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December 10, 2013

Obama Administration Picks up Pace on Animal Welfare in 2013

During President Obama’s tenure, The HSUS has worked to secure stronger policies from federal agencies to help animals – from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the National Marine Fisheries Service to the National Institutes of Health. Every one of those agencies – and there are at least a dozen at the federal level relevant to our work – makes life and death decisions for animals.

During the president’s first term, the administration was slow to respond to animal protection concerns. But the pace has picked up in a good way, although the results haven’t been uniformly positive. In last year’s 2012 Animal Protection Record, we noted that the administration made some strong moves to protect animals, but came up short in a number of areas.

This year, 2013, has been the administration’s best year by a long shot, and we are giving out our best grade yet: B+. There are some gems in here, with the administration bucking powerful industries and siding with animal protection sensibilities in a few instances. There are still some adverse actions, such as national de-listing of wolves, a free pass for wind energy companies to kill protected eagles, and massive subsidies for the pork industry. But the list below is impressive and it’s something that administration officials should be proud of, and animal advocates should be pleased to see, as a collective set of actions.

The 13 most notable agency actions in 2013 that significantly affected animals were:

  1. Chimpanzees – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) declared that it will retire the vast majority of the approximately 400 government-owned chimpanzees currently in laboratories to sanctuary. The NIH supported removing a spending barrier imposed by the CHIMP Act in order to sustain funding for the retirement of chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuary, a fix signed into law by President Obama just before Thanksgiving. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed listing all chimpanzees as endangered, regardless of whether they are in the wild or in captivity.

  2. Puppy Mill Photo

  3. Puppy Mills – In a long-awaited action that animal welfare advocates have been pushing for a decade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized a rule that closed a loophole in Animal Welfare Act regulations, now requiring that dealers who sell puppies and other warm-blooded animals as pets sight unseen, including over the Internet, be regulated. The rule will extend federal oversight and standards of care to thousands of puppy mills that do business online, potentially doubling the number of puppy mills nationwide that will be regulated. Significant enforcement actions have been brought against puppy mill violators, including one dealer who was fined $191,000 for serious violations.

  4. Wildlife Trafficking – The president signed an unprecedented executive order to enhance coordination of the U.S. government’s efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, which is decimating wildlife populations across the globe. The president also provided an additional $10 million in regional assistance in Africa to combat wildlife trafficking. As part of the effort to crack down on elephant poaching, the USFWS crushed six tons of stockpiled ivory.

  5. President’s Budget – The president’s FY14 budget included key animal protection items, including proposing to Congress to allow NIH the flexibility to use existing agency funds for the care and transfer of retired federally-owned chimpanzees to sanctuary. The budget also proposed more money for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and to defund inspections of horse slaughter plants.

  6. Marine Mammals

    • The Department of Commerce issued a final rule revising the regulations governing the dolphin-safe label, requiring that all fisheries provide a certification that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured during the harvesting of tuna. 
    • The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) denied Georgia Aquarium’s request to import 18 wild-caught belugas from the Sea of Okhotsk, Russia.
    • The NMFS issued a final rule permanently extending existing speed limits for ships along the United States East Coast to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

  7. CITES – The USFWS worked to gain protections for numerous species at the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference of the parties, by:

    • Co-sponsoring proposals to protect a total of 47 species of tortoises and turtles; 
    • Lobbying on behalf of the oceanic whitetip shark, the porbeagle shark, three species of hammerhead sharks, and two species of manta rays, all of which were listed as Appendix II species; and
    • Working to combat the increasing trade in ivory, which has created a crisis situation for elephants and rhinos, by supporting the establishment of an Ivory Enforcement Task Force.

  8. Toxic Rodent Poisons – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) canceled the registrations of mouse and rat poison products posing threats to children, pets and wildlife injured or killed from accidental exposure.

  9. Bird Toxin – The EPA approved new labels for Avitrol® products, a harmful toxicant commonly used to kill birds, including pigeons and sparrows in urban areas as well as starlings and blackbirds on farms. These new labels implement improvements in required safety measures by imposing restrictions on how Avitrol® may be used.

  10. Animal Cruelty – The Department of Justice (DOJ) held a session on the intersection between animal cruelty and public safety. The DOJ has charged at least 190 defendants with animal cruelty offenses during the past six years and has assisted state and local prosecutors in many other cases.

  11. Reducing Animal Research – The NIH has awarded funding to academic research groups to explore new treatments for patients in eight different disease areas. Developing a new therapeutic drug is a long and difficult challenge. This program will forge partnerships to streamline and trim years from the current process, with the effect of reducing the use of animals in research.

  12. Pesticide Testing – The EPA advanced several policy recommendations designed to reduce animal tests for pesticide safety. The EPA’s policy formalizes steps in shifting toward smarter chemical assessment that relies on careful evaluation of the information rather than a list of required tests.

  13. Horses – The USDA successfully defended its mandatory minimum penalty protocol under the HPA in federal court. The HSUS submitted an amicus brief in this case. In an effort to crack down on the cruel practice of horse soring, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General conducted an investigation that led to the arrest of horse trainer Larry Wheelon, an active director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer’s Association, previously cited by inspectors at least 15 times for violations of the HPA between 1993 and 2012.

  14. King Amendment – USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack publicly voiced concern about the King Amendment, a provision in the House version of this year's Farm Bill that aims to block state laws protecting farm animals and could preempt a wide swath of state laws covering food safety, environmental requirements, food labeling, and other issues. Vilsack called it “troublesome” and explained that it would create legal challenges and confusion in the marketplace.

We applaud these actions, and we thank executive agency leaders for showing concern for animal protection values. Still though, there’s much work remaining to be done. Some items that still need attention are making final a rule to prevent the import of sick and young puppies from foreign puppy mills for resale in the United States, the issuance of a rule to close the downer veal calves loophole, the listing of all chimpanzees and African lions as endangered species, a ban on public contact with big cats and other dangerous wildlife, the promulgation of a rule listing the remaining five large constrictor snakes as injurious species to prohibit the importation and interstate transport of these snakes as pets, and an increase in fertility control efforts with an attendant decrease in round-ups of wild horses. 

These are good policies for animals, and broadly supported by the American public. We’ll continue to work with administration officials in getting them over the finish line in early 2014. But it’s worth celebrating some tremendous progress for our cause.

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