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June 21, 2012

Animal Fighting Progress in the Senate, and More News on the Legislative Front

Two days ago, I wrote―with barely contained indignation―about members of the Senate declining to take up two key animal welfare amendments during floor consideration of the farm bill. One amendment, from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., mirrored the language of S. 3239/H.R. 3798, the vitally important legislation to phase out confinement of more than 250 million laying hens in barren battery cages. The second came from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and it was nearly identical to S. 1947/H.R. 2492, a measure to strengthen the existing federal anti-animal fighting law by making it a crime to attend or to bring children to an animal fighting spectacle, closing loopholes in a strong statute that we’ve fortified several times through the years.

Black dog rescued from fighting operation
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

I am pleased to report that the animal-fighting amendment, through a series of deft maneuvers by lawmakers committed to cracking down on this particular scourge, did get a vote last night. The amendment was folded into another amendment by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., with strong involvement from Sens. Blumenthal, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. The Vitter amendment, also backed by Sens. Kirk, R-Ill., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., passed by a commanding vote of 88 to 11. You can find out how your senators voted here.

“Raising dogs and other animals to fight, maim, and kill each other is reprehensible,” said Chairwoman Stabenow, who helped engineer the new pathway for the amendment. “It is already illegal for animal owners to force their animals to fight, and it only makes sense that those who financially support animal fighting should also be held accountable. I’d like to thank all of those who helped me pass this important amendment as a part of my 2012 farm bill.”

This is a very good development, and it puts us in a great position to get this legislation enacted―since the House is expected to approve that same language, given that the House companion bill, H.R. 2492, already has almost 200 cosponsors.

We would have worked with our allies in the Senate on another amendment to the Animal Welfare Act, dealing with Internet sales of dogs from puppy mills, but the Obama administration announced a rule that mirrors some core provisions of H.R. 835 and S. 727, which together have more than 230 bipartisan cosponsors. We hope that the administration takes final action on that issue after the comment period closes on July 16.

While we celebrate progress on animal fighting and puppy mills, we remain deeply disappointed that the egg industry reform bill did not get a vote in the Senate. It’s time to concentrate our energy on the House and to make the case that extreme cage confinement systems for laying hens have no future in this country. The question before the nation should be, how does that transition occur? State by state, or company by company, with all of the clumsiness of that piecemeal approach? Or with a national standard that the egg industry can get behind, allowing producers to have regulatory certainty and to make the necessary investments in new housing systems to improve the lives of these animals?

That legislation also has a provision establishing a national labeling standard that will give consumers more information about animal welfare conditions in making choices in the marketplace, and that provision is particularly exciting to us. Who can argue against that kind of transparency and informed decision-making?

The House is expected to take up the farm bill sometime in July. To succeed, though, we’ll need your help.

P.S. On the subject of farm animal protection, I am so pleased to announce that Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee last night signed two bills to ban gestation and veal crates and the practice of tail docking. Rhode Island becomes the ninth state to ban gestation crates, the seventh to ban veal crates, and the third to ban tail docking of cattle.

P.P.S. This week, there were also two important wins on animal protection issues in key committees. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the Captive Primate Safety Act (S. 1324)―sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Vitter, and Blumenthal―which would ban the interstate trade in primates as pets. We hope the full Senate takes it up soon. And the House Appropriations Committee took up an amendment by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and voted to bar USDA from inspecting any horse slaughter plants in the U.S., which should give pause to the foreign-owned companies who want to re-open slaughter plants on American soil and stain it with the blood of the noble animals who helped settle this country.

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