May 2013 Blog Home July 2013


18 posts from June 2013


June 28, 2013

USDA Approves Horse Slaughter, Despite Overwhelming Opposition

Today, in a mystifying and infuriating decision, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted an inspection permit to a discredited horse slaughter plant operator in New Mexico, bringing the nation closer to its first horse slaughter operation since federal courts and state lawmakers shuttered the last three U.S.-based plants in 2007. The USDA has let it be known that it may also approve horse slaughter plants in Iowa and Missouri next week.

Consider these facts, each of which should have been sufficient to dissuade the USDA from proceeding with this inspection permit for New Mexico.


  • The USDA granted the permit even though Republican Governor Susanna Martinez and Democratic Attorney General Gary King oppose the opening of the facility in their state. 
  • The department took this action even though Congress, in its 2014 agriculture spending bill, is poised to forbid the USDA from spending money on horse slaughter inspections. In June, both the House and Senate appropriations committees approved amendments to defund any horse slaughter plants.
  • The USDA is moving ahead even though the Obama Administration, in its 2014 budget proposal to Congress, recommended a defunding of horse slaughter plants. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has called for a “third way” in dealing with unwanted horses and expressed opposition to horse slaughter.
  • Approval was granted even though The HSUS submitted a petition to the USDA that provides incontrovertible evidence that horses are routinely fed or dosed with more than 100 different drugs unfit for human consumption. 
  • The USDA pursued this course of action just months after Europeans learned the hard way that horse slaughter operators and meat traders substituted their product for beef, throwing the European beef market and consumer confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply into a tailspin. 
  • Horse slaughter is being approved in spite of polling information indicating that an overwhelming majority of the American public – to the tune of 80 percent – opposes slaughtering American horses for human consumption.

I’ve been asked why the Administration would take this action, contradicting its own stated goal to end horse slaughter. And I cannot explain it, other than the lawyers at the USDA driving the train and offering a highly legalistic view of the controversy, given that Valley Meat has sued the USDA for unreasonably delaying action on its application. We seem to have a case where the decision-makers have decided they are obligated to grant the permit when there is a fact pattern that screams at them from every angle that they should not grant that permit.

Horses bound for slaughter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Horses held in export pens before transported for slaughter.

The Administration wouldn’t grant an inspection permit for a dog slaughterhouse even if the application for the permit was properly filled out and the operator hired a lawyer to compel action. Local and national opposition to such an idea would be more than convincing in compelling the USDA to keep any plant from opening up and sucking dogs into the slaughter lines.

The HSUS will work with state authorities to block this plant from opening, and will join Front Range Equine Rescue in taking the USDA to court on this issue

Horse slaughter is not humane euthanasia and is a betrayal of our trusted companions. The entire pipeline of horse slaughter, including auctions and transport in crowded trailers in freezing cold or oppressive heat, is abusive. The slaughter process itself is horribly cruel and many horses suffer during the misguided and often repeated attempts to render them unconscious.   

Sensible policy makers don’t want to see a bloodbath in the United States resume. Let’s hope we can hold off slaughter until the defund language, expected to take effect in a few months, becomes law.

Now is the time to express your concern to your members of Congress and urge them to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports Act to shut the door on horse slaughter once and for all.

June 27, 2013

Gopher Tortoises Rescued in Florida

The HSUS and its affiliates provide more direct care for animals than any other animal welfare group, and it does so through a remarkable array of hands-on programs. In 2012, we provided direct care for more than 100,000 animals. We care for animals through the work of our Animal Rescue Team, our international street dog welfare program, our traveling veterinary teams from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, our network of five Animal Care Centers, our Pets for Life programs in underserved areas, our Humane Wildlife Services team, our Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust (which manages wild preserves in nearly 40 states), and our Wildlife Innovations and Response Team, which we recently launched to respond to imperiled wildlife displaced by urban development, community growth, and other disruptive activities.

Dave with gopher tortoise
Dave Pauli, Senior Director of Wildlife Innovations
& Response, rescues a gopher tortoise in Florida.

It seems that everywhere I turn, urban wildlife habitat is being cut up or dug up for our commercial and residential and transportation needs. Animals are flushed, struck, crushed, and even buried alive.

