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December 27, 2013

Top 10 News Stories for HSUS in 2013

Today, I round up the top news stories driven by The HSUS. There were certainly other big stories centering on animals, and the publicity surrounding the release of “Blackfish” was perhaps the most notable one, generating massive concern over the plight of captive marine mammals. In New York, grassroots animal advocates put carriage horses on the media radar screen during the mayoral contest there. And the global uproar over the terrorist-driven poaching of elephants and rhinos commanded enormous attention, with pieces in major print magazines and on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”  But on so many crucial topics involving animals—from factory farming to the treatment of horses to the use of animals in labs to a wide range of wildlife issues—it was The HSUS that pushed the debate forward.

AggagAg-Gag Bills Blocked in the States
Arguably, the biggest story of the year was the controversy over ag-gag bills, introduced in 11 states. The New York Times featured the issue on its front page, I appeared on Ellen Degeneres to discuss it, and Jon Stewart hit the topic with his distinct brand of sarcasm. The raft of bills, pushed by agribusiness interests, prompted daily news coverage in California, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and other states where the measures were debated. I don’t think a single non-industry newspaper supported the legislation, while at least 49 papers opposed the advance of the bills.

Horse Slaughter Debate Rages in North America and Europe
Horse slaughter was certainly one of the biggest topics of the year, with the horse meat scandal in Europe and the effort to resume slaughter in the U.S. capturing headlines. In Europe, which is the main market for North American horses, horse meat was commingled with beef products, and the Europeans wondered if they could trust the meat industry. In the U.S., there were maneuvers to open plants in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico, even though these businesses have almost no chance of being profitable. Thus far, we’ve staved them off in court, but what happens in 2014 is uncertain. We have secured language in the House and Senate 2014 spending bills to bar USDA inspections of horse slaughter plants, but the Congress has not given final approval to the measure.

ChimpsLaboratory Chimpanzees to Find Sanctuary
It was an enormous year for chimps, with NIH announcing it would transfer nearly 90% of government-owned chimpanzees from laboratories to sanctuaries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service making a preliminary finding that all chimps should be listed as endangered, and the Congress passing a bill to allow NIH to spend money on the transfer and care of government-owned chimps in sanctuaries, which the President signed into law. The New York Times covered all of these developments, as did other major outlets. Our chimpanzee art contest also garnered positive publicity, showcasing the intelligence and creativity of chimps.

Gestation Crates Battered
There were many concrete successes in our campaign to end gestation crate use, including an announcement in Canada about a likely phase-out of gestation crates there. We secured more than a dozen commitments from major companies, including Papa John’s, Quiznos, Bob Evans, IHOP, Applebee’s, Marriott, and Johnsonville Sausage, that they would phase out crates. Just this month, Safeway announced that its entire Eastern division is now 100% gestation crate-free, and Paul Solotaroff of Rolling Stone wrote an extraordinary piece about farm animals, reviewing much of the progress we’ve made on the crate issue. Tyson Foods remains the primary pork industry mouthpiece defending gestation crate confinement of sows, and the company endured a barrage of negative media attention in connection with my brief run for its board of directors.

WalkinghorseCruelty to Tennessee Walking Horses Out of the Stable and into the Sunlight
Our campaign to halt the cruelty of soring of Tennessee Walking horses garnered enormous attention, with ABC News continuing to expose the abuses. Trainer Jackie McConnell was sentenced for his abuses, trainer Larry Wheelon was indicted (both under Tennessee state law), Congress held a hearing on soring, and the USDA set up mandatory minimum penalties for violations associated with the practice. The PAST Act, legislation to upgrade the federal law against soring, gathered substantial support with more than 250 House members signing on to the bill. The former leader of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association came out in favor of the bill, as did other prominent leaders within the industry.

King Amendment Scorched in Press
Both Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post called on Congress to reject the King amendment, as did major papers throughout the United States, including USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and even the Des Moines Register. So did Stephen Colbert.  We continued to press the case, in columns and in stories on NPR, about the value of the agreement The HSUS reached with the egg industry that would set a minimum care standard for the treatment of laying hens in the United States. But the beef and pork industries fought it because they don’t want to see any policy advances on animal welfare.

Wolf Killing in U.S. Continues Unabated
It’s been a terrible year for wolves, with states in the Northern Rockies and the Upper Great Lakes slaughtering wolves by the hundreds. They are doing so mainly with the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and snares, although Wisconsin is even allowing dogs to be used. We’ve drawn a line in the sand in Michigan, and launched two referenda there to try to block hunting and trapping of the state’s small population of wolves. M-Live, a consortium of eight newspapers, exposed lies and exaggerations advanced by senior state lawmakers, DNR officials, and a prominent farmer to trump up charges against wolves. Major Michigan papers said the propaganda campaign was a disgrace. We are preparing for ballot fights in November 2014.

DogfightingMassive Dogfighting Bust in the South
We helped lead one of the biggest dogfighting busts in U.S. history, with 14 individuals arrested in four states. The bust helped dismantle a major network of dog-abusers in the South. Meanwhile, in Congress, we secured passage of amendments to the House and Senate Farm bills to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a minor to an animal fight.

Getting the Lead Out of Hunting
In California, we pushed for the enactment of legislation to require the use of lead-free ammunition. It was a big issue in our biggest state, but it reverberated all across the nation, with the hunting and ammunitions industry paying close attention to our effort to drive the shift toward less toxic ammunition.

Shark Finning Losing Favor Throughout the World
We’ve come a long way since Jaws. There is an emerging understanding of the value that sharks play in marine ecosystems, and we worked to enact legislation in three states to ban finning. We also made great gains in China, the EU, and India. We are fending off an effort by the National Marine Fisheries Service to undo the state bans. And we won a major federal case in California that challenged the constitutionality of California’s 2011 ban on the sale of possession of shark fins.

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