November 2008 Blog Home January 2009


21 posts from December 2008


December 31, 2008

With Unwavering Resolve

Winston Churchill: "When we face with a steady eye the difficulties which lie before us, we may derive new confidence from remembering those we have already overcome."

Wise words by which to anticipate this New Year.

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As 2009 beckons, we understand there are mountains still to climb.  Greed, selfishness, callousness, and indifference are still the core causes of animal abuse in our society, and they have deep roots in human nature. 

Just the same, we know we can summit these peaks.  The human spirit also guides us toward kindness, decency, and mercy.  And these principles, throughout history, are trumping countervailing human impulses.  The advance of a civil society is an unyielding force, and all of us at The HSUS—our staff and members—are propelling the advance of good in the world. Compassion and courage are at the core of our mission, and they have the power to transform our world.

Just listen to our opponents. Our triumphs of 2008 have truly shaken those who defend the mistreatment of animals as “the cost of doing business” in America.

I’m thinking, for instance, about the hirelings at the CCF who attack The HSUS as part of the group's misdirection strategy.  In the wake of the passage of Prop 2, this front group for agribusiness, junk food companies, and other special interests has decided we are the number one threat to their financial backers.  They’ve been pouring  heaps of cash into deceptive advertising, trying to tarnish us. 

Who are these shadowy financiers of CCF, anyway? Here’s what the organization’s website says: "Many of the companies and individuals who support the Center financially have indicated that they want anonymity as contributors." I’m sure they do. They are ashamed to try and defend the cruelties of, say, factory farming or puppy mills or seal clubbing or unnecessary laboratory testing on animals. Well, they can hide their names, but they cannot hide the ugliness of their values. Cowering in the dark corners of the misery they create, they look for diversionary arguments.

We will not be diverted.

To borrow from Churchill, we have growing confidence.  Our ideals resonate with average Americans, and the groups opposed to our work know this all too well.

The animals who share our world deserve our best,  our most vigorous defense of them. Americans have shown again and again that they want such a society.

In 2009, let us renew our pledge to bring it about.

December 30, 2008

2008: A Look Back

I’ve had the privilege of being president of The HSUS for short of five years now.  I had hoped, in taking the post, that I could enhance the organization's reputation as a powerful, mainstream force for animal protection—a force that could take on the major forms of institutionalized cruelty and achieve results that made a difference in the lives of animals.

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Thanks to the support of our members and the work of our talented staff and board, that’s happened, and now the task is not to relent, but instead to continue to strengthen and grow this capability. In looking back at some of my blogs written in 2008, I pulled 10 of the most popular. I think they provide a valuable chronicle of some of the big picture items and controversies over the last year.

Here's the list:

  1. A Look Ahead: Obama's Ag and Interior Chiefs (Dec. 17): Reaction to President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet selections for Agriculture and Interior Secretary
  2. Proposition 2: Views Fit to Print (Oct. 9): The editorial board of The New York Times endorses Proposition 2, the California ballot initiative to ban veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages
  3. Alarm Bells Over Eight Belles (May 5): A discussion of the problems with horse racing, following filly Eight Belles' death at the Kentucky Derby
  4. No Downers, No Exceptions (May 20): Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announces that the USDA will implement a no-downer policy for cattle in the United States
  5. Art, Examined (April 25): Controversy surrounds the exhibition of a starving street dog in a Nicaraguan art gallery
  6. Uncaging the Truth (Aug. 11): Exposing the opposition to California's Proposition 2
  7. Torture on Tape (Jan. 30): The HSUS investigation of Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. breaks, exposing the abuse of downed dairy cows at the Chino, Calif. slaughter plant
  8. Safer Fate for Seals (April 15): Rebecca Aldworth, The HSUS's director of Canadian wildlife issues, imagines a future free of Canada's annual slaughter of baby harp seals
  9. Puppy Mill Horrors to Hit Millions (April 2): Oprah Winfrey dedicates an entire hour-long program to puppy mills and the related issues of shelter adoptions, spay and neuter, and euthanasia
  10. All Paws on Deck (June 4): The generosity and dedication of The HSUS's supporters shines through in response to repeated attacks from the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance

December 29, 2008

Set the Table for Change

A few weeks ago, President-elect Barack Obama announced that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack would be his selection for Agriculture Secretary, disappointing at least some of the interest groups focused on a food reform agenda for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and continuing his pattern of highly conventional and predictable selections for cabinet posts.  We’ve always liked Vilsack, and we endorsed him for the post.  The former Iowa governor had a strong record on many animal protection issues that came up in Iowa—everything from cracking down on animal fighting to vetoing legislation that would have classified puppy mill dogs as "farm products" and allowed mourning dove hunting in the state.  In his new post, Vilsack will have to confront major food policy issues, and we'll be advocating strongly for a fresh new perspective at the agency.Cowfield2

Last week, Kim Severson wrote in The New York Times that there’s another position that’s drawing unprecedented attention: White House chef.  That’s because the buzz surrounding America's top chef has become a proxy debate about the future of American food policy.  Food reform advocates are pressing hard to persuade President-elect Barack Obama and his wife to choose a White House chef who exemplifies the best progressive thought about organic, sustainable, and ethical eating—and even to have an organic garden on the White House grounds.

The man who got the ball rolling was journalist and best-selling author Michael Pollan, whose October “Open Letter to the Future Farmer in Chief” in the New York Times Magazine got the attention of candidate Obama.  Obama’s subsequent comments to Time magazine revealed a keen understanding of the crisis in food policy, and, I think, emboldened activist constituents with an interest in broadening the mission of the agency from promoting production agriculture to helping produce and consume healthy food.

Pollan spoke for many who would like to substitute a new and dynamic agency built around a national food policy that’s better for people, animals, and the environment.  He insists, and he's correct, that we can only address issues of national security, climate change, energy policy, and public health by revamping policies at USDA.

Others followed suit.  In a letter sent the day after Obama’s election victory, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse put forward the idea of a “kitchen cabinet” to advise the president on food and food policy matters.  Days later, some 90 signatories, including Waters, Pollan, writer and professor Marion Nestle, rancher Bill Niman, and journalist and author Eric Schlosser sent Obama a letter urging the appointment of a Secretary of Agriculture knowledgeable and supportive of such concerns as decentralization of food systems and assistance for local farmers’ markets.

Like other presidential couples before them, the Obamas have acknowledged their desire to make the White House a model and a symbol of their values, and a place that, as Michelle Obama told 60 Minutes, would “feel open and fun and full of life and energy."  The President-elect has expressed his support for family farming and organic agriculture, and Michelle Obama is reportedly a fan of organic food, as is Laura Bush.

Just seven people have held the position of White House chef since John F. Kennedy took office in 1961.  Before then, presidents and their spouses generally had a family cook to prepare their daily meals while state dinners were catered.  Since Kennedy’s time, however, the custom has been for the First Lady to select the chef who creates the meals and menus that will represent the administration’s style and taste to visitors and guests from all over the world.  In our day, what is personal is political, and the selection of a progressive chef will speak to all Americans and, to a lesser degree, to the world about the importance of our food choices in making the world more liveable.

December 24, 2008

Eyes on the Sparrow

Last year, The HSUS launched its Animals and Religion program—a campaign that calls upon religious people to put faith into action.  All of the world's major religions speak to our responsibilities to animals, and we at The HSUS have not invented this concern, but reminded them of their own powerful traditions.

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Since animals' lives are bound up with our lives today and throughout history, it would be wrongheaded to think that the principles of kindness and mercy would not apply to animals as well as people.  In referencing Luke 2:1-20, Pastor Glenn Pease in his sermon on Christmas Animals reminds us of the central place of animals in Jesus’s birth:

"In His birth our Lord Jesus identified with the animal kingdom. He was born in a stable meant for the shelter of animals. He was laid in a manger meant for the feeding of animals. The first sounds baby Jesus heard could have been the sound of animals. He was first announced to the shepherds whose whole life revolved around the care, feeding, and protection of animals. The wise men, who represented the Gentile world, made their journey to worship Him on animals. They were likely camels, although horses were not impossible. Mary likely made it to Bethlehem riding on a donkey. Later in His life, Jesus was in a context where He related both to the angels and animals. Mark 1:13 says, 'He was with the wild animals, and angels attended Him.' This was during His forty days in the wilderness. Angels and animals have this in common, they are both servants of God and man. They are both a part of the Christmas story." (Read a hymn that illustrates the animals' role in the Christmas story here.)

Among Jesus's many favorable references to animals in the New Testament, he is twice quoted (Luke 12:6, Matthew 10:29) as saying that the Lord cares for all his creatures, even those considered the "lowliest" of them: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God."

Indeed, compassion for animals is not just an integral part of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, but it is a tenet and teaching of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, too.   