This week, staff and volunteers with our Wildlife Innovations and Response Team are hard at work unearthing threatened gopher tortoises at the Rock Springs Ridge construction site in Apopka, Florida. The state permitted this development under its former incidental take policy that allowed the animals to be crushed or buried alive in their burrows. However, the site’s developers, D.R. Horton and Bio-Tech Consulting, called on our expertise to rescue the gopher tortoises and commensal species so they would not be harmed during construction. It’s an example of the humane economy at work, and a company doing the right thing while doing its business.

Digging these animals out of individual burrows is a meticulous process, and we do it over a month’s time. So far we have rescued more than 110 gopher tortoises. These tortoises, including a male who we believe may be the largest gopher tortoise on record in Florida (though it is yet to be confirmed), will be relocated to Nokuse Plantation, a permanently protected 50,000 acre area in Walton County.

Whether it’s our Wildlife Innovations and Response Team rescuing gopher tortoises or helping a displaced rat snake make his 2,000 mile journey home, our Humane Wildlife Services staff reuniting a mother raccoon with her babies, or our Prairie Dog Coalition rescuing and relocating entire family groups of prairie dogs to prevent them from being gassed or poisoned, The HSUS stands committed and  ready to help all animals, no matter how big or small.

June 26, 2013

History is Made for Chimpanzees in Laboratories

These are the most exciting of times for everyone paying attention to The HSUS’ campaign to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive, harmful experiments. On the heels of a groundbreaking proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list all chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, I have more progress to report – and so much of it is a derivative of our focus on protecting chimps. Today, the National Institutes of Health – the federal agency that owns or supports approximately half of the estimated 850 chimpanzees in U.S. laboratories – made a long-awaited announcement: the agency has accepted and will begin implementing most of the recommendations put forth in January by an expert, independent advisory group to retire chimps from laboratories and move them to sanctuaries. This is a significant agency decision that will bring about positive and sweeping changes for government-owned chimpanzees in laboratories.

Chimps at research facility
The HSUS

In addition to the NIH announcing its commitment to retire the vast majority of the more than 350 government-owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories, this development will also produce a drastic decrease in government-funded grants involving chimpanzees in laboratories and shut the door on NIH breeding of chimps. The NIH has decided to retain, but not breed, up to 50 of its chimpanzees in a laboratory for potential future use if there is an absolute need. That unfortunate decision is mitigated by stipulations that these animals should be kept in “ethologically appropriate” settings, closer to what would occur in their natural environments, which means they will live in complex social groups and have year round outdoor access. The NIH rejected the panel’s recommendation of more than 1,000 square feet of living space per chimpanzee and said the minimum space requirement has yet to be determined. The need for this reserve group of chimpanzees will be reassessed periodically. And, finally, an independent committee, which includes members of the public, will be established to assess future chimpanzee grant proposals, making it a high bar for any future research on these remaining chimps.

Consistent pressure over the years on a number of fronts – and our members weighing in at every turn – has allowed us to reach this pivot point for chimps. Three years ago, NIH had a plan to transfer approximately 200 chimpanzees from a New Mexico facility, where no harmful research is permitted, to a Texas laboratory, which sparked a massive outcry from the public and lawmakers, eventually leading to today’s exciting announcement. In response to the outcry, NIH halted the ill-advised chimpanzee transfer and commissioned a study by the Institute of Medicine, which found that chimpanzee use in research is largely unnecessary and, further, did not identify any current area of biomedical research for which chimpanzee use is critical. The IOM report also laid out a set of criteria for assessing future research proposals.

The NIH immediately accepted the IOM report and established a working group to advise them on implementing the report’s findings and criteria. Since January, more than 57,000 of our supporters made their voices heard in support of the working group’s recommendations, most of which were officially accepted today.

Of course, there are still many issues that The HSUS must continue to address in order to reach our goals – including working to ensure the actual move of chimpanzees to sanctuary, and assuring that the final USFWS proposal addresses the use of privately owned chimpanzees in privately funded research as well as captive chimps used in film and TV commercials and the exotic pet trade. I have no doubt that this announcement by NIH coupled with the USFWS proposal will alter the way humans treat our closest living animal relatives and it marks an unmistakable step forward for our nation toward the end of the use of chimps in invasive experiments.

P.S. If you haven’t yet done so yet, don’t forget to contact the USFWS and urge them to finalize their proposed rule to increase protections for all chimpanzees before the August 12 deadline. Please help move this effort over the finish line!

