July 2013 Blog Home September 2013

19 posts from August 2013

August 30, 2013

Crying Wolf, and Pocketing the Cash

There’s something rotten in Michigan – and the stench is coming from one rogue farm in the western portion of the Upper Peninsula. Based on state documents obtained through Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and an analysis of those documents conducted by the National WolfWatcher Coalition and Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, four-fifths of the livestock killed by wolves in the western management unit (96 animals out of 120) come from this one farm. And the documents make plain that the owner of this farm is engaging in unsound, sloppy, and perhaps even criminally inhumane practices.

The story told in the FOIA documents broke last night in the Marquette Mining Journal, and this morning on Michigan Public Radio. Even though state law already allows the killing of individual wolves threatening livestock or pets, the state senator from this region has shepherded two bills through the Michigan legislature to allow trophy hunting of gray wolves, right after they were removed from the list of federally threatened species. There are only about 650 wolves in the entire state, and that number is down from the wolf census two years ago.


There were 11 farms that reported wolf problems in the western region, with most of them having only a single incident. In an investigation conducted this past winter, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources found that the owner of this farm, John Koski, did not live on the farm and did not provide proper care for his cattle, failing even to remove dead animals – allowing their carcasses to attract predators. The state provided three “guard” donkeys to him for free, yet DNR officials found two of them dead, and the third one was in poor condition. Koski also failed to use fencing as a protective mechanism, even though the state also provided that to him at no cost.

Koski was even paid for the livestock “losses” he sustained, pocketing $33,000 of the $40,000 paid out in the wildlife management unit.

It doesn’t take too much deductive reasoning to figure out what’s at work here: proponents of hunting and trapping wolves for trophies and for their pelts used Koski as a poster child for their hunt, citing enormous losses from wolves. What they didn’t tell you was that the vast majority of all incidents involving wolves occurred on one farm, which was clearly exhibiting the worst management practices and inviting predators or other animals onto the farm by leaving rotting animal carcasses on it. It essentially amounts to a wolf baiting situation, and then crying crocodile tears when the wolves show up for a free meal.

The people who want to kill wolves don’t want to admit that their agenda is driven by an irrational hatred and a lack of understanding of wolves. They try to dress up their policy goal of wolf killing in socially beneficial terms. Specifically, they say the hunt will protect farmers.

The fact is, the state already allows the killing of problem wolves. And the state provides free tools to farmers having wolf conflicts and compensates them for the very infrequent losses that occur. Random killing of wolves in the forests and wilderness won’t do a thing to further mitigate the remote likelihood of a wolf incident. Sound animal husbandry practices are the solution.

Wolves are an economic and ecological boon to the state, driving wildlife-oriented tourism and keeping prey populations in balance, thereby reducing crop losses and automobile collisions involving deer. That’s why The HSUS urges all Michiganders to support two referenda – one to nullify the wolf trophy hunting season set to start in November, and the other to restore the rights of voters to have a say on wildlife management policies and deny the unelected political appointees at the Natural Resources Commission from having all authority to open new hunting and trapping seasons on protected species.

To get involved, go to www.keepwolvesprotected.com.

August 29, 2013

From Monet and Picasso to Brent and Cheetah

We do a lot of serious business at this organization, taking all kinds of cruelty head-on. But we also celebrate animals, taking stock of the diversity of life and the incredible attributes of the other creatures on the planet.

You may have received an e-mail from me a few weeks ago announcing an art contest – in this case, where the artists are very strong, very hairy, and very smart. 

Chimp Haven
Brent, a 37-year-old chimpanzee from Chimp Haven won
1st place with his unorthodox painting technique of only
using his tongue.

They are, in fact, chimps. And let’s just say they haven’t been classically trained.

We enlisted six member organizations of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, and asked if a chimp at each facility would create and submit a piece of art. Modern, impressionist, abstract expressionist, still life with banana. It was their prerogative.

In the end, six sanctuaries submitted pieces, and 27,000 of you cast votes to choose a winner. Dr. Jane Goodall, famed primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace, also chose her favorite.

