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April 11, 2013

Obama Budget Seeks to Give Animals a Helping Hand

Yesterday, President Obama released his 2014 budget, the latest proposal in the back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill on federal spending. Amid all of the items in the $3 trillion-plus budget there were more than a few kernels of good news for animal advocates. The president proposed to Congress that it defund any inspections of horse slaughter plants in the U.S. He also proposed more funding for chimpanzee sanctuaries to accelerate the transfer of government-owned chimps in laboratories to much safer, healthier, better environments. And he proposed more money for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.

If Congress approves the horse slaughter defund language – and there’s no guarantee that it will – it would bar placement of federal workers in plants, a requirement to certify the horse meat for sale. This would arrest plans by horse slaughter enthusiasts to open plants in the first place, and it would reinstate language that was in agriculture spending bills for several years as a bulwark against the reopening of plants that hadn’t operated since 2007. Obama’s move should give a lift to authorizing federal legislation – the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, H.R. 1094/S. 541 – to ban horse slaughter and the export of live horses for slaughter.


The administration took another step forward for chimpanzees in laboratories by asking Congress to give the National Institutes of Health the authority to keep providing funds to the national chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, for retirement and care of chimps no longer being used for research. The CHIMP Act, a law that passed 13 years ago and created the national sanctuary system, has a cap on NIH spending for sanctuaries, and it’s about to be hit. Chimpanzee retirement is a cost-saving measure because it is less expensive to care for the animals in sanctuary than in the barren laboratories that currently warehouse them using NIH funding, but fixing the cap is, ironically, critical to saving federal dollars.

A committee of independent scientific experts recently recommended the retirement of more than 300 government-owned chimpanzees to Chimp Haven. The NIH should be allowed to use its resources more efficiently and effectively and get these chimpanzees to the sanctuary they deserve.

We were also glad to see that the president’s budget proposed significantly increased funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. There was a specific reference to additional funding being needed to enforce the long awaited “retail pet stores” rule. This proposed rule would close a loophole in Animal Welfare Act regulations by requiring puppy mill operators who sell puppies and kittens over the Internet, by mail or by phone to be licensed and inspected, just like those who sell to pet stores. Many of the most problematic puppy mills have escaped oversight for decades by selling online, due to this pre-Internet loophole.   

Congress should adopt all of these animal protection provisions and spending limitations in its Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations legislation. The lab chimps, the horses pushed to the slaughter pipeline, the sored horses in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, and the puppy mill dogs sold through Internet websites need this relief.

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