Watch government-owned chimpanzees being released at Chimp Haven chimpanzee sanctuary in Louisiana:


June 25, 2013

Independent Reports Highlight Problem with Federal Programs Related to Animal Treatment, Enforcement

We’ve seen some positive action from the federal executive agencies lately – for example, a Department of the Interior proposed listing of all chimpanzees as endangered, and a favorable U.S. Department of Agriculture announcement to close a loophole dealing with downer cows. We’ve also seen some adverse moves, including a series of de-listing actions of gray wolves, leaving them vulnerable to state fish and wildlife agency plans for trophy hunting and commercial trapping. We are expecting some major announcements in the next few days on a number of issues.

But preceding so many of these decisions, or in fact helping to trigger reforms, have been reports from the USDA Office of Inspector General and the National Academy of Sciences that have exposed mismanagement of federal programs, poor decision-making, or lax enforcement – on everything from wild horses, to the operations of pig slaughter plants, to horse soring and puppy mill oversight.

I’ve worked with our staff at The HSUS to give you a run-down of some of the findings of these reports issued within the last few years. These reports paint a vivid picture of what’s going wrong with federal enforcement efforts. In some cases, the reports have provided an impetus for policy changes, as with the use of chimps in laboratories, or the selling of puppies over the Internet. Here’s a rather remarkable summary of what’s been highlighted and exposed, along with corrective action.

Human Toxicology Project

In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences report, entitled “Toxicity Testing in the Twenty-first Century: A Vision and a Strategy,” proposed a new approach to assessing chemical safety that moves away from animal testing. Commercial chemicals, pesticides and other substances are typically tested for safety by dispersing large doses to groups of animals and then observing the animals for symptoms of disease. The report stated that these animal tests are of questionable relevance for humans, provide much information that isn’t useful, are time-consuming and costly, and cannot handle the enormous backlog of untested agents or meet new multiplying challenges of chemical safety. In the years following the report, a government-sponsored collaboration, called Tox21, has been set up between the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The mission of Tox21 is to serve as a catalyst for the prompt, global, coordinated implementation of pathway-based toxicology, which will better safeguard human health and hasten the replacement of animal use in toxicology. This approach is also gaining acceptance internationally.

Class B Dealers

In 2009, the National Academies Institute for Laboratory Animal Research released a report that concluded that Class B dealers – animal dealers whose operating licenses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture allow them to round up dogs and cats from animal shelters, auctions, private individuals and other “random sources” (which could include stolen pets), and then sell them for experimentation – are not necessary to provide dogs and cats for research. The report was issued in response to a request by Congress through the National Institutes of Health for a critical evaluation of the need to use random source dogs and cats from Class B dealers in NIH-funded research. In 2011, NIH notified its grant recipients that as of 2015, the use of NIH funds to acquire dogs from Class B random-source dealers will be prohibited, and it advised its grantees to identify new sources for such animals. In 2012, NIH implemented the recommendations from the report and stated that awards issued after October 1, 2012 will prohibit the use of NIH funds to obtain cats from Class B random source dealers.

Puppy Mills

150x150_MO_PUPPY_MILLIn 2010, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General criticized the agency’s long history of lax oversight of commercial dog breeders under the Animal Welfare Act. The report reviewed inspections and enforcement actions taken against dog dealers and found that USDA inspectors failed to cite or properly document inhumane treatment and brought little to no enforcement actions against violators. In response to this audit report, the USDA significantly increased its inspections and enforcement actions against noncompliant dealers. Although the USDA still has a lot of work to do to ensure that all dealers are complying with the AWA, it is moving in the right direction and focusing its enforcement resources on the worst offenders. In addition, the audit highlighted how some prolific dog dealers are escaping USDA oversight because they sell dogs directly to the public, including over the Internet. The USDA agreed to seek changes that would close this regulatory loophole to require all large scale breeders to be covered by the USDA’s AWA regulations and we are currently awaiting the USDA’s release of this final rule.

Horse Soring

Later in 2010, the USDA’s OIG released another audit addressing animal welfare. This one was directed at the USDA’s oversight of show horses under the Horse Protection Program. This law gives the USDA authority to ensure that Tennessee walking horses and other breeds are not subjected to the abusive practice of soring – the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force an artificial, exaggerated gait. The OIG released an audit of the program echoing what we’ve said all along - that industry self-regulation does not work. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service agreed to abolish this industry inspection program and to take a more direct role in licensing and oversight of inspectors, and mandate across the board penalties for violators. The agency has yet to implement changes to remove industry groups from the inspection program, but did issue a rule requiring those groups to impose uniform mandatory minimum penalties on violators. One of the groups sued APHIS in an attempt to block the rule, but it is in effect while the suit is pending. In response to this audit, along with HSUS undercover investigations exposing terrible abuse, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., have introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (H.R. 1518), which makes much needed reforms to the Horse Protection Act, including ending the failed industry self-policing system, strengthening penalties, banning the use of stacks and chains on horses’ feet, and making the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling him or her illegal.