And so, as the holiday reminds us to love others and spread goodness, it is impossible for me to imagine that the abuse or neglect of animals could ever be acceptable to a merciful God.

December 23, 2008

Gray, with a Silver Lining

I celebrate the people who go to shelters or rescue groups to adopt any homeless dog or cat. It's an act of love and kindness. But I have a special place in my heart for people who adopt senior pets. These dogs or cats may have a few flecks of gray, and may not be as frisky or fetching or as big-eyed as puppies or kittens, but they love us just the same and perhaps they need us even more. They may not stay with us as long, but that only means we need to pack a lifetime of love and affection into fewer years.

Some weeks ago, the following story came into the blog and it's a great reminder to us all during the holiday season of the special creatures who need our help. I hope you find inspiration in this tale that May Lattanzio, a freelance writer, poet and photographer, tells.

Off and on throughout my life, I have worked as a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator and placement volunteer for the local humane society and in private. I put up a blog and decided to help the county shelter which is high-kill, but rescue friendly, in Bay County, Fla., by putting a rotating widget in the sidebar of adoptable dogs.

Annie, dog of May Lattanzio Then I saw the nameless Boston with three legs who was supposedly five years old (approximately). Her owner was incarcerated, and she was given to someone else who neglected or mistreated her so much, she was confiscated.

And there she was. Much older than five. Maybe 500. She was scarred on her flanks. Her forehead looks like it was cleaved at one time. She trailed a long cyst sack that swung when she walked. It was heavy. She is missing a front leg. She hobbles; has lumps, bumps and warts all over. She is gray-faced.

Maybe someone would want a special needs dog. I took her home to foster. Granny Annie is no beauty. All dogs are beautiful physically, but poor Annie isn't. But inside that scarred interior lives a shining, golden heart and endless sweetness of character. I was planning to foster her so that she would not be euthanized. Who would want her?

It turned out that I did. To a house full of dogs and cats, she fit right in. If your heart is set on a dog, please adopt one, and don't forget the older ones who aren't pretty anymore; or the black ones who are seldom adopted because of their color. If they have special needs, they have lessons to teach you; like courage, inner strength, patience, gratitude and above all, love.

December 22, 2008

Horse Slaughtergate

Six-time Genesis Awards-winner Brad Woodard, an investigative reporter for the CBS television affiliate in Houston, is on top of the horse slaughter industry again. Last week, he aired an investigative story that reminded us of the continuing problems of slaughter, exposing again the propaganda of the Belgian companies and their allies at the center of the North American trade in horses for human consumption.

We know of the tens of thousands of live American horses sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico, where The HSUS has documented inhumane slaughter and treatment. From there, the meat is typically sent to Europe for human consumption.

Image from Animals' Angels investigation of horses transported to slaughter
© Animals' Angels

Woodard reported on that, but also the efforts of Animals' Angels to obtain federal records through the Freedom of Information Act that document the treatment of American horses destined for the slaughter plants here in the United States before they were closed in 2007 (two in Texas and one in Illinois). The records and photos show battered and beaten-up horses, and the pictures will turn your stomach, as writer Steven Long of Texas Horse Talk magazine says in the Woodard piece.

For years, as The HSUS has pushed a ban on horse slaughter in the United States and on the export of live horses for slaughter, we've heard the canard from the American Veterinary Medical Association and groups associated with agribusiness that all was well with slaughter here in the U.S.; in fact, there are moves in several states to open horse slaughter plants here again, with the proponents relying on the argument that slaughtering is humane here in the U.S.

But the Animals' Angels investigation shows something very different indeed, and the photos and other materials supplement the disturbing investigative footage The HSUS obtained some years ago about the cruelty of slaughter here. The fact is, wherever one looks at horse slaughter—here or abroad—it's an ugly industry. No animal should suffer this cruelty for any reason, and certainly not for the profits of a handful of Belgian companies operating in North America that supply a luxury meat market for a sliver of high-end Japanese and European consumers.

When the new Congress convenes on Jan. 6, it will be a top priority for The HSUS to pass legislation to ban horse slaughter in the United States and to ban the export for slaughter of American horses to our neighbors to the north and south. We'll need you in that fight to get the phone lines going, especially to educate the dozens of new members of Congress who may be unfamiliar with the issue.

Woodard is one of the nation’s best television journalists when it comes to digging deep into issues that matter for animals—a fact recognized by his collection of Genesis Awards, which are presented annually by The HSUS to honor news and entertainment media that spotlight important animal issues.

