January 2012 Blog Home March 2012


17 posts from February 2012


February 29, 2012

Talk Back: Celebrating McDonald’s Move to Help Pigs

Pig

Earlier this month, I shared the news that McDonald’s, the largest restaurant chain in the world, announced its intention to acquire pork for its U.S. locations only from pigs who weren't bred using gestation crates. Just a few days later, Bon Appétit Management Company announced that it will reach that goal by 2015. Major suppliers Smithfield Foods and Hormel had committed publicly and to The HSUS that they’d phase out the crates in company-owned facilities by 2017, and it has seemed like a real moment of change on what had been an intractable issue in the realm of factory farming.

While many of you wished the elimination of the crates would be overnight, rather than phased out over a few years, there was elation that we are making progress on this issue:

Great news! Way to go McDonald's. These wonderful creatures of God deserve the most respectful and humane treatment. Thank you for this move towards that end. ―Carolyn Allen

I agree. I would gladly pay a little more for my meals if the livestock is raised and treated in humane manner. It is the right thing to do. ―Doug Richard

Thank you HSUS for all the tireless work that has been done for animals who suffer mercilessly on factory farms. I have not eaten pork in 20 years because of the cruel treatment and confinement of these hapless, sorrowful beings with no voice of their own. ―Denise

Unfortunately most of us Americans have been unaware of the cruelties toward animals that we eat. Up to now most animal humane groups have zeroed in on cats and dogs. It is time for the American public to become educated on the abuses toward…cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, horses and to work toward more humane treatment of these creatures who have but one life to live as well. ―Bonnie Kohleriter

Thank GOD for this move. I live in the middle of pork-producing Iowa and it makes me sick to see the trucks packed full of hogs and the many, MANY hog confinement buildings popping up all over the place. Not to mention, some hobby farmers will put today's enormous-sized sows into old vintage gestation crates made for the past generation sows that were much smaller. It made me want to cry. People have no idea how bad this is until they see it for themselves. The legislators in Iowa protect the hog farmers and allow this abuse. The best way to vote is through your consumer dollar and do not re-elect the senators and representatives who cave in to special interests. ―S.Z.

I am absolutely thrilled by today's news about McDonald's! They have the power alone to overturn the worst abuses in the animal supply food chain, and I commend the company for making the right choice. Dittos for Hormel and Smithfield Foods to also do right for the animals. I only wish that the abuses could be abolished tomorrow. ―Mark Reed

This is positive news! I'd like to know that this will be an immediate and definite action of getting out of the business of using gestation crates for breeding sows, not just an intention! Yet, meanwhile these sows will still have to endure this cruelty until it's phased out. I hope that many more people will become aware of the horrible suffering these sows and other farm animals endure. This has to stop! ―Tatijana M. Grk

Great news, very exciting. My 13-year-old dog loves the McDonald burgers for a buck. I buy them because she is aging and fussy. Anyway, it's exciting news about the gestation crates. I will feel better about buying the burgers for her. Way to go! Congratulations! ―Carol Penner

This is an excellent beginning for pigs, as well as for other animals. Thank you again for informing me of this. This is terrific! Thank you again so much! I am grateful. It is one small step, but we will make it! ―Melissa G. Tipton

Thank you HSUS and to all the people who spoke up for those poor pigs who are confined in unbearable conditions. Progress is being made thanks to people becoming aware and speaking up! ―Rob Anderson

February 28, 2012

A Positive Step to Address the Trade in Large Constrictor Snakes

Is it an animal protection issue when countless animals are swallowed up in their native habitats by invasive species? I think it is, and that’s just one reason why The HSUS has been demanding that the federal government ban imports of large, powerful exotic species used for the pet trade. The substantial dangers posed by constricting snakes to native species, to people, and to the snakes themselves have come into much sharper focus during the last several years, especially with a jarring National Academy of Sciences report released last month that shows the near-annihilation of small and medium-sized mammals by Burmese pythons in a portion of Everglades National Park. We are now seeing some federal policy action to deal with this problem.

Burmese python - William Warby via Flickr
William Warby via Flickr

Today, the House Judiciary Committee―led by Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas; Ranking Member John Conyers, D-Mich.; Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.; and Ranking Member Bobby Scott, D-Va.―approved H.R. 511 to ban the trade in nine species of large, constricting snakes, a bill strongly backed by The HSUS. The Committee took up the bill, introduced by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., just weeks after the Interior Department approved a much more limited and inadequate rule restricting the trade in snakes. 