Today we announced the winners.

Brent’s masterpiece – painted with, of all things, his tongue – won the public vote and his sanctuary, Chimp Haven of Louisiana, won a grant of $10,000 from The HSUS. Cheetah of Save the Chimps in Florida, whose seriousness and concentration while painting are unmistakable, placed second in the online voting and also won the coveted selection by Dr. Goodall, winning a total of $10,000. Ripley of the Center for Great Apes in Florida won third prize, for a $2,500 grant. The paintings by Jamie of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, Jenny of Primate Rescue Center, and Patti of Chimps, Inc., convey the unique style of each chimpanzee. 

Many people are clamoring and demanding to know how they can get their own chimpanzee art – and let me assure you, your cries will be heard, as we’re planning an online auction of the paintings this fall to benefit NAPSA, of which our own Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, operated by our affiliate The Fund for Animals, is a member.

Save the Chimps
Cheetah, who lived alone in a lab for 13 years and endured
more than 400 biopsies before being rescued by Save the
Chimps, won 2nd place and was Dr. Jane Goodall's selection.

We are glad that the chimpanzees at these sanctuaries have the time and security to pursue their creative genius. That was not always the case for them. Brent, Cheetah, Jenny and Jamie were all used in biomedical research. Cheetah lived in isolation for years and was subjected to over 400 liver biopsies. Ripley and Patti were used in entertainment – performing on camera or before crowds.

They are all serving as ambassadors for those chimpanzees who still languish in laboratories and are used in the entertainment industry today.

The HSUS has worked hard to get all chimpanzees out of laboratories and into safe places, and a recent decision by the National Institutes of Health to retire more than 300 chimpanzees along with a proposal by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list all chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act will mean a sharp decline in these exploitive activities.

We have always said that making sure chimpanzees are safe in sanctuary is just as important as ending their use. We are grateful to sanctuaries that work so hard to provide enriching lives for these animals. We will be sure to stop and celebrate the retirement of each and every one.

See the rest of the masterpieces here.

August 28, 2013

“Fintastic” Outcomes for Sharks

Yesterday, a federal appellate court rejected arguments from business groups that are challenging California’s ban on shark fins as discriminatory and at odds with federal fisheries laws. Surprisingly, the Obama administration had filed a brief in support of the shark fin dealers and their bid to immediately enjoin implementation of the California law. The panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s January decision to keep California’s shark fin law in place until a final judgment on the legal claims from shark finning proponents is issued. It’s a big preliminary win for the state of California and for The HSUS, which considers the sale of shark fins to be in the same category as selling ivory trinkets or elephant tusk – all cruel, unnecessary and deeply wasteful of animals who are vital to their ecosystems and to ecotourism.

Blue Shark

Meanwhile, we are making great gains globally on the shark finning issue through Humane Society International. Two days ago, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forest, which operates under the authority of the Central Government of India, brought into force a ‘fins naturally attached’ policy to prohibit shark finning. The policy makes it illegal for any fishermen to land sharks anywhere on the coasts of India without their fins naturally attached to the body.

Given that India has been recognized as the second largest shark fishing nation – from individual fishermen hauling all the sharks they can accommodate onto narrow hand-built catamarans to large fishing fleets with dedicated shark fishing trawlers – this is a monumental victory. 

This victory came about because earlier this year, HSI India began dialogue with India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests in collaboration with the Association of Deep Sea Going Artisanal Fishermen, the country’s largest shark fishing community.

More than 66 species of sharks are reportedly found in the Indian seas. Fishermen have killed millions of sharks each year in Indian waters to export the fins to East Asia, Southeast Asia, and even Europe and the United States. Reports from India’s Marine Products Development Authority have shown that India’s export of shark fins in the year 2010-11 to China alone was 101 metric tons.

