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June 19, 2013

House Leaders Block Series of Animal Welfare Votes

Look at the history of any social reform movement, and you’ll see heroes who led the way. Yet the historical record is also peppered with people who did the opposite, blocking progress by any means they could muster. Those leaders and those obstructionists also did their handiwork in legislative bodies, including in our Congress. When the subject of women’s rights came up, male lawmakers mocked the notion. When civil rights emerged as an issue, some white lawmakers stood in the way, spewing hatred that gave voice to their prejudices and dim view of the world. Until, that is, they were overcome by the forces of history, and the power of right.

Such is the case today with animal welfare, with strong leaders driving needed change. But there remain a small number of lawmakers who shill for outliers in the agribusiness industry and others who have no regard for the well-being of animals, and simply see them as economic opportunities in the waiting.

Last night, the House Republican leadership made a statement about animal welfare and their disregard for that universal value in our society. The Rules Committee, led by Rep. Pete Sessions, denied the full House the opportunity to debate three critical bipartisan amendments: to codify a national agreement to approve the welfare of egg-laying hens in barren battery cages – and to nix the King amendment and its attack on states’ rights, to end the shameful slaughter of healthy American horses for human consumption, and to crack down on horse soring (deliberately inflicting pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses in training and in the show ring).

Horse bound for slaughter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The Rules Committee approved more than 100 amendments for consideration, but not one animal welfare amendment. The members chose to include amendments for floor debate on promotion and research on natural stone, Christmas tree taxes, and on the spiny dogfish, but could not find their way to allowing debate on policies to help hundreds of millions of animals suffering right now. Mind you, the egg industry reform bill was a compromise measure among all the key stakeholders – producers, animal welfare groups, consumers and scientists. It was not going to require an act of courage to ratify it, but merely a sensible execution of their authority.

But the beef and pork lobbies, and the Farm Bureau, demanded its demise. Maybe we would listen to these people if cows and pigs laid eggs, but they do not. These special interests simply want to obstruct any progress on animal welfare, and no decent-minded lawmakers should heed their reckless demands. Their worldview is that that we’ve reached the end point of animal welfare policymaking, or more honestly, that there should be no policymaking at all for farm animals.

House Speaker John Boehner announced prior to the Rules Committee fiasco, “The Leader [Rep. Eric Cantor] and I will encourage the Rules Committee to provide a fair process that will allow for a vigorous and open debate – the kind of process I pledged we would have more of in the House when I became speaker.”

That’s called hollow-speak. You cannot make such claims and then just allow amendments you agree with. This is an abuse of power and an abuse of the process. There’s no reason that all animal welfare amendments should have been denied consideration, especially since they were all authored by respected, mainstream Republican lawmakers with bipartisan cosponsors.

Now, it’s critical that animal advocates contact their lawmakers and urge them to defeat the Farm Bill, H.R. 1947. Please do your part.

The House Agriculture Committee, which impedes animal welfare at nearly every turn and has fought positive actions to help animals in many ways, had previously allowed the King amendment to be inserted into the Farm Bill, even though there was no underlying bill to examine, no hearings, and no assessment of its sweeping impact on state law. This reckless measure seeks to nullify state laws and rules that impose any standard of condition on agricultural products. That could sweep up and nullify a half dozen state anti-horse slaughter laws, ten state laws to restrict extreme confinement of pigs and laying hens, and more than a half dozen bans on the sale of shark fins for soup. And that’s just the start. It’s the lowest common denominator approach to policymaking, and puts all states at the mercy of one or a handful of states.

Remember, the Agriculture Committee leaders, who worked in tandem with House leadership to block major animal welfare reforms from even being debated last night, all fought the provision to crack down on people bringing kids to dogfights and cockfights and to make it a crime to be a spectator at these awful spectacles of cruelty. They lost that battle because a majority of their committee members favored our position. And they knew they’d lose the fight over egg industry reform and protection of horses, so their only maneuver was to block a fair and open debate.

In the late hours of the night, they made a mockery of their comments about transparency and open and vigorous debate about the issues that concern American citizens. Call and email your House member today and urge him or her to oppose H.R. 1947. It must be defeated for the sake of our cause, and these lawmakers must hear our roar.

Tell Congress to Vote NO on the Farm Bill >>

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