December 19, 2008

Safety Testing 2.0

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) gave lift to the quest to end the use of animals in testing for the potential human health hazards of chemicals, drugs, and consumer products. In its report, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century, A Vision and a Strategy,” the NAS laid out a long-term proposal for shifting largely, if not entirely, to non-animal testing methods. The new approach, based on the deliberations of an expert committee (including HSUS staff member Martin Stephens, Ph.D.), relies on modern advances in biology and technology and emphasizes human—rather than animal—biology. Some experts believe the proposed research and development could be completed within a decade, though funding from Congress and industry will be needed to advance this objective.

Yesterday The HSUS and the Procter & Gamble Company, our partner in pursuing alternative testing methods, honored several scientists associated with the paradigm shift championed by the NAS. We bestowed two North American Alternatives Awards of $25,000 each, funded by Procter & Gamble, for outstanding scientific contributions to the advancement of alternatives to animal testing.

Mouse Award recipient Melvin Andersen, Ph.D., of the Hamner Institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C., was a key author of the 2007 NAS report. He’s a tireless promoter of its vision and a researcher with promising ideas on translating that vision into reality.

The other award will support the federal government’s fledgling “Tox21” program, which carries out automated, robotic, high-volume testing of chemicals. Under the leadership of Christopher Austin, M.D., of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Robert Kavlock, Ph.D., of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Raymond Tice, Ph.D., of the National Toxicology Program, Tox21 will be used to develop toxicity “signatures” for chemicals, information likely to substitute for animal testing in the future.

The issue at hand has come a long way since animals first began to be used in routine testing decades ago. Such testing was one of the early targets of the emerging animal protection movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Largely as a result of such advocacy, toxicity testing emerged as the primary field for applying the “Three Rs” of replacing, reducing, and refining the use of animals. 

The drive for alternatives to animal testing made slow progress during the 1980s and early 1990s but, in the last 15 years, it appears that animal use in toxicity testing has started to fall in a meaningful way. In Great Britain, which has reasonably accurate laboratory animal use numbers, the number of animals used in toxicity testing has fallen 75 percent since 1995. In recent years, advocacy efforts have mostly switched to engagement, as The HSUS and other animal protection organizations seek to end animal testing altogether by working with progressive corporations, regulatory agencies, alternatives centers, and intergovernmental standards-setting organizations.

We are proud to partner with Procter & Gamble for the third consecutive year in bestowing the North American Alternatives Awards. It is a symbol of our common commitment to eliminate animal testing for consumer product safety, while ensuring that marketed products are safe for consumers and the environment. Procter & Gamble has been criticized for its animal testing over the years, but when companies step up and contribute to the solution, they need to be recognized and animal advocacy groups should be prepared to acknowledge that work and shift. We are a movement that must embrace change, and not have a static view about individuals or institutions.

We congratulate Anderson, Austin, Kavlock, and Tice for their stalwart dedication to implementing the NAS’s long-term vision that will lead to a goal we all share—ending animal testing.

Postscript: It was exciting to learn last night that President-elect Barack Obama intends to appoint Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., a distinguished marine ecologist, as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. It’s a critical position within the Department of Commerce, with major responsibility for the health of oceans and ocean life, and for the enforcement of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Lubchenco, like the Procter & Gamble honorees, exemplifies the creativity, innovation, and engagement with the public interest that we so prize in the American scientific community.

December 18, 2008

Talk Back: Humane Pride

Since I posted my blog on Monday about last week’s three major HSUS field operations, your comments have been rolling in. I wanted to share some of them today:

I am so heartened by the work you do on behalf of all living beings. You are organized, informed, and smart about how you go about stopping cruelty and mistreatment of animals. And you make it easy for supporters to keep supporting—helping us send letters to our congressmen, helping us contact the companies who may not be doing the right thing. By helping to make our voices heard, you broaden public awareness and that inevitably leads to good action taken, and doing what's right for this earth. Thank you so much. —Jessica Keener

Like everyone I am thrilled with the strides being made to end animal cruelty and convict those responsible. And once again I must praise the work of organizations like the HSUS who have the stomach and fortitude to focus on this work. Just reading about these crimes is difficult; I can't imagine having to keep my head and emotions in check as must be done. So thank you for your strength, all of you. Thank you so much. —Maria

Wayne and the HSUS staff, I am so proud to sponsor you and I so much appreciate all the hard work and the perseverance that you endure on behalf of God's creatures. It is a comfort to know that through the flooding, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes, the HSUS is always there. Merry Christmas to you and all of your staff. —Brenda, Donna and our six spoiled dogs (Liza, Koko, Misa, ZZ, Tashi and Reilly)