In spite of what may be unsustainable levels of killing, India had not put into place any concrete measures for the management of its shark populations. Even India’s Wildlife Protection Act, which offers the highest level of protection to 10 species of sharks, including the whale shark, had so far proved insufficient for safeguarding these animals from commercial killing. By imposing the highest level of penalties upon any fishermen found with detached fins, the Ministry has taken bold steps forward in safeguarding sharks.

While the government of India has made a bold proclamation, the Obama administration is moving in the opposite direction, specifically by seeking to nullify nearly a dozen state and Pacific territory laws to crack down on the sale and possession of shark fins. The ruling by the federal courts is a boon to our efforts to defend state laws, and we hope the administration takes this important signal from the courts and gets back on the right side of this issue.

August 27, 2013

Dogfighting Bust a Marker of Transformational Change

There are 367 dogs whose lives turned around so fast they may have whiplash. On Thursday night, in small hamlets in Alabama and Georgia, these animals who were staked to heavy chains, had passed another sweltering day - many without protection from the sun, without enough food, and with too much fetid water staring them in the face. The older dogs had been scarred from the fights. One dog had been vomiting and then scrounging on the remains to get enough energy to stand.

Wayne with rescued dog
Kathy Milani
Me, with one of the rescued dogs.

By Friday night, they were in a well-ventilated building, off of their chains and living in kennels, with sawdust beneath their feet, plenty of clean water and healthy food, and Kongs for enrichment. Vets had fixed their wounds and cleared away the fleas. They were with people who would remove their waste so they could be comfortable and breathe the air. Most importantly, they were with people who would rather die than see dogs in a fighting pit.

Such is the power of ideas, the acceptance of ideas, and the rule of law.

Dogfighting has been a curse for a long time, but it was either considered a low-level concern that rarely warranted intentional action in a world brimming with problems, or it was just a sight unseen. The victims couldn’t speak out, and if we can’t see the problem or mistakenly believe the matter has already been settled, then who can hear and who will care?

We at The HSUS care, and over the last quarter century, we’ve changed the legal framework in this country, working to make dogfighting a felony in all 50 states. In the mid-1980s, only about five states had felony level penalties. By 2008, it was all 50 states. In 2007, it became a federal felony.

And year after year, we’ve worked to train thousands of law enforcement personnel on investigating this criminal behavior and to remind law enforcement and prosecutors that when you see dogfighting in action, you see people who typically have no quarrel with breaking the law. Turn over the rock, and you’ll find drugs, guns, and violence.

Wayne with Hettie
Kathy Milani
Me, helping Delaware State Director Hetti Brown with
evidence gathering.

On Friday, after rising at 3 a.m. to ready ourselves for the raids and seizure, it was sure nice to have the Federal Bureau of Investigation, county SWAT teams, and the U.S. Attorney for central Alabama on the same schedule and on the same team. With our colleagues at the ASPCA and local animal welfare agencies, the team seized dogs from 13 locations.

The law was on our side.

And just as the dogs lives changed overnight, so did the lives of the alleged dogfighters. They had been living in comfortable homes. Now they are in prison, waiting for their cases to be heard, without freedom and all that comes with it.

That’s the consequence of cruelty today. And it’s as it should be.

We are working to build the legal framework to stop other despicable, unacceptable acts, whether it’s cockfighting, shark finning, seal clubbing or captive hunts. These are all forms of cruelty. Yesterday, they were sanctioned and accepted. Tomorrow, in an enlightened society, they will be illegal and considered morally bankrupt. They will be the markers of selfishness, greed, and the old, archaic ways of the world.


August 26, 2013

HSUS Helps Lead 2nd Largest Ever Dogfighting Raid

In my role as president and CEO of The HSUS, I regularly see the best and worst of humanity. That was never more true than on Friday, as I participated in a rescue of dogs from an alleged dogfighter in southern Alabama. Federal and state law enforcement, along with The HSUS, the ASPCA, and other local and national animal welfare groups, assembled for a major multi-state operation on Friday in cracking down on a network of alleged dogfighting operations in the South. Specifically, the FBI arrested alleged dogfighters in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, seizing dogs in 13 locations in Alabama and Georgia.

dogfighting raid
One of the rescued dogs receives attention at the
emergency shelter. photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

My colleague Chris Schindler is speaking for The HSUS at a press conference in Montgomery, Alabama today, organized by the U.S. Attorney based there, to report on the events of the last few days. I'd like to report to you on what I saw.

