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July 11, 2013

One Step Forward, One Big Step Back in Congress

Today, there was a positive step forward on Capitol Hill in the effort to get laboratory chimps to sanctuaries, but there was a setback in the House with the passage of a highly partisan, retrograde Farm Bill that could set back state policies on animal welfare, and represents a missed opportunity to advance an historic agreement to reduce the misery that laying hens endure in battery cages.

FARM BILL: With not a single Democrat supporting the measure, and only 12 Republicans voting against it, the House narrowly passed its pared-down version of the Farm Bill, which excluded all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding, by a vote of 216 to 208. The bill approved by the House includes the dangerous and overreaching King amendment, which could nullify dozens of state laws to protect animals, the environment, worker safety and food safety. Republican leaders blocked consideration of a series of other animal welfare amendments relating to banning barren battery cages, cracking down on horse slaughter, and upgrading the federal law against horse soring. The Farm Bill does, however, include a top HSUS priority – an upgrade of the federal animal fighting law, making it a crime to attend or bring a minor to a dogfight or a cockfight. Yet even with the anti-dogfighting and anti-cockfighting provision included, it’s impossible for us to support this disastrous Farm Bill because of the radical and overreaching King amendment that threatens so many animal welfare laws.

Hen
iStockphoto

At some point soon it is likely the Senate and House will conduct a conference on the Farm Bill, and we’ll do our best to nix the King amendment (the Senate version does not include any provision similar to the King amendment) and to retain a strong animal fighting provision (which is included in both the Senate and House Farm Bills). We’ll have to seek separate pathways to enact our other major reform items like horse soring and horse slaughter. The denial of a fair vote on the egg industry reforms hurts prospects for that measure, but we’ll look for any available vehicle to give the full House and Senate an opportunity to vote on this important legislation.

CHIMPANZEES: On the good news front, today the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill for fiscal year 2014 for the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education departments, and thanks to the tremendous leadership of Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that bill included language to allow continued National Institutes of Health funding of chimpanzee care at the national chimpanzee sanctuary system – a needed step if NIH is to follow up on its recently announced plans to transfer the vast majority of chimps out of labs and into safer, more peaceful settings. Today’s action was a technical fix to a 2000 law, which will allow NIH to save money by supporting chimp care at sanctuaries instead of laboratory settings. The fact is, NIH has a duty to provide care for these chimps, but it turns out that caring for them at sanctuaries is cheaper than caring for them in labs – even though the living conditions for the animals are far superior at the sanctuaries. So today’s outcome is great for chimps, but also welcomed by taxpayers. We’ll be working hard to assure that this language is included in final appropriations legislation that is sent to the president for his signature.

Legislative change happens in stages, and it can be exhilarating or deeply frustrating. We had a mix of both today, but no final outcomes. The story is not complete on any of the items mentioned above, and we’ll keep up the pressure on every one of these issues.

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