Wayne's post today reminds me why I pledge my fullest possible financial support to HSUS—and why I will be on my knees with gratitude the day this kind of organization is no longer needed. —Melissa Tedrowe

The dog in the cage looks so much like my little Rosie that it just breaks my heart. She was rescued living on the streets in Dayton by the dog catcher, and later saved from being euthanized by Lil Paws Rescue. Puppy mills and dogfighting—two subjects that just make me sick. Thank goodness for the HSUS for working so hard to stop these abuses. —Chris

Many of you have also commented on the year-end victories video that I posted last week. If you haven’t yet had a chance to watch it, be sure to find a few minutes to do so and to reflect on all of the achievements you helped to make possible for animals in 2008. Among your responses to the video:

I just get chills watching the video and all the advances HSUS has made over the last year. It is unbelievable. I will continue to support the HSUS and its mission. —Penny Steinmeyer

The HSUS ROCKS! What a great year indeed. Congratulations to you, your collaborators, and of course to your supporters, of which I am deeply honored to be! I am looking forward to an even brighter future for animals in 2009! Keep up all of your amazing work! —Jodi

So much done, so much left to do. —Kathy Kirkpatrick

And finally, after seeing Rachel Pfirrman’s note about how she’s rallying her high school club in response to The HSUS’s investigation of the Petland chain of retail stores, a number of you were inspired to share your own stories of how you’re taking action to help stop puppy mills. Among them:

Earlier this week, I submitted a letter to an editor at the Chicago Tribune newspaper in hopes of educating the public about puppy mills. It has become apparent that one of the greatest resources people have is each other. I've learned that speaking up and spreading awareness about animal cruelty is a quick and effective way to make a difference. As people, we have the power to EFFECT CHANGE. Stand up! MAKE PEOPLE LISTEN! We can do this! Together, we can make the world a better and much safer place for ALL ANIMALS. —Victoria Maiorana

Thank you Wayne and to all of HSUS for all the research and reporting that you do. I appreciate all the information your organization provides. I have been moved to action in my community because of the puppy mill/Petland report you released on Nov. 20 and it has changed my life. I am now a citizen with a purpose standing up against animal cruelty. Please don't give up on the cause and continue doing what you do. Yes, change comes slow but victories are celebrated by those that are determined, consistent and stay on track even during the storms. Rain is predicted tomorrow, Dec. 13, so we will get wet when do our Petland protest in Roseville, Calif. —Ena Fisher

Thanks to all of you for offering these comments and please keep your feedback coming. If you have a question about The HSUS or one of our campaigns or programs, feel free to share that as well. This blog is as much yours as it is mine, and I'd love for you all to be a part of the dialogue.

December 17, 2008

A Look Ahead: Obama's Ag and Interior Chiefs

Today, in his regular blog "Animals & Politics," my colleague Michael Markarian posted a blog well worth reading about today's announcement by President-elect Barack Obama on his latest cabinet selections: former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for Agriculture Secretary and current U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar from Colorado for Interior Secretary. I join in Mike's congratulations to both men on their selections, and say that we very much look forward to working with them.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the next Agriculture Secretary Vilsack was a top choice by The HSUS for the post, and we believe he has the smarts and experience to bring this agency into the 21st century and to confront the enormous challenges that his predecessors have largely sidestepped. But it will be a tough job, and he'll have to steel his spine for the job ahead. Vilsack clearly has the mettle to do this; as Iowa Governor, he vetoed a bill to allow the shooting of mourning doves—an act that has saved more than a million doves from target shooting in the years since and cut against the conventional wisdom about disappointing and defying the NRA and the gun lobby. USDA is a dinosaur, with animal welfare programs an odd fit within an agency that has as its core mission the promotion of agriculture, including the production of animals for meat, egg, and dairy products. USDA leaders, acting in concert with a variety of industries, have largely viewed animals as commodities, rather than living, feeling individuals, and their policies and enforcement actions have reflected that worldview and consistently fallen short of a responsible standard of conduct for years.

As columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote last week in The New York Times, the agency should be renamed the Department of Food, and move beyond its traditionally narrow focus as a promoter of agribusiness. It needs to elevate food safety, animal protection, environmental protection, and local, sustainable and organic agriculture, and think about serving 300 million American consumers, rather than just the small number of people involved in corporate agribusiness. Social critic Michael Pollan and others have been making the same points during the past few months.