Many of the alleged dogfighters targeted in this anti-dogfighting operation had been known to each by gathering at fights throughout the Southeast. Their arrests did not occur at fighting pits, but at their homes, where they maintained “dog yards,” with pit bull type dogs on short, heavy metal chains staked into the ground, with minimal protection from the searing heat.

At the yard I was assigned, our HSUS team pulled 20 dogs, while five other HSUS teams fanned out to cover yards in that state and in two others. Despite being neglected and kept in substandard conditions, these dogs were friendly and very happy to see us. They welcomed the food, water, veterinary care, and love that we provided. Many of them were emaciated. Several had scars on their faces and forelimbs. Our teams also discovered supplements and other standard items found at dogfighting operations.

The dogs are now recovering at undisclosed locations. You, along with other caring people, have made that possible. It’s through your support that we can conduct long-term investigations like this one, deploy dozens of key personnel for rescues, and then handle and care for dogs for weeks or months on end.

A three-year investigation of these alleged dogfighters led to Friday’s series of interventions. Police in Auburn, Alabama started the investigation, with HSUS experts participating every step of the way, though the case was ultimately led by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney. All told, there were 367 dogs rescued on Friday in what is thought to be the second largest dogfighting raid in U.S. history (the biggest one was an 8-state operation centered in Missouri that HSUS also participated in that resulted in the seizure of more than 500 dogs).

Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dogfighting charges. Federal and local officials also seized firearms and drugs, as well as more than $500,000 in cash from dogfighting gambling activities that took place over the course of the investigation. Remains of dead animals were also discovered on some properties where dogs were housed and allegedly fought. If convicted, defendants could face up to five years in prison, as well as fines and restitution, under the provisions of the federal anti-animal fighting law that The HSUS worked with federal lawmakers to upgrade in 2002, 2007, and 2008. We are working with lawmakers on an additional upgrade this year, to penalize spectators at animal fights, and both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill contain the reforms we’re seeking to secure.

I vowed that when we upgraded the federal law, we would do everything in our power to ensure its enforcement. That’s exactly what we did on Friday. We are grateful to the committed men and women in federal and state law enforcement who helped make this happen. And we are grateful for the labors of our peer organizations in animal protection for providing such meaningful help in a complex, multi-state, multi-jurisdictional enterprise.

If dogfighters think they’ll evade the attention of law enforcement personnel, they are mistaken. The U.S. Attorney in Montgomery, with these actions, has indicated that he won’t tolerate this crime and cruelty, and neither will the FBI.

We are committed to eradicating dogfighting in every dark corner where it festers. This series of raids should remind dogfighters everywhere that they are not beyond the reach of law and their day of reckoning will come.

August 23, 2013

Cruelty Nothing to Celebrate

The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration held the first evening classes of its 75th anniversary event on Thursday night.

This spectacle has become synonymous with the exhibition of stacked, chained Walking horses, and, unfortunately, a showcase for the cruel practice of soring, in which trainers and exhibitors cause intentional pain to the legs and hooves of horses in order to make them step higher to perform the show ring gait that wins ribbons and trophies.

Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration
photo: BGB Chat Blog

On Wednesday, The HSUS extended its commitment to bring an end to soring by announcing we’ve expanded our tipline program to include a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of horse industry officials for bribery, intimidation or corruption in the enforcement of the federal Horse Protection Act. Callers to our soring tipline have told us they fear retaliation for reporting violations of the law, and that much of the problem in the industry stems from a failure by horse industry organizations (HIOs) and officials to cite and penalize violations when they occur.

