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September 02, 2014

Unilever: There Must Be a Better Way for Day-Old Male Chicks

I’m a firm believer in the notion that the marketplace has a major role to play in helping animals. Every commercial enterprise, by making intentional choices, can build humane practices into its business models and provide consumers with choices that improve the lives of animals. In fact, consumers are hungry for this kind of leadership from corporate America.

Chicks on belt
Each year, hundreds of millions of baby male chicks are dumped into meat grinders while fully conscious or thrown live into trash bags to suffocate. Photo: Compassion Over Killing

One recent and sterling example comes from Unilever, the food manufacturing giant that owns Hellman’s mayonnaise, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and other major global brands.

Unilever has already earned our applause for its decision to end the use of battery cage eggs in its supply chain by shifting entirely to cage-free eggs. And today—following discussions with The HSUS, Farm Forward, The Humane League, and Compassion in World Farming—the company announced yet another move to reduce animal suffering in the egg industry. It’s going to work to prevent the destruction –via maceration and suffocation – of baby male chicks in the egg industry, dealing with a very ugly, largely hidden and once seemingly unavoidable animal welfare problem.

Maceration, a little known part of egg production, is the mass killing of male chicks—of no use to the industry since they don’t lay eggs. Discarded like trash, these baby birds—hundreds of millions of them a year, just in the United States alone—are dumped into massive grinders while fully conscious, or sometimes simply thrown live into trash bags to suffocate, on the first day of their lives.

While no egg company has pledged to address this systemic abuse in the near term, Unilever announced today that it’s going to do so, having judged the mass killing of the chicks unacceptable in the long run. The company is now working to make a technology commercially and scientifically viable that would determine the sex of embryos in eggs long before they get out of the egg, so that they don’t hatch and create a terrible moral problem. Needless to say, success in this effort would eliminate a vast amount of suffering—chicks endure stressful handling even prior to being killed in hatcheries—for hundreds of millions of animals annually.

Unilever's statement also highlights its exploration of plant-based ingredients to replace eggs in some of its products. To address the numerous severe problems associated with factory farming, all tools should be at our disposal, including the use of plant-based proteins as substitutes for eggs in certain situations.

These steps—ending the mass grinding of male chick births and moving toward plant-based ingredients in products that have long required eggs—are indicators of how innovation driven by animal welfare sensibilities is helping to start critical conversations in the food industry. And that sort of discussion and drive is an antecedent to practical solutions. Last month, we announced ground-breaking changes from Nestlé, and now we have this major action from Unilever. It’s my hope that Kraft and other competitors, and ultimately the egg industry itself, will follow in Unilever’s footsteps and join the push for reforms that will please consumers and that are simply the right thing to do. When it’s the right moral decision, it’s typically the right business decision, too.

August 29, 2014

More Tricks From Horse Soring Crowd as the Spotlight Shines on the Celebration

As the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration culminates this weekend, there is controversy and cover-up again marring the biggest event in the walking horse show world.  

TENNESSEE_WALKING_HORSE
For decades the walking horse show industry has tried to hide the intentional injuring of horses’ feet and lower legs – a practice known as “soring," which produces an exaggerated, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.” Photo: The HSUS

For decades now the walking horse show industry has tried to hide the intentional injuring of horses’ feet and lower legs – a practice known as “soring," which produces an exaggerated, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.” This horse abuse is not confined to small venue shows, but it is widespread, conducted even at its grand championship show where the spotlight is brightest.  There’s no way that horses will step as high as they do without foot injuries; it’s a pain-induced behavior.

This year’s ruse to hide the cruelty comes in the form of the Celebration’s “Veterinary Advisory Committee,” created supposedly to improve inspections of horses.  The fact is, it’s a cover-up, and a poor one at that, and its practical effect is to offer the appearance of oversight when there are medically accepted and scientific procedures already in place and undertaken by personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA has spent years developing the most reliable methods to identify evidence of soring, and its veterinary medical officers will be implementing these techniques and overseeing inspections at the 2014 Celebration to try to keep cheaters from bringing sore horses into the show ring.

The “big lick” segment of the walking horse industry doesn’t like the results of the agency’s accurate, comprehensive, science-based testing methods, so it has hired “independent” contractors to give it outcomes it likes. The Veterinary Advisory Committee’s mouthpiece is Tom Blankenship, who has supported and defended the big lick faction for years. Blankenship worked as an attorney for the Walking Horse Trainers Association, and in this role he condemned enforcement of the USDA’s scar rule that excludes from competition horses that exhibit evidence of injury to the forelegs indicative of soring. He further encouraged former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s attempt to eliminate the rule.

But as the Celebration begins, the Veterinary Advisory Committee and its credibility have completely fallen apart, and it’s been exposed in the press. It’s now come to light that not only are these three veterinarians not required to attend the Celebration, but that one of the vets named, Dr. Dallas O. Goble, has stated that he has nothing to do with the committee. “I am not involved,” Dr. Goble told The Tennessean unequivocally. “I haven’t been involved from the start.”

This is just another sad, embarrassing installment in a 40-year effort by the walking horse industry to trot out false assurances or to set up dummy scientific groups while the illegal conduct continues. In 2012 the industry touted a “swabbing initiative” at the Celebration to purportedly test every horse for the presence of illegal foreign substances. It was later learned that only relatively few horses were tested: the actual numbers were never made public, and the handful of violators identified by the initiative received only a slap on the wrist. In contrast the USDA’s testing that year found that a remarkable 76 percent of horses it tested had been treated with caustic, numbing or masking chemicals. There can be no other conclusion but that there is widespread corruption and flagrant disregard for the law in the industry.