Horse Slaughter

In the same audit as horse soring, the OIG also reviewed the slaughter horse transport program and found that APHIS needs to improve its controls to ensure that horses being shipped to foreign plants are treated humanely. One of the OIG’s recommendations was that the USDA should withhold shipping documents from individuals who violate humane handling regulations and who have outstanding fines. However, the USDA has yet to implement this recommendation, three years later. As a result of the USDA’s failure to strengthen its enforcement oversight, horse slaughter transporters have little incentive to transport horses humanely. The auditors also recommended that the USDA finalize a rule to increase its authority over horses being transported (to include all transport of horses once they are identified as slaughter horses, to any intermediary point between the sale barn/auction and the slaughter plant). The USDA’s previous rule prohibiting the use of double-deck trailers only covered horses that were directly being sent to a slaughter facility. This broader rule is critically important to improve the humane transport of horses for slaughter. The USDA issued this final rule soon after the audit was released.

Chimpanzees

CHIMP5_106269In 2011, the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine issued a report that found the current use of chimpanzees for biomedical research is largely unnecessary. The Institute of Medicine report was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health following an outcry over the agency’s 2010 proposal to move 186 federally-owned chimpanzees from Alamogordo, N.M., to the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio. The report makes plain that the limited usefulness of chimpanzees will diminish further over time, especially as alternative methods are developed. In response to the IOM report, the NIH assembled a working group to offer recommendations on how to implement the findings of the report and examine the NIH’s future role in chimpanzee research. In January 2013, the working group issued its recommendations, calling for the retirement of the majority of government-owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories to sanctuary and no revitalization of chimpanzee breeding for research purposes. The director of the NIH is expected to decide this week on whether or not to adopt the working group’s recommendations.  

Pigs

In May of this year, the OIG audited the Food Safety and Inspection Service enforcement and inspection activities at swine slaughter plants and found that FSIS enforcement policies do not deter swine slaughter plants from repeatedly violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act and that “there is reduced assurance of FSIS inspectors effectively identifying pork that should not enter the food supply.” In addition, the OIG found that FSIS inspectors did not take appropriate enforcement actions for violations of the Humane Method of Slaughter Act, and as a result, many slaughter plants are not improving their slaughter practices, and FSIS could not ensure the humane handling of swine. We have discussed the audit with FSIS and encourage the agency to make these much needed reforms.

Wild Horses

In June, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, and made recommendations for future approaches. The report stated that the BLM’s procedures for monitoring and surveying wild horses and burros are flawed, inconsistent, and actually contribute to high horse population growth rates. For instance, the report took issue with the BLM’s practice of managing wild horses “below food-limited carrying capacity” by rounding up and removing a significant proportion of the herd’s population every three to four years, stating that this is one of the factors contributing to a costly roundup and remove cycle. As a potential solution, the report suggests that the agency should end its reliance on short-sighted roundups, and instead, keep horses on the range while humanely limiting reproduction through the application of a contraceptive vaccine. This could, over the long term, reduce the significant and unnecessary economic burden the BLM shoulders as it maintains approximately 50,000 horses in holding facilities. The HSUS provided the agency with a detailed plan for implementing the changes to the program called for in the NAS report and is awaiting the agency's response.

These reports provide a valuable, independent look at enforcement of our federal animal welfare laws, and make a remarkably persuasive case for changes in policy and execution. We’re working to hold all of the agencies involved accountable and to get the right outcomes for animals and for the nation.

June 24, 2013

The Beagle Has Landed

There’s a dog in my office, and she’s not a foster pet or a visitor. I adopted her on Saturday, and now she’s a cling-on. And Lisa and I are very happy about it.

At a fire hydrant in Middleburg
Spying a potential opportunity at a fire hydrant in
Middleburg, Virginia.