One such group, the SHOW HIO, which oversees inspections at the Celebration and claims to have the toughest penalties in the industry, sued USDA because it didn’t want to impose minimum penalties on its participants who violate the law, as the agency mandated in a June 2012 regulation.  SHOW lost its suit last month, and just days before the Celebration began, announced it would not challenge the court’s ruling and finally agreed to comply with the mandatory penalties.  SHOW also related that those individuals who had pre-paid to show their horses could request a refund if they didn’t like this decision. That’s a positive step, and more evidence of the growing consensus that cruelty and cheating have no place in horse shows.

With a turnout already greatly reduced in recent years, we can anticipate that this move will drive even more competitors to drop out, rather than face penalties for HPA violations cited. The thing is, if their horses were sound and in compliance, they’d have nothing to fear.

We’ll be watching to see how the industry group handles its responsibility in meting out the penalties it’s now committed to enforce, and watching to ensure that USDA holds them accountable. An analysis of the violation records of the industry’s top competitors in its Riders Cup program has revealed that while they may rack up a rap sheet of violations, they’ve seldom if ever been penalized. Is it any wonder this behavior continues, rewarded rather than penalized?

Ultimately, as USDA’s own Office of Inspector General, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and dozens of horse industry and veterinary groups around the country have concluded, self-regulation in the Walking horse industry has failed, and the only remedy is for USDA to resume sole responsibility for HPA enforcement. This is one of the major provisions of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S. 1406, and we urge Congress to pass this legislation when it returns next month from recess. Be sure to take action and ask your federal lawmakers to relegate soring to the past and free the Tennessee Walking horse to step soundly into the future.

P.S. All Animals, The HSUS's magazine, recently published this story about our work to tackle horse soring in the Tennessee walking horse show circuit.

August 21, 2013

Leading on Lead

While The HSUS provides an extraordinary amount of direct-care to animals, our biggest impact is felt through our cruelty-prevention programs—whether that’s done by cracking down on puppy mills, factory farms, or Canada’s seal hunt, or other initiatives that take aim at institutionalized or systemic forms of animal exploitation.

Such as ending the use of lead ammunition in hunting. Specifically, in California, we are backing a bill to phase in a requirement that hunters use non-lead ammunition. The Assembly passed the bill, A.B. 711, by a two-to-one margin, and if the Senate follows suit and Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, California will become the first state to require the transition to ammunition made of copper, bismuth, steel or other non-toxic metals.

Coyote - John Harrison
John Harrison

Lead has been removed from paint, gasoline, and other consumer products because lead kills. There’s no known safe exposure level, and that’s why it’s time to remove lead from hunting ammunition.

When the NRA and other groups fought efforts more than two decades ago to ban the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting, they said that a legal prohibition on its use would result in the end of duck and goose hunting. Such outlandish claims, which we can now evaluate in a very tangible way, have proven false. Millions of waterfowl hunters made the transition to non-toxic shot.

The naysayers made the same claims when California lawmakers considered a bill to ban the use of lead shot in the range of the California condor—in the vast area between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There, too, hunters made the switch, and there’s been no decline in the sale of deer hunting licenses.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation—the trade association for gun and ammunition makers, based in Newtown, Connecticut of all places—is now running ads in California saying HSUS is working to ban all hunting by pushing for AB 711. We’ve been down this road before, and their claims will be proved false over time.

Here’s the reason for our support of this bill: A preponderance of scientific evidence demonstrates that there are significant public health, environmental and wildlife health risks associated with lead from ammunition. One estimate says that there are more than 10 million doves a year who die from lead poisoning. When you consider that there are more than 130 species known to die from lead poisoning, it’s quite a staggering toll. Scavenging birds like condors, owls, eagles, and hawks as well as mammals like coyotes are all at risk and known to be suffering. Death from lead poisoning is painful, and even when lead exposure isn’t high enough to kill an animal, it doesn’t take much to weaken an animal to the point that it succumbs to predation or other diseases.

It’s also better for hunters and their families, who won’t be at risk of consuming lead fragments in the meat from wild game.