H.R. 511 would ban the import or interstate trade for use as pets of nine species identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as posing “high” or “medium” risk of becoming established in the wild as an invasive species. In March 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to ban nine species of pythons, boa constrictors, and anacondas identified in the USGS report as posing significant risk to the environment. But the Obama administration backtracked from both the science and the original proposal, announcing in January 2012 that it would adopt a final rule restricting trade in just four of the nine species—a helpful step, but one covering just 30 percent of imports of the nine species at issue.

Today the Judiciary Committee got the issue back on track. While the committee approved one adverse amendment―allowing for trade to licensed USDA “exhibitors”―the bill largely remained intact. An amendment from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to exclude boa constrictors from the bill–even though boas represent more than half of all trade and they have already become established in Florida and Puerto Rico―was defeated. 

Some people get these snakes as pets and then realize they cannot properly care for them; some misguided individuals have resorted to releasing the snakes and then the animals survive and reproduce in our native habitats. The ecological havoc wrought by invasive snakes is worse than anyone anticipated. A January 2012 report by researchers with the National Academy of Sciences found that Burmese pythons, in a little more than a decade of colonizing the Everglades, have wiped out 99 percent of raccoons, opossums, and other small and medium-sized mammals, and 87 percent of bobcats. A great American ecosystem has been put at grave risk because of this invasive species. Such disastrous impacts will inevitably harm the ability of Florida panthers, one of the most endangered animals in our nation, to survive. We must act now in order to prevent other large constricting snakes from colonizing other ecosystems and having such a devastating impact on them, too.

Constrictor snakes have killed 15 people in the United States, including seven children, with reticulated pythons accounting for the largest share of attacks. The tragic death of a Florida toddler in 2009 put a fine point on why the private ownership of these animals is just not worth the risk of children or adults being killed by them.

We are especially grateful to Rep. Rooney, and to Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.; Howard Berman, D-Calif.; and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who carried the debate today in committee and pushed for passage of the legislation. We hope the House takes up the bill and passes it soon. We’ll also be working with the Senate to push ahead this legislation and to get it sent to President Obama for his signature.

Léalo en español (Read this blog entry in Spanish).

P.S. Today is World Spay Day! By our count, there are more than 630 registered US events and 67 international events, which I’ll report on in the days ahead. Don't forget to enter your pet's photo in our World Spay Day Online Pet Photo Contest―a great opportunity to celebrate pets, raise funds for spaying and neutering, and have the chance to win prizes. Enter the contest by tomorrow, Feb. 29 at 5 p.m. Eastern.

February 27, 2012

Give ‘Dr. Evil’ a Taste of His Own Medicine

Notorious Washington, D.C. lobbyist Rick Berman is taking aim again at our campaigns to combat animal cruelty. One of his front groups―something he calls "HumaneWatch"aired a TV ad during last night’s Academy Awards attacking The Humane Society of the United States. He doesn’t attack us because we are ineffective―but precisely the opposite, because he knows we are relentless in our campaigns against animal cruelty. He is essentially running something similar to an anonymous, pro-cruelty “Super PAC” against The HSUS, just as he has done against Mothers Against Drunk Driving, labor groups, and other public interest groups on behalf of anyone else who is willing to line his pockets.

Your HSUS is under attack because of our work to prevent cruelty to all animals, and we need your help. That’s why today I am launching the “HSUS Fund to Stop Rick Berman’s Campaign for Cruelty," and I hope you will join me. Whenever he does his worst, we need to do our best in response. So will you join me today and donate $25, $50, or even $100 to help animals in the name of Rick Berman? We’ll put the money to good use. We’ll take the fight straight to his shadowy paymasters and show them that attacking the cause of animal protection will backfire big-time as a business strategy. I’m making the first donation of $500.

North Carolina puppy mill rescue
Diane Lewis
Help us fight puppy mills and factory farming.

We’ll dedicate half the donations for our work against puppy mills, and the other half will boost our efforts to combat factory farming abuses. Your contributions will fund the undercover investigations, litigation, corporate campaigns, and the other work that Berman and his paymasters so desperately hope to stop.

CBS’ 60 Minutes investigated him years ago and dubbed him “Dr. Evil.” He’s like a bad penny―he turns up opportunistically as a corporate hireling to take on any number of common-sense ideas, whether it’s attempts to rein in drunken driving, to place limits on smoking, or to combat animal cruelty.