She’s a Beagle mix, and came from a shelter in rural Virginia. She may have been a discarded hunting dog, since rural Virginia shelters are full of them. Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, based in northern Virginia, pulled her from the shelter, and after spaying and vaccinating her, put her up for adoption at an event at the Fairfax PetSmart on Saturday. This was her ninth adoption event, and somehow she’d been passed over on these prior occasions. It was our good fortune, but I’m still mystified that no one scooped her up before. She’s got such a gentle disposition, and is pretty as a picture.

She’s now splayed out on her doggie bed right behind me in my downtown D.C. office. She’s probably about six years old, and her “maturity” cinched the deal for us. We wanted to get an older dog, since they are tougher to place.

It’s been some weeks since our precious cat Mungo passed on. Her sister died about a year ago, so the apartment has been feeling empty and we’ve been missing them terribly. It was time again to populate our home with another little being to fill the void that every one of you who has kept pets knows all too well.

Lost Dog and so many other rescue groups are doing such great life-saving work. They are typically pulling animals from shelters, and then getting out into the community to encourage people to get a companion and save a life – a double bottom-line benefit. The cooperation between shelters and rescue groups, and the movement of animals between them, is part of any successful plan to eliminate unneeded euthanasia.

Relaxing at the new crib
Relaxing at the new crib.
See the full photo album here.

According to our survey work with Maddie’s Fund and The Ad Council, there are about 17 million people in the market for companion animals this year. Only about a quarter of them will get a dog or cat from a rescue or shelter. If just an additional two or three million of them went to an adoption event hosted by PetSmart or Petco, logged on to Petfinder.com, or went directly to a shelter or rescue group to adopt a homeless dog or cat – an easy choice, since there’s an abundance of great, well-socialized, vaccinated, sterilized animals at these sources – we’d have the national problem of euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals licked. Local organizations could spend more time on the wider range of animal protection issues, and not be bogged down, as they’ve been for a century, with the plight of homeless animals. In short, just a small percentage of people who want an animal in their life can make an intentional choice and help us get to the finish line.

This little one doesn’t have a name yet. If you have suggestions, we’re all ears. And she’s all ears, too, as you can see. We’ve got to get the name settled by midnight tonight, as a practical matter for her and for her proud pet parents.

June 21, 2013

Dogs at Work

Dogs are on my mind even more than usual these days. That’s because I am dog shopping this weekend.  Not through a pet store or an Internet seller, but with a local rescue group here in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. My guess is, there’s going to be a new dog in the Pacelle household come Sunday.

And on Monday, I am going to bring this adoptee to work, assuming all goes according to plan, and I pass muster with the organization’s adoption group (I’ll pull rank if I must, though). That practice – of people bringing dogs to work – has been in place at The HSUS for several years, not long after I became president of the organization in 2004. Some of our staff petitioned me, mainly our very persuasive and persistent Jennifer Fearing, and it didn’t take long for me to buckle to the pressure campaign. I announced a dogs-in-the-workplace policy, with all the appropriate bells and whistles, some months later. Jennifer has even co-authored a book on the subject.

Falkor, HSUS office dog
Falkor, companion to our online media outreach
specialist Jennifer Moulton, is ready to work.

On a typical day, we have about 100 pooches at the office, but it is important to remember that they are spread throughout a large physical office environment with hundreds of people.  What’s amazing is that you hardly hear the dogs. They are so well-behaved, and seem that they know they are in a professional setting. There’s a woof or a bark every once in a blue moon, and the ears go down since they know they’ve committed a transgression. Hearing a growl is almost as rare as a sighting of Bigfoot.

Most dogs sleep through the day, with their slumber interrupted by a periodic walk or even a gambol around the building. It’s good for the dogs and the staff to stretch their legs, and for the dogs to do their business. Our employees report a decrease in stress and appreciate not having to leave their canine companions at home all day, or to pay the costs of pet sitter or dog walker. A study by Central Michigan University shows that allowing dogs in the workplace results in a more cohesive and effective working environment. This policy also increases employee retention, productivity and morale. And let’s face it, as highly social animals, dogs are much happier hanging around their people all day.

Along with being the first day of summer, today also happens to be the 15th annual Take Your Dog To Work Day. Created by Pet Sitters International™ in 1999, TYDTW Day honors the human-animal bond, promotes adoption of homeless pets, and gives employers the opportunity to see how beneficial a pet-friendly workplace can be.

If you brought your dog to work today, show us! Post a photo or video on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vine with the hashtag #takeyourdog.

And wish me luck this weekend!