Our nation needs farmers and a thriving rural economy, and preserving that lifestyle and livelihood is vitally important. But farmers, and the sophisticated ones certainly know this, operate within a society with evolving attitudes toward agriculture, as the passage of Proposition 2 in California indicates. A good yield is not enough—agriculture must pay attention to the wishes of consumers and the norms in society that reflect a concern for the care of animals, the environment, wholesome food, and protection of family farms. The Farm Bill, in its future iterations, should provide farmers with incentives to produce in a way that promotes animal welfare, land preservation, food safety, and nutrition, instead of building the legislation around providing subsidies principally for five major commodities, with most of the money going to producers making more than $250,000 a year. Vilsack will also play a big role in energy policy, since animal agriculture is such an enormous contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as both a major consumer and producer of energy.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, the next Interior Secretary We pledge to work with him, all the while advocating to advance the broad mission of The HSUS.

Sen. Salazar is a widely respected figure in the Senate, built partly on his years of experience as a conservative Democrat with a reputation for reaching out to Republicans. He was not a top choice at Interior for animal advocates, the environmental community, or other significant stakeholders and for that reason alone, his was a surprise choice. As Markarian writes in his blog, Salazar has a mixed record on our issues and, to some degree, on environmental protection. But I think he'll find that strong, progressive action at an agency that's been riddled with corruption and has demonstrated unhindered obedience to the desires of industry during the Bush era will earn him and President-elect Obama the loyalty of the majority of the American public. Americans treasure wildlife and the 700 million acres of public lands. It's an awesome responsibility, and we hope that Salazar will provide inspired leadership worthy of the vision that President-elect Obama has set forth in his policy statements and speeches.

Here is Markarian's blog, as well.

Obama's Animal Welfare Team

President-elect Barack Obama announced two more Cabinet appointments today—perhaps the two most eagerly awaited appointments for animal advocates because of their relevance to the protection of domestic animals and wildlife. We congratulate former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the next Secretary of Agriculture, and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, the next Secretary of the Interior, who were both named earlier today. We also congratulate Lisa Jackson, whose appointment was formally announced earlier in the week to head the Environmental Protection Agency. These three members of Obama’s team together will impact the lives of hundreds of millions of animals.

Vilsack has a solid record on animal protection, and he was the top choice of HSUS and HSLF to lead the USDA, the agency that oversees our federal laws on animal welfare, humane slaughter and transport, horse protection, animal fighting, and others. Nearly 90,000 animal advocates contacted the transition team through our website, expressing how important it was to pick an animal-friendly Agriculture Secretary and recommending Vilsack as an excellent choice. The Obama Administration listened to your views, and this appointment demonstrates what an important voice animal advocates can have as a political constituency.

Continue reading "A Look Ahead: Obama's Ag and Interior Chiefs" »

December 16, 2008

Bush's Toxic Changes

In its waning days, the Bush Administration is racing against the clock to grease the skids for the factory farming industry. The Administration has always been aligned with Big Agriculture, but these new regulations are an astonishing abdication of the government’s regulatory responsibility. The Obama Administration will have to contend with these pernicious moves and plan on rolling them back to protect the public.

184x265_chickens_ebaa In late November, the Food and Drug Administration reversed its prior regulatory commitments to bar the “extralabel” use of certain antibiotics on the nation’s billions of cows, pigs, and chickens raised for food. The term extralabel, or "off-label," refers to using drugs for purposes other than for what they were intended—such as taking an antibiotic approved to treat respiratory diseases among cows and administering the drug to chickens.

Antibiotics are supposed to be administered to fight illness and infection. But an estimated 70 percent of the antimicrobial drugs used in the United States are fed in low doses to animals on factory farms to promote faster growth and keep the animals from getting sick in their filthy, overcrowded environment. Major medical and public health groups, including the American Medical Association, say that the rampant use of such drugs on farm animals is a prescription for fostering the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This has the potential to render antibiotics unusable in fighting human health problems.

And just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to exclude these factory farms from certain pollution regulations, including not requiring them to report dangerous levels of air pollution to the agency. Industrialized intensive animal production facilities will now be allowed to manage the enormous volumes of manure and noxious gases they produce without federal oversight or reporting responsibilities. The Baltimore Sun addressed the issue on its editorial page today.

President-elect Barack Obama has already announced a strong team to head the EPA and other environmental positions, and dismantling these last-second giveaways to industry should be a priority.