In this case as in others, he won’t tell you who is paying him millions of dollars to turn on his smear machine. Few moneyed interests, you see, are willing to publicly defend mistreatment of animals. But they are happy to have a front man like Berman.

Though we cannot tell you who is paying Berman, we can tell you who stands to benefit from his dirty work. The worst players in factory farming would like The HSUS to stand down so they can continue practices like confining breeding pigs or veal calves in tiny cages so small they cannot even turn around for essentially their entire lives.

Puppy millers might be banking on Berman. After all, nothing could make them happier than if The HSUS turned its attention elsewhere instead of the lifetimes of misery inflicted on commercial breeding dogs for the sake of high profits in the puppy-selling business.

Is the fur industry chipping in? After all, The HSUS worked to reduce Canada’s seal killing by 85 percent since 2004, and more broadly we are a global leader in promoting faux fur alternatives to trapping or clubbing animals for fur. Or how about dogfighters and cockfighters? They are spitting mad that we have dared to drive them into the criminal underground. The same with those people who want to breed and sell dangerous exotic animals for backyard pets.

It’s high time to send these animal abusers a message and to make the name “Rick Berman” do something to help animals, something real. By donating to The HSUS for this new fund, you can help us expose those who make money from mistreatment of animals.

Donate here to our HSUS Fund to Stop Rick Berman’s Campaign for Cruelty," and we’ll keep you posted on how your donations in Rick’s name are helping animals. As I said, I’m kicking things off with $500 donation, and other members of our executive team at HSUS are chipping in another $2,500. I know with your help we will reach our goal of $250,000—that’s $125,000 to help pets, and another $125,000 to take on factory farming abuses, all thanks to Rick Berman.

Why $250,000? Two reasons: First, we can do a lot of good for animals with that amount. Secondly, $250,000 about equals the price tag of the luxury import car that Berman wheels around town in while raking in hefty fees for attacking people who are trying to fight cruelty and to stop drunk drivers from taking lives.

What could be more fitting than to expose the worst of the practices that Berman encourages, whether intentionally or not, with his smear tactics on us? Thank you so much for standing with us, and for all of your support of our work to stop animal cruelty.

February 24, 2012

Progress against Selling Pets for Invasive Experiments

This month, the National Institutes of Health announced that beginning Oct. 1, 2012, grant recipients cannot use NIH funds to buy cats from “Class B dealers.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses these dealers as middlemen to round up dogs and cats from animal shelters, auctions, private individuals, and other “random sources”—in some cases, through “free to good home” ads and even pet theft.

Orange kitten in an animal shelter
Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Class B dealers then sell these animals, many of them former pets, to research laboratories where they undergo painful experiments. Undercover investigations have documented sickening conditions at some of these Class B facilities.

Only seven of these dealers remain active in the country, down from hundreds in past decades. And we’re seeing encouraging signs that their numbers may soon dwindle to zero.

In 2009, the National Academies released a report concluding that Class B dealers are unnecessary and that regulations for these dealers are unenforceable. This report prompted an announcement by NIH that no later than 2015, it will prohibit buying dogs from Class B dealers using the agency’s grant funds. Its latest announcement is one more step in the right direction.

These long-awaited NIH announcements represent steps forward on this issue, signaling the eventual end of these unscrupulous animal dealers.

Just last year, owners of a Class B dealer facility in Pennsylvania were indicted on several charges, including illegally obtaining dogs. If convicted, they could face 50 years in jail. The facility’s license was not renewed, and four of the seven remaining dealers are currently being investigated by the USDA for various offenses.

February 23, 2012

Working for Animal Welfare in North Carolina

I’m in North Carolina for the latter part of this week, speaking at public events for The Bond, touring the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, visiting animal shelters in the state, and meeting so many advocates deeply committed to animal protection. I was in Charlotte a couple of weeks back and paid a visit to the Humane Society of Charlotte and the Charlotte/Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control, and this week I’m in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill-Greensboro area on my tour and about to visit the Greensboro Animal Shelter. I head to the Orange County Animal Shelter in Chapel Hill tomorrow.

Wayne Pacelle at the SPCA of Wake County shelter in North Carolina
The HSUS
Visiting the SPCA of Wake County shelter.

