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April 27, 2012

Animal Issues Hanging in the Balance

This was a week filled with major news at The HSUS, with some pivotal decisions and progress.

White hen

- On the programmatic front, the big news was Burger King’s announcement, which I broke on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, that the iconic restaurant chain would stop buying pork and eggs from animals kept in extreme confinement. Since January, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King have all committed to ending their purchasing of pork from factory farms that rely on gestation crates―an improbable series of campaign successes. Together, these developments signal the beginning of the end of gestation crate confinement in the United States, despite the intransigent attitude of the pork industry. For its part, the egg industry, led by the United Egg Producers, already has agreed to a pathway for change. Now the Congress must stop delaying and get to the task of approving legislation to codify a joint HSUS-UEP accord to ban the barren battery cage. The House measure is H.R. 3798, and a Senate version is coming.

- Ohio took one giant step toward passing legislation to stop people from acquiring dangerous wild animals as pets. It’s been a terribly long, slow process, given that it’s six months since the tragedy in Zanesville, but the 30-to-1 Ohio Senate vote on SB 310 was resounding. Now it’s on to the House, and it’s our hope that there are no more attempts to water down this legislation.

- In California, the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee approved legislation to ban the hound hunting of bears and bobcats, by a 5-to-3 vote. The practice is so repugnant that it calls to mind Oscar Wilde’s famous quote about “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.” The bill will now move on to the next committee or to the Senate floor. If the bill gets bogged down somewhere and fails, you can count on The HSUS to take this issue to voters in 2014, since 83 percent of California voters want to see the activity banned. If we are forced to do this, we may expand the scope of the measure to warrant the investment that would be required in doing an initiative.

- We are working to build opposition in the U.S. Senate to block a horrible bill that passed the House last week―H.R. 4089―that would not only allow sport-hunted polar bear trophies to be imported into the United States, but open up dozens of units of the National Park Service (NPS) to sport hunting. The House action was an appalling cave-in by the House, mainly Republicans, to the NRA, which had just completed its national convention. In addition to opening units of the NPS to wildlife killing, it has a price tag of $12 million. The movement of this bill represents Congress at its worst, pandering to a destructive special-interest group and swelling the deficit.

- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today that the number of commercial dog breeding facilities in Missouri has declined by about 800 since 2009, when we launched the Prop B campaign. It’s amazing that the puppy mill industry and the state’s agriculture groups fought us every step of the way on this issue, even succeeding in punching some holes in the law right after voters approved it and before it could even take effect. The data on the shrinkage of the large-scale commercial dog breeding industry in Missouri confirms that there was indeed a horrible problem in the state, since so many puppy mill operators had such terrible conditions that they could not, or would not, comply with the limited standards set forth in what remains of Prop B.  Last week, in a remedial action, the Missouri House passed a bill to repeal a tax on animal shelters and rescue groups―correcting a particularly outrageous add-on to the prior year’s effort to roll back Prop B. We’ve agreed to work with lawmakers on that and some other animal welfare policy corrections and to suspend our Your Vote Counts campaign for the time being.

Kitty the chimp at Black Beauty Ranch
Michelle Riley/The HSUS

- A U.S. Senate committee conducted a hearing on a bill, S. 810, to phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments and retire federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuary. The legislation enjoys broad bipartisan support, especially after an Institute of Medicine panel declared that the use of chimps in invasive experiments is “largely unnecessary” and pointed out that there are alternative methods in the two areas where chimps may still be useful. Stay tuned for updates on this issue; the House bill, H.R. 1513, has 166 cosponsors. It’s wrong to do this to chimps, and it’s yet another form of animal exploitation happening thanks to the unwitting largesse of the American taxpayer.

- Another Senate committee approved a bill containing urgently-needed funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce key animal welfare laws, including a modest increase to oversee the federal law that prohibits the cruel practice of “soring”―where show horses are subjected to caustic acids, sharp objects, and other techniques to cause them intense pain, so they’ll exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes.

P.S. On the organizational front, during the last week, The HSUS’s board of directors elected a new chair, Rick Bernthal of Potomac, Md. Rick, the seventh chair in the history of the organization, succeeds Anita Coupe. Both Anita and her immediate predecessor as board chair, Dr. David Wiebers, received the organization’s highest honor, the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, for their exceptional leadership.

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