement to shut down many of these wholesale sellers, and many are among the worst mills we’ve seen. We’ve also worked for 20 years to bring these sellers under the regulatory authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and finally achieved that in 2013 – although that’s only the first step in addressing the problem.  

The fierce reaction to the GoDaddy ad is a sign of the public’s deep connection with animals, and a strong indicator that the public increasingly gets the notion that the online selling of puppies, a key sales strategy of the puppy mill industry, is a threat to animal welfare. It was reported last night that the online petition protesting GoDaddy’s ad, started by Pennsylvania advocate Helena Yurcho on Change.org, was one of the fastest growing petitions in recent memory. 

GoDaddy seems to relish shock-value advertising and the whole controversy could have been staged from the start to get attention, as some observers have noted.  When it comes to Super Bowl spots, the company has yet to transcend its reputation for cheap and tawdry messaging. But it’s hard to imagine what good comes to the company when it consistently shows itself to be callous or indifferent toward animals. That’s not a winning business strategy in 2015. Ask SeaWorld about that.

January 27, 2015

Finding Balance in the Wolf Wars

Today, The HSUS and 21 other organizations – from the Detroit Zoo to the Center for Biological Diversity and the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies to the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians – petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downlist wolves from “endangered” to “threatened” status across most of their range in the lower 48 states. We took this action, along with so many other wolf-protection organizations, to maintain critical federal protections for the fragmented populations numbering just 5,000 or so wolves in the coterminous United States, and to give federal and state wildlife agencies more latitude to manage the occasional rare conflicts between wolves and people.

The presence of wolves provides enormous ecological and economic benefits, and these beautiful animals are a lure for ecotourists. Photo: Thomas D. Mangelsen/For HSWLT

This action comes in the wake of two recent federal court rulings, in litigation brought by The HSUS and other groups, that restored federal protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region and in Wyoming – a very significant portion of their current range in the United States. In response to these court rulings – which rebuked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its piecemeal delisting of wolf populations in select portions of their range – anti-wolf politicians are beating the drums for Congress to intervene and delist wolves entirely, subverting the core principles of the Endangered Species Act and substituting a purely political decision for one that balances the diverse views of stakeholders with biological, economic, and social concerns.

Our plan respects the purpose and intent of the Endangered Species Act, but gives a nod to the folks who want more active control options for wolves, especially ranchers, while not ceding control of wolf management decisions to state agencies that have consistently demonstrated an overreaching, reckless and even cruel hand in dealing with wolves in their states.  The states, in short, have caved in to the interests of trophy hunters, trappers, houndsmen, and ranchers and not properly handled their responsibility to care for animals whose numbers are still limited and whose ecological and economic benefits are routinely undervalued.   

“The ecological benefit of this keystone species is staggering – gray wolves counteract negative impacts of overpopulation of prey species, have an important moderating influence on other predator species, and protect and facilitate ecosystem health,” our petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reads.  “The wolf is one of our nation’s most effective and important protectors of biodiversity in the environments in which it is found.”

Wolves also provide enormous economic benefits. The presence of wolves has been a lure for tens of thousands of people who trek to Yellowstone and other wolf ranges to see a wild wolf. Wolves are a potential ecotourism boon throughout their current range and the areas they are likely to recolonize in the future. And while wolves kill a small number of sheep and cattle, they kill native hooved animals with far greater frequency, keeping populations of deer and elk in balance -- removing sick and weak animals, preventing slow starvation, and limiting deer-auto collisions and deer depredation on crops.  I am not aware of any comprehensive analysis that compares these economic impacts, but I have no doubt that the miniscule livestock losses that wolves account for are dwarfed by the savings achieved by wolves keeping the impacts of deer and beavers and other prey species in check. What’s more, a recent peer-reviewed study from researchers at Washington State University demonstrated that random trophy killing and even depredation of wolves may not have the intended population control effect, and may spur more wolf breeding.  In short, what the states had been doing prior to the court rulings – killing large numbers of wolves, most at random – was not helping and may have been harming their management objectives.