North Carolina is a state at a crossroads with respect to animal welfare. It has a fast-growing animal advocacy contingent, with a burgeoning grassroots presence. There’s been a strong campaign against chaining of dogs here. The HSUS has worked with shelter and rescue partners on six puppy mill raids in the last eight months, with the help of so many veterinary school students and local organizations. I saw some of the dogs today from the latest raid in Stokes County at the beautiful SPCA of Wake County in Raleigh, and it was great to see the animals. That group adopts out about 3,200 animals a year and has done some tremendous marketing and outreach work to spread its message.

But this wonderful state is also home to a variety of cruelties that have no justification, such as puppy mills. Shockingly, the North Carolina Pork Producers and the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation have both lobbied against legislation that would impose humane breeding standards for dogs at large-scale facilities. The pork industry has no stake in dog breeding standards, but just has a knee-jerk opposition to any animal welfare policy. For its part, the American Kennel Club, based right here in Raleigh, is also opposed to legislation to crack down on puppy mills.        

North Carolina is also one of just seven states with no rules restricting private ownership of dangerous exotic wildlife as pets. I’m headed to a big cat sanctuary tomorrow, a place that accepts and cares for the discards from this callous industry at a great daily expense to the organization. Even though a child was killed by a captive tiger kept as a pet, and several other people have been injured, lawmakers in the state haven’t taken action to deal with this problem.

This is also the number-two pork-producing state in our nation, sending 10 million pigs to slaughter each year.

Rescued dog at the SPCA of Wake County shelter in North Carolina
The HSUS
One of the rescued dogs at the SPCA of Wake County.

Although captive hunts of mammals and dogfighting are illegal, the state has about 150 fox and coyote pens, where trappers capture foxes and coyotes, place them in fenced pens, and then sic packs of dogs on them. The dogs often tear the wildlife apart. It’s a macabre blend of captive hunting and a staged game, but it’s not illegal. It should be.

Fortunately, the state does have some forward-thinking leaders in the agriculture community who are working to improve animal welfare. The North Carolina Egg Association has endorsed H.R. 3798, a federal bill in Congress to improve the treatment of egg-laying hens nationwide.

The HSUS has a wonderful state director, Kim Alboum, leading the charge and building bridges with so many advocates and organizations. But she’s going to need help from animal advocates, community leaders, and lawmakers to turn these problems around.

In talking to so many people here, I’m convinced the public is with us on these issues. But special interests are blocking reform. It’s a situation that we cannot tolerate any longer, and the only way it will change is if good people step up and demand change.

February 22, 2012

Time for Top California Wildlife Commissioner to Step Down

Daniel Richards recently ascended to the top appointed wildlife post in California―president of the five-member state Fish and Game Commission, which has authority over all fish and wildlife, state parks, and other open-space areas in this ecologically diverse state. Not long after his appointment to the post, he paid $7,000 for a guided mountain lion hunt in northern Idaho and, with the help of hounds and professional guides, chased a cougar through the forest and up into a tree, then shot the trapped creature off of a limb. Richards then held the carcass of the large, beautiful big cat in a bear hug and had a picture taken, with a grin that nearly spanned Idaho’s panhandle.

It’s been a political rite of passage for governors to look to one primary qualification in selecting commissioners: the possession of a hunting license, even though hunting numbers have been in steady decline since the mid-1970s and the role of the state wildlife agencies has broadened far beyond the task of procuring game for hunters. State wildlife agencies protect all wildlife, focus on rare and endangered species, protect sensitive lands, resolve human-wildlife conflicts, and promote a range of wildlife-associated recreations, among many other duties.

Mountain lion
Fund for Animals Wildlife Center
Please take action today if you live in California.

No state typifies the evolving role of fish and wildlife agencies more than California, where there’s been a precipitous drop in hunting license sales over the last three decades and practices like trophy hunting are alien to the vast majority of the electorate. There were only 268,000 licensed hunters last year in a state with 38 million people―less than 1 percent of the state’s population.

California is also a state where the people have registered their views on a number of controversial wildlife issues through the years, by voting to approve ballot measures to ban the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and poisons and to outlaw the trophy hunting of mountain lions. Gov. Ronald Reagan stopped mountain lion hunting in 1970, and voters stymied an effort by the hunting lobby to open up a season 20 years later. The hunting lobby took a second crack at it, and voters reaffirmed their original ban with a landslide vote six years later. So, in short, among a vast array of policy issues, there’s no issue where the public’s views have been better documented than on the question of lion hunting―with two statewide votes on the subject, and an emphatic thumbs-down on the practice.