June 20, 2013

The King (Amendment) Is Dead. Long Live the Animals

Today, in an unprecedented outcome in the history of congressional action on the Farm Bill, the full House rejected the bill advanced to the floor by House leadership. The HSUS and a large coalition of organizations opposed the bloated, regressive potpourri of agriculture-related measures for a wide variety of reasons. Even though the bill did include the HSUS-backed proposal to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight, The HSUS opposed the bill because of the noxious “King amendment,” authored by Rep. Steve King, R- Iowa, that would have repealed dozens of state laws on animal protection. In addition, Republican leaders denied lawmakers the opportunity to offer three key animal protection issues on the floor for votes – one banning barren battery cages for laying hens, a second to crack down on horse soring, and the final one to stop the slaughter of American horses here at home and in neighboring countries. The vote was 195 in favor, and 234 against. 

Chicken
iStockphoto

Unless the House leadership twists arms, and replays the vote next week, this Farm Bill is dead and the Agriculture Committee will have to start the process again – or cobble something together behind-closed-doors (an increasingly common slap at open democratic decision-making) – if it wants to renew a substantial number of American agricultural policies.

In the other chamber, in a second major win for animal protection today, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote an amendment, offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at horse slaughter plants in the United States. This comes just a week after the House approved an identical amendment by Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Bill Young, R-Fla., to do the same thing.

We don’t know what House Republican leaders will do on the Farm Bill, now that the House has rejected it. But we do know, whether it’s on the Farm Bill or in the form of independent legislative proposals, the American people want reform on animal welfare. Hens should not be confined in cages and hardly be able to move.  Walking horses should not be subjected to torture to have them perform better in shows and win prizes. And no American horses should be funneled into the slaughter pipeline for human consumption. Finally, the states should have a right to adopt policies to protect animals and not have their own deliberative processes undercut by the federal government on agriculture policy.

It was an important day for animal protection in Washington. Stay engaged, and if you do, we’ll see positive outcomes for animals. 

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 >>

June 17, 2013

Animal Welfare May Take Center Stage As House Takes Up Farm Bill

On Friday, the California-based Santa Rosa Press Democrat published an editorial calling out the hypocrisy of the Farm Bill amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, “who will enthusiastically tell you that Washington meddles too much in state and local affairs. Until he disagrees with local voters and their elected representatives. Then he's all for Washington laying down the law.” With the Farm Bill scheduled to come up in the House this week, the paper said “Congress should let the states — like hens on California farms — spread their wings, leaving King's amendment to line cages.”

This week, Representatives Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., will try to strike the King provisions with an amendment of their own. The Denham-Schrader amendment will also attempt to substitute legislation to ban barren battery cages for laying hens and to drive a transition in the egg industry toward more humane housing systems.

Hens in battery cages
The HSUS

There’s so much at stake – for more than 250 million laying hens now crammed in small cages and for more than 150 state laws that could be wiped out if the King amendment survives. The King amendment is not just an affront to animal welfare, but also to the longstanding Constitutional rights of the states to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens and local businesses.  

While the amendment ostensibly seeks to target state animal welfare laws, such as California’s Prop 2 and other anti-confinement laws and state laws banning horse slaughter, it is so broad and vague that it could be interpreted to nullify an entire spectrum of state laws dealing with food safety, labeling, labor and environmental protection. It could also trigger expensive court cases about any state law related to agricultural products, from the sale of raw milk, to the labeling of farm-raised fish or artificial sweeteners, to restrictions on firewood transported into a state in order to protect against invasive pests and damage to local forests. That’s why the King amendment is opposed by so many diverse organizations, including the Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

Forcing states to allow commerce in products they have banned is about as heavy-handed as it gets. If any one state in the country allows the sale of horse meat or dog meat, every state would have to allow it – it’s the least common denominator approach to policymaking.

The King amendment is especially dubious because there is a much better and more reasonable solution to the problem of conflicting state laws on agriculture products – which is to adopt a uniform national standard, not to throw out standards altogether. This is the idea behind the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, H.R. 1731/S. 820, which would preempt state standards for laying hens, but replace them with a minimum standard when it comes to animal welfare (producers, driven by the market, can reach for an even higher welfare standard, but they can’t fall below the federal rule). If there is a problem with interstate commerce caused by conflicting state laws, such as on the housing of egg-laying hens, the more workable and narrow approach to provide regulatory certainty is the Denham-Schrader amendment – which is supported by all the key stakeholders, the egg industry, veterinary groups, leading animal welfare groups and consumer groups.