Of all of the larger predators in the world, wolves appear to be among the least dangerous –with no known attacks by a healthy wolf on a person in the coterminous states. Yet, there is still, among a small subset of people in the United States, fear and loathing of the animals, grounded more in myth than in fact or science or experience. It is time to put these canards aside, and to live with wolves, as people in Africa live with lions and people in Asia live with tigers. We have the best deal, in having extraordinary canine predators upon our lands who also almost exclusively stay away from people and generally stick to their traditional prey, which when unrestrained by native predators can have adverse impacts on forests, crops, and roads.

This proposal is a rational middle-ground approach that balances wolf protection with the practical realities of dealing with the occasional problem wolf, and it provides a reasonable pathway forward on what has been a controversial issue in wolf range states. Members of Congress and the Obama administration should embrace this compromise solution, and reject the extreme efforts of some anti-wolf politicians to eliminate all federal protections for wolves by legislative fiat.  

Tell Congress to Keep Wolves Protected »

January 26, 2015

The Times Continues Focus on Factory Farm Cruelty, While Journal Makes Light of Routine Abuses

Today’s editorial pages at the nation’s biggest newspapers are a tale of two starkly different worldviews. One, The New York Times, slams the hideous government-financed cruelties documented at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. The other, The Wall Street Journal, slams California voters and legislators for enacting modest animal welfare standards through Prop 2 and a closely related law restricting sales of eggs from hens in extreme confinement, and calls for the latter measure to be overturned.

Minnesota spent hen slaughter plant
The Wall Street Journal stays silent on terrible animal abuses like the drowning of chickens in scalding hot water and their exclusion from humane slaughter laws. Photo: The HSUS

Since Prop 2’s passage in 2008, almost all the nation’s leading newspapers—The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, even The Des Moines Register and The Kansas City Star in the heartland—have come out against the extreme confinement of animals on factory farms. Most people know it’s unacceptable to confine animals in cages that immobilize them and deny them their most basic biological and behavioral needs. With few state or federal laws to constrain this sort of routine cruelty, it’s been a race to the bottom with the major sectors of animal agriculture.  The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, has remained silent on these abuses—only speaking out when someone dares to confront the problems, and then denigrating those efforts to reform.

Again, nothing from the Journal about the abuse of downer cows; the drowning of chickens in scalding hot water and their exclusion from humane slaughter laws; and attempts to make it a crime for whistleblowers to document, expose, and call out abuse on factory farms. Nothing either about the billions in handouts to animal agriculture sectors, a giant enterprise in state-sponsored industry welfare - from buy-ups of surplus products, to predator control programs, to waste-management subsidies, and much more, all adding up to billions in largesse for a private industry and to the cheap prices it claims to so value for consumers.

The Journal did, however, chime in and support Rep. Steve King’s attempts to preempt state animal welfare laws. Like King, it apparently wants no federal laws to help animals, or state laws. No laws is what it wants.  And remember, it’s backing the views of a man so extreme on this topic that he does not even believe in laws against dogfighting.

The Journal uses the canard of egg prices going through the roof for poor people, yet egg prices always fluctuate throughout the year based on feed, transportation, and other costs going up and down. That’s how the free market works. In fact, egg prices have been more stable recently than rising costs for beef and pork.

The Journal also claims that The HSUS worked to pass Prop 2 as a de facto national standard after Congress rejected nationwide legislation. In fact, we went to Congress after we passed Prop 2 with an overwhelming majority, showing that the public opposes extreme confinement. And Congress took a big pass on nationwide animal welfare standards for the egg industry because of intense lobbying by pork and beef producers opposed to any federal animal welfare regulation—not, as the Journal suggests, for lack of evidence of the cruelty of battery cages, which numerous scientific studies have condemned. California has every right to disallow eggs sold to its citizens from hens kept in overcrowded, inhumane environments that pose food safety risks.

Polls have repeatedly shown that the majority of Americans oppose the extreme confinement of farm animals, and support laws to protect them. Major American food corporations—from Starbucks and Nestlé to Safeway and Burger King and Cracker Barrel—have pledged to move away from selling products that come from animals locked up in crates and cages so tightly that they can’t even turn around. It’s long past time for the Journal to catch up with Main Street. Cruelty to farm animals is not a partisan issue—it’s an issue of basic human decency.