That’s what makes Dan Richards’ sideshow in Idaho―with the infamous picture printed in Western Outdoor News―so offensive to so many Californians. He has a special responsibility as president of the Fish and Game Commission to show a respect for wildlife and also for the views of Californians, diverse as they are. 

He’s now sacrificed that mantle of leadership by shooting a mountain lion out of a tree, and I don’t think he can reclaim it. Oscar Wilde was talking about fox hunting when he said it was “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable,” but he might as well have been talking about lion hunting, which has been banned in the Golden State for more than four decades now and is so deeply distasteful to Californians.

Ironically, Richards took the Commissioner spot a few years ago of Judd Hanna, who is a lifelong hunter from northern California, but the sort of responsible hunter who bridges the divide between ardent animal advocates and hunting enthusiasts. Hanna is personally and professionally committed to recreational hunting, but he abides by codes of conduct, including fair chase and utilization of the animal carcass. And as a commissioner, he paid attention to the science and pushed the issue of the continued use of lead shot in hunting onto the radar screen. There’s superabundant evidence that hunters’ lead was the number one cause of mortality for endangered California condors, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of other wild animals who die after ingesting this toxic product left behind by hunters. These lead bullets keep on killing and killing, long after they leave the chamber. There are non-toxic alternatives already in use, so the whole littering of the landscape with lead is so pointless today.

Hanna was drummed out of his Commission seat by the NRA and the rest of the hunting lobby, even though he was acting in the best interests of wildlife and hunters. He was replaced by Richards, whose policies on wildlife protection have been consistently retrograde. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger erred in helping to oust Hanna and by replacing him with Richards. Judd Hanna is precisely the sort of person who should serve, and Richards is a throwback to the old days when a devotion to hunting was essentially the only selection criterion for a wildlife commissioner.

Richards should step down and make way for an appointee who balances the diverse interests of the people of California―who want something more than a lion hunter in the lead. If you live in California, please contact the commission to let them know that this disregard for wildlife is unacceptable.

February 21, 2012

Bon Appétit Adopts Strong Farm Animal Welfare Measures

Company Builds on McDonald’s Crate Announcement

At The HSUS, since our founding, we’ve been about the idea of protecting all animals, and that includes the animals used in agriculture. Every animal has the same will to live, and the same interest in avoiding pain and suffering.

We attempt to reach our members and other consumers with this message, so they can eat with a conscience and drive the market in the right direction. But we also work with companies to provide consumers with better options, and in the process, they, too, drive the market. Among the best of them has been Bon Appétit Management Company, which runs more than 400 dining operations for corporations, universities, museums, and specialty venues in 31 states. Since 2005, the company has led the way by using only cage-free shell (whole) eggs, supporting small-scale, sustainable agriculture, offering extensive and award-winning vegetarian options, and more.

Pigs in group housing
The HSUS
Pigs in group housing.

Today, Bon Appétit is making history by announcing the rollout of the food service industry’s most comprehensive farm animal welfare policy to date.

Within three years, Bon Appétit will end the purchase of all pork products that come from pigs bred using gestation crates, all eggs that come from hens confined in barren battery cages (including liquid eggs, which weren’t covered in the company’s previous policy), all veal that comes from crated calves, and all foie gras. The company will also increase the percentage of meat it purchases from farms that receive the highest animal welfare certifications, like those of Humane Farm Animal Care, Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership or Food Alliance, and it will continue promoting a reduction in meat consumption as part of its Low Carbon Diet initiative.

For years, company executives have been working to eliminate the worst abuses farm animals suffer. The company’s CEO, Fedele Bauccio, served on the prestigious Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which issued a landmark report calling for an end to gestation crate, battery cage, and veal crate confinement of farm animals. Bon Appétit organized a TEDx event to examine ethical issues surrounding food production that included factory farming’s effects on animals.

The company has also consistently endorsed legislation to outlaw extreme confinement practices in agribusiness, including 2008’s Proposition 2 in California.

Today’s announcement by Bon Appétit is yet another benchmark for others in the food service sector to strive to reach. The company is demonstrating that being socially responsible is not a bromide or a slogan, but an operational principle.