When you have a win-win solution that is better for animals, better for consumers, and better for the egg industry, it’s time for Congress to get on board. They’ll have that chance this week, but lawmakers must hear from you.

I hope you will put aside what you’re doing and call your U.S. Representative at (202) 225-3121, or send an email, and urge him or her to nix the King amendment and its radical assault on state laws, and support the Denham-Schrader amendment, which provides a national solution to the problem of intensive confinement of the more than 250 million laying hens in our country. And please spread the word to other animal advocates.

P.S. The House may also take up two separate amendments on the Farm Bill – one to ban the slaughter of American horses here at home, but also in Canada and Mexico, and a second one to strengthen the Horse Protection Act to make “soring” abuses a felony and to add prohibitions to the law against the use of stacks and chains on the horses’ feet. I’ll have more to say about these amendments on tomorrow’s blog, but I’ve written about slaughter and soring frequently and you can learn about them here and here.

June 14, 2013

Some Broad Thoughts on Our Movement

The work of The HSUS is grounded on a couple of core principles: animals have the capacity to suffer, and we humans have the capacity to help them. We hold all the power over animals and our choices and conduct have enormous consequences for them. And it’s hardly some far-off or abstract concern, since they live in our communities, as pets and wild neighbors, and they are enmeshed in so many sectors of our economy and society, whether in food production, fashion, science or wildlife management.

Where warranted, we at The HSUS invoke moral conviction to assure better outcomes for animals, placing principle ahead of selfish concerns, whether profit or whim or habit. In some cases, exercising moral choices may require some sacrifice, whether it’s seen in higher prices for products in the marketplace, or some tangible inconvenience in our lives. But to make a modest or a meaningful sacrifice to do good is a mark of our humanity, not some naïve or impractical notion. It’s a moral imperative when the well-being and even the survival of others rest with our routines and choices. 

More often than not, these choices are easy, and hardly require any sacrifice at all. We can meet the necessities of life and hardly notice the difference. With the genius and creativity of the human mind, we can devise alternatives to cruel treatment of animals – and these alternatives often provide us with equivalent or even superior options.

Fur-wearing is a classic case example. Fur itself is beautiful, and for keeping warm it has practical value. But today, we have natural fiber and synthetic alternatives that can match fur for style and warmth. If we choose coats not made of fur, our lives are not diminished in any way. We gain all the comforts, but we do not needlessly extinguish 20 or 40 animal lives for a single coat. In this case, human innovation has made the moral path obvious, and it’s up to us to travel down it.

Take the case of our ongoing campaign to require that sport hunters swap out lead ammunition in favor of copper or steel. The evidence suggests that millions of wild animals – from as many as 130 species – die from lead poisoning after feeding on carcasses laced with lead shard left behind by hunters, or in some cases, by foraging on lead pellets left on the ground. The less harmful types of shot are already available for sale and they have all the necessary ballistic properties. A simple purchasing preference for less toxic or non-toxic shot does the trick.

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Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Some wildlife issues are more complex, but that doesn’t diminish the need for active problem-solving. In recent months, with the release of a study from the Smithsonian Institution that sought to quantify the impact of free-roaming cats on wildlife, there’s been a high-pitched debate about the issue. We are one of the few non-profit organizations on the planet with world-class staff and programs devoted not only to helping cats and other companion animals, but also wildlife (including running the nation’s largest wildlife rehabilitation center), so we think we are uniquely suited to guide and lead the debate.

Cat predation on wildlife is a serious issue, but the answer is not to capture free-roaming cats and kill them – which some wildlife enthusiasts wrongly and impulsively suggest. Rather, it’s to encourage responsible pet ownership – including spaying and neutering and, to the greatest extent practicable, keeping cats indoors. And for free-roaming cats, it involves active management of colonies through trap-neuter-and-return programs. In this case, there are no simple answers, but The HSUS brings moral concern for cats and wildlife, and a realistic view based on long and practical experience with management issues.

The HSUS reminds thoughtful citizens that there are a dizzying number of moral choices we have when it comes to animals and our interactions with them. These are not moral burdens, but moral opportunities. By demonstrating mercy and intelligence, we have the power to exert a lasting, healthy, and beneficial impact on the lives of other creatures. And it’s that kind of transformational change that The HSUS, through decisions of every supporter like you, seeks to bring to life.