With an alternative product available, why not make the switch?

Editorial support for AB 711 from newspapers across California has poured in—The Los Angeles Times, the Monterey County Herald, the San Jose Mercury News, the Fresno Bee, the Sacramento Bee, the Riverside Press-Enterprise and the Bakersfield Californian, to name a few. More than a hundred California veterinarians support the policy of removing lead from hunting ammunition. Even the president and vice president of California’s Fish and Game Commission back the bill. More than 30 environmental, children’s health, and animal protection organizations have sent in letters of support, including Aubudon California and Defenders of Wildlife.

If you haven’t weighed in with your state Senator, now is a good time to do so.

August 20, 2013

Sun(ny) Should Shine Light on Federal Dog Policies

Let us add our congratulations and best wishes to the newest First Dog, Sunny. Cheers all around.

As the keeper of a new rescue—a six-year-old beagle mix named Lily—I know the joys of having a new pet in one’s life. Lily has doubled the number of daily smiles and laughter in my life. Only occasionally are there more exhales and other signs of exasperation!

Official White House Photo

The White House announcement that Bo now has a little sister to romp with did not provide detail about Sunny’s background, except to say she is 14 months old and was born in Michigan.

As we always say in such circumstances, we hope the Obamas considered adoption or rescue as the first choice in obtaining a pet. We are pleased to learn that the First Family made a donation in Sunny’s name to the Washington Humane Society, which shows the family’s awareness of and concern for the problem of homeless dogs and cats in our nation.

With Sunny in the limelight today, we take the opportunity to express to the President our hope that he will make dogs not just a family priority, but a national policy priority too.

His Administration has promulgated two rules to reduce the suffering of dogs who wind up being sold in retail commerce. One rule would prevent the importation of dogs from puppy mills in foreign countries for sale here until they are at least six months old (part of its regulatory responsibility after The HSUS worked to include a provision banning imports in the 2008 Farm Bill). The other would close a loophole and requires Internet sellers of puppy mill dogs to be licensed and inspected by the USDA—which came at The HSUS’s request in the wake of a searing USDA Office of Inspector General review of deficiencies in federal Animal Welfare Act enforcement efforts.

Both are small steps that can make real differences in the lives of dogs who are not so fortunate as Bo and Sunny. We’ve been anxiously awaiting the final rules, and they’ve been a long time in coming. It’s time for the White House to make these policies law. No more delays.

For those not familiar with the economics of dogs, remember that puppy mills are the primary source of dogs sold in pet stores and online, and also a source of great misery. A far better alternative for those who want a pet is to find a responsible breeder or, better yet, visit a rescue or shelter—where dogs of specific breeds or mixed-breeds, as well as dogs with special qualities—are waiting for a home.

August 19, 2013

"Walking" of the Bulls

Bull_sharecropA decade ago, I was on site as an observer for the first American “Running of the Bulls” in a small town outside of Las Vegas.  Despite the hype from the huckster promoter – who said he’d be recreating the drama and danger of the Pamplona, Spain event where bulls run down the cobblestone streets and head into the fighting arena – the American spectacle was an incredible snooze.

The promoters of the Nevada event released cattle from a pen and they trotted or walked down the dirt track, as attention- and thrilled-starved runners tried to dash in front of them to incite them.  It was an embarrassment to all, the bulls comporting themselves with more dignity and smarts than the people.

South Park got it just right when it broadcast this piece on the American version of the running of the bulls.

That said, if the event gets too boring, the promoters of bull running events planned for this year might try to increase the risk quotient, and that means they may harass or incite the animals to fabricate more drama. We want to anticipate that kind of escalation, and that’s why we wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who in his official capacity enforces the standards of the Animal Welfare Act.

The Act requires that anyone hosting an animal exhibition for compensation or entertainment is required to obtain a USDA license. Failure to do so can lead to fines of up to $10,000.