February 17, 2012

Humane Population Management - For Horses and Other Mammals

This week ended with an announcement by the federal government that may turn out to be a historic step forward in our efforts to protect the nation’s remaining free-roaming wild horses and burros. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the official registration of the first contraceptive vaccine for horses in the United States, called ZonaStat-H (more commonly referred to as porcine zona pellucida or PZP). The Humane Society of the United States sponsored the registration of the vaccine. The EPA registration means that the vaccine, which has been used on Assateague wild horses for more than 20 years, can now be used by wild horse managers for all the Western herds.

The federal management program for wild horses has been something of a financial and animal welfare disaster for quite some time. In recent years, the BLM has rounded up tens of thousands of horses, causing distress and fear and some occasional deaths, without any reasonable expectation to adopt out these animals. That has resulted in a swelling captive population of wild horses―now more than 45,000. Almost half of the agency’s entire budget goes toward captive horse management.

Two wild horses in the grass
Kayla Grams

If there is pressure or reason to reduce the population, then the primary management tool from this point forward should be fertility control, rather than costly and sometimes dangerous round-up and removal regimes. PZP is now ready to be used for this purpose. The contraceptive vaccine prevents female horses from becoming pregnant, and it is safe for the animals and the environment. Above all, it can be used to maintain sustainable populations, since the American public wants wild horses roaming the West. By using more fertility control to humanely reduce wild horse populations on the range, and having fewer horses in long-term federal holding pens on the government dole, U.S. taxpayers can save tens of millions over the next decade.

PZP was first used on wild horses in 1988 when a team led by Jay F. Kirkpatrick, the director of the Science and Conservation Center in Montana, began a pilot project on the famous wild ponies at Assateague Island National Seashore off the coast of Maryland. This project was very successful and has now led to the current PZP study we’re conducting in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with a grant from the Annenberg Foundation. The HSUS is working with the BLM t to develop longer-lasting and more easily administered versions of the vaccine.

The HSUS has forged partnerships with public agencies, communities, parks, zoos, and other groups to test PZP to safely manage wildlife numbers. The vaccine has also been used to help control elephant populations in South Africa, deer in suburban areas, and dozens of species of zoo animals.

The importance of technological advances to animal welfare cannot be overstated. It has been said that Henry Ford did even more for horse welfare than Henry Bergh (the outstanding 19th century humanitarian and ASPCA founder) as millions of overworked and suffering horses were gradually replaced in the early part of the 20th century by motorized transports in cities and on farms. In the same vein, we’re delighted to have helped bring this new technology to the forefront of wild horse and burro management in the United States. On August 28, we’ll be hosting a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, focusing on the use of innovative management tools, such as ZonaStat-H, to manage wild horse populations. If used properly, this innovation has the potential to allow our nation to turn the corner on this problem and meet the needs of everybody who cares about preserving wild horse and burro populations in the West.

February 15, 2012

Talk Back: Working Together to Help Hens

Yesterday, the New York Times joined the Los Angeles Times, The Oregonian, and other major newspapers in urging Congress to enact a federal bill to phase out barren battery cages for egg-laying hens and make other important animal welfare improvements for these animals. This bill is the result of an agreement between The HSUS and the nation’s largest egg industry group, the United Egg Producers—two long-time adversaries that have found some common ground.

White and black hen

This legislation is historic because it offers the opportunity not just to help chickens in one state, but hundreds of millions of birds at once, including in major egg production states without the ballot initiative process―where we are unlikely to be able to provide any relief at all for hens otherwise.

The agreement isn’t perfect, but it is a practical way of relieving suffering for hundreds of millions of hens―and it’s a case of adversaries coming together to improve the lives of animals. With the suffering of so many animals at stake, we cannot turn away from this reform, since there is no other logical or practical pathway to drive positive change at this scale. In a measure that asks for less than the ideal, there are concerns, and whenever and wherever I have spoken about the agreement, I have asked to hear from advocates and get their take.

Here are a few of your comments:

Hurrah for the hens! —Valerie Vierk

I love how JS West, the company featured in the NPR story you linked to, allows the cameras in to take pictures of its enriched cage facility. Can you imagine any [barren] battery cage operation doing that? I can't. A penny per egg is a tiny amount to pay for such improved welfare for hens. ―Amy K.

I wish we had the same law in Canada. I won't eat pork or eggs for that reason. Sick of the cruelty to our farm animals... ―Maureen Wheeler

There is nothing wrong with the HSUS trying so hard to work with the egg producing industry. The issue is that after all of the HSUS's battles they are willing to roll over to industry on a bill that does very little to improve the life's of the actual "egg producers," the chickens themselves! If the HSUS had agreed to a deal that was a win for the animals, and not extremely lopsided toward the industry, then people wouldn't be so outraged... ―Kyle Vitale

I just wanted to ask about...the 15-18 year phase-in of getting rid of battery cages, and it also states that it would supersede Proposition 2 in California. Could you please clarify this point? I really want to do what's best for the animals. ―Alokananda Ghosh

I want to take such concerns head-on. Above all, I want to make it clear that this is multi-pronged legislation and we do not have to wait 15 years for its provisions to go into effect. To start, the labeling requirements in the legislation, H.R. 3798―labeling all eggs as either from hens in cages, enriched cages, cage-free, or free range—would take effect one year after passage of the bill; this provision has the potential to move the market almost immediately and dramatically, in the direction of more space and more extensive systems for hens.

It’s also important to note that the phase-in of the larger space requirements for the birds―ultimately essentially doubling the space for most of the birds―would be staggered. One-quarter of the industry (equaling 70 million birds) would be required to start converting away from barren battery cages within 6 years, 55 percent (150 million birds) within 12 years, and the entire industry within 15 to 18 years (all 280 million birds). H.R. 3798 would ban construction of new battery cage facilities 6 months after enactment. In short, this bill will have a major impact immediately. This is critical since there are tens of millions of birds in the most severe and extreme confinement―48- or 52-inch space allotments per animal―meaning that they don’t even get the inadequate 67 square inches called for in pre-existing UEP voluntary standards.

The legislation would also make other improvements like requiring nests and perches for hens, banning forced starvation molting, and prohibiting excessive ammonia levels in henhouses. Ultimately, the bill would nearly double the space most of these birds have now—a major improvement welcomed by a broad coalition of animal protection groups.

H.R. 3798
And all the major backers of Proposition 2, California’s voter-approved initiative to ban extreme confinement of farm animals, support this federal hen bill (The HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, ASPCA, Mercy For Animals, and more). These groups and others recently released a joint ad on why H.R. 3798 is so important. The biggest critic of the legislation, the so-called Humane Farming Association, sat on the sidelines and didn’t even endorse Proposition 2 in California. It is critical to note that there is also a special rule in H.R. 3798 that requires that the federal changes happen in California on the same time frame called for in Prop 2; in short, California will go first, precisely because of Prop 2.

If you haven’t already, please take action today to support this important reform to help millions of chickens.

February 14, 2012

Horse Diving Act Belongs Only in the History Books

Breaking News: Just after I posted this blog, the Associated Press reported that the owner of Steel Pier has canceled the horse diving spectacle! No need to write the governor. Celebration is in order.

Though hardly the most harmful or cruel thing I’ve come across in my time as CEO of The HSUS, “horse diving” is one of the most stupid, smacking of the worst kind of hucksterism and snake-oil showmanship.

Diving horse act
Wikipedia

This bizarre spectacle of horse diving became popular in Atlantic City in the 1920s―with horses forced to walk up to the end of an elevated platform, which then drops and sends the frightened animals plummeting 30 to 40 feet into a tank of water. It went the way of other absurd, cruel, or degrading acts, like pygmies or other native people placed on display at exhibits or shooting small people out of cannons. But it was not stopped until the 1970s in response to concerns about animal welfare. An attempt to revive it briefly in 1993 ended after public outcry. Yet the owners of the Atlantic City Steel Pier have just announced a plan to bring back this cruel attraction in a few months.

Diving acts endanger the safety of horses and subject them to potentially abusive situations during training, transport, and performance. Animal blogger John Woestendiek described the plan perfectly by calling it a “stunningly stupid return to yesteryear.” Atlantic County SPCA President Nancy Beall was recently quoted by Philadelphia’s NBC station saying, “I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s cruelty to animals.” The HSUS has long opposed horse diving acts, and our affiliate The Fund for Animals cared for a former diving horse named Shiloh at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch for years.

When forced to perform in diving acts, horses can show signs of stress and trauma such as hesitating repeatedly before sliding off the platform, climbing out of the water visibly disoriented, and stumbling afterwards. We are writing to Gov. Chris Christie and urging him to exercise any authority he has to call off the plan and speak out against the practice. [Editor's Note: The event has now been canceled.] Please make your voice heard today and urge him to do his best to see that this crass exhibitionism finds no home in Atlantic City.