By all accounts, it does not appear that the promoters have secured the necessary licenses, and their event is unlikely to be in compliance with federal law in any event, since they do not appear to be following the Animal Welfare Act regulations concerning public safety. The first one is slated for the Richmond area on August 24th.

I can understand thrill-seeking.  But this event is absurd.  For thrill seekers, there are limitless opportunities, from rock climbing to bungee jumping to deep sea diving to skiing to triathlons to a variety of water sports. 

Whereas the Spanish event takes place on narrow city streets and involves a rougher type of bull, the proposed events will take place on circular race tracks in an open field with a dirt surface.  I expect it will be about as entertaining as people charging into a cow pasture.

But whether it’s boring or exciting, it requires licensing from the USDA.  We recommend that sensible people stay away.

P.S. If you live in Virginia, please take action against the bull run scheduled for this Saturday, August 24th.

August 15, 2013

Obama Administration Seeks to Nullify Critical State Animal Cruelty Laws

Yesterday, in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel of three federal judges heard argument from a Chinese-American business association and from other shark-finning interests that a California law to ban the sale and possession of shark fins – which passed the state legislature with strong bipartisan majorities, and was then signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown – should be declared preempted by federal law, and declared unconstitutional because it is discriminatory. The state of California and The HSUS and other groups defended the law as an appropriate exercise of state authority. None of this is all that surprising, except for the other party involved in the proceedings: the Obama Administration, through the Department of Justice, weighed in with an amicus brief and asked that the federal court overturn the law, largely because the National Marine Fisheries Service regulates shark fishing in U.S. waters and attests that it has also exclusive authority to say whether states can regulate the sale of shark-based products in state markets.

iStock photo

This is the second time that the Obama Administration has tried to invalidate a California animal protection statute.  The Administration submitted an amicus brief in support of the meat industry’s’ challenge to California’s anti-downer law, which passed in the wake of The HSUS’ Hallmark investigation exposing the inhumane treatment and slaughter of animals too sick or injured to walk. The Administration argued that the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempted California’s law, and that only the federal government could regulate the care and handling of downer pigs at federally inspected slaughter plants. This case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it overruled the 9th Circuit ruling in our favor and nixed core portions of that California anti-cruelty law. Today, downer pigs still continue to be abused and slaughtered at federal meat processing facilities, including in California.

Shark fins on display in Beijing, China

The burning question is, why is the Administration aligning itself with the meat industry and shark finning interests on these important questions? Any why does it argue that only the federal government, not the states, can speak on these matters?  It’s hard to know, but in both cases, the agencies involved, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the downers and the National Marine Fisheries Service on finning, have developed cozy relationships with the industries they regulate. The USDA goes out of its way to promote industrial animal agriculture, and NMFS works hand-in-hand with many sectors of the fishing industry, including people who kill sharks and then want to trade in their parts. In this case, the state isn’t regulating shark fishing or fisheries; it’s simply stating that it does not want to allow an in-state market for detached shark fins and shark fin products, which fuels the cruel and unsustainable practice of finning worldwide. The states can and should be allowed to set that kind of standard, just like it should be able to ban the trade in ivory or rhino horn in the state.

Just as with the King amendment – where the Congress, in an even more sweeping way, is trying to nix state anti-cruelty laws in the form of an amendment to the Farm Bill – this Administration is threatening very meaningful animal-welfare lawmaking at the state level. Traditionally, it is the states that have provided the strongest standards against cruelty, and that work is critical because the Congress and the federal executive agencies are often too timid to tackle these policies questions, or even worse, they are too beholden to animal exploitation industries. When you add up the votes in eight state legislatures that passed bans on shark fin products, it was 914 “ayes” and 87 “noes.”  Why would the Obama Administration substitute its judgment for that of nearly a thousand state lawmakers who acted in the interest of their own states and citizens?

Dozens of federal lawmakers wrote to the Administration and told them to back off on their attacks on state anti-shark finning laws. It does not appear, based on yesterday’s proceedings in federal court, that anyone at the White House or the NMFS is heeding that message.