The walking horse industry will continue its cat-and-mouse game with the USDA, but in the end, there must be consequences for these lawbreakers. Congress must pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S. 1406 to eliminate stacks and chains (implements integral to the soring process), abolish the industry’s failed system of self-regulation and strengthen penalties for soring. The PAST Act is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Horse Council and a multitude of horse industry and breed organizations. It also has the backing of everyone who wants to end the abuse of walking horses, including 363 members of Congress.

When Congress returns from recess on September 8th, lawmakers would do well to express their disgust with the conduct within the industry and to pass this common-sense, bipartisan legislation to crack down on reprehensible animal cruelty.

August 28, 2014

A Whale of a Reaction to Blackfish and SeaWorld


* This version includes a correction to the paragraph about the Georgia Aquarium's bid to import beluga whales.

The HSUS has been making the case against marine mammal captivity for a quarter century, long before the remarkable sequence of developments we have all seen unfold since February 2010, when the captive orca Tilikum killed trainer Dawn Brancheau during a performance at SeaWorld Orlando, triggering the release of David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish.

KILLER_WHALE
The dramatic erosion of public support for SeaWorld and other aquaria seeking to capture and display marine mammals is nothing short of stunning. Photo: iStockphoto

Yet, even for those of us who were involved in laying the groundwork for the vigorous debate now underway about the ethics of captivity, the dramatic erosion of public support for SeaWorld and other aquaria seeking to capture and display marine mammals is nothing short of stunning. The month of August has delivered a cascade of news on this front.

First came the company’s August 13th revelations concerning its underwhelming financial performance over the course of 2014, a year in which SeaWorld’s credit rating and stock value plummeted as investors lost faith with the company in what analysts are calling “the Blackfish effect.” Standard and Poor placed SeaWorld at BB, a credit rating equal to junk status, while earnings for the company are down 22 percent based on second-quarter reporting of lower attendance. The year also saw more than a dozen scheduled musical acts and its longtime corporate partner, Southwest Airlines, abandon SeaWorld and leave it without that support and those cultural moorings.

Two days later came SeaWorld’s announcement that it would expand the size of its orca whale tanks, best answered by the late night comic Conan O’Brien in this funny but astute tweet.

Then, on August 19, SeaWorld dropped its challenge to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruling that prohibited trainers from entering the water with whales, a performance routine that SeaWorld had insisted it would never relinquish. 

Finally, on August 20, the Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld’s partner in a bid to import 18 beluga whales taken from the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia, went toe-to-toe with the government in a lawsuit seeking to compel the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to issue the import permit.

The fraying of SeaWorld’s business model will one day be the subject of case studies in business schools and schools of communications. For now, it’s providing one of the most vivid examples in the turn of fortune for a major corporation that is on the wrong side of public opinion on a long-standing humane concern. In just a few short years, the company has lost its feel-good cachet, seen its value downgraded, mishandled a tragic incident by re-victimizing Dawn Brancheau, and maintained against all available evidence that its revenue model and business prospects were not being affected by swelling public skepticism and rejection.

Whenever I talk about the SeaWorld situation with animal protectionists who came into the field in the mid-1980s, as I did, we keep coming back to the notion that it would have been impossible to conceive of the dramatic change in attitude that we’re seeing. And when The HSUS launched its anti-captivity campaign in the mid-1990s, I still thought it would be a long time coming, even though we could properly argue that orcas were not endangered, that captivity was not good for them, and that orca performances are less conservation-minded and more vaudevillian.Once the other shoe drops on the Georgia Aquarium’s gambit to bring those beluga whales to the United States, perhaps we’ll know for sure that the end of the era for captive display of whales for entertainment is truly within sight.

August 25, 2014

False Claims About Wolves, Frightful Cruelty to Wildlife in Michigan

An Upper Peninsula farmer, John Koski – operating in the far western portion of Michigan – has played an outsize role in the debate over whether the state’s small population of wolves should be hunted. Koski’s farm was the site of more than 60 percent of all wolf attacks on livestock in Michigan, and lawmakers hell bent on opening up a hunting season on wolves regaled downstate lawmakers with their vivid stories of marauding wolves in the north. 

Gray wolf
On Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers will take up a third wolf-hunting bill, disregarding voters who stayed the first two bills by referenda. Photo: iStockphoto 

It turned out, according to a months-long investigation by John Barnes of the newspaper consortium MLive, that Koski had been baiting wolves with deer and cow parts and then bellyaching about wolf incidents – in addition to getting financial compensation for it. Barnes determined that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was working hand in hand with Koski, and “found government half-truths, falsehoods and livestock numbers skewed by a single farmer distorted some arguments for the inaugural hunt.” Some months after the MLive series ran in papers throughout Michigan, Koski pled guilty to animal neglect for starving guard donkeys that the state gave to him to ward off wolves.

Now comes another case from the Upper Peninsula – deeply troubling in its own way – that could also influence the debate in Michigan over how to treat wolves. I wrote some weeks ago about two hunters from Gogebic County who engaged in unspeakable acts of cruelty against coyotes. This time, John Barnes reported, based on the release of a YouTube video The HSUS found, that these two men released a pack of dogs on a wounded coyote who couldn’t fend for himself. “This is going to be some live action," a man says as he aims the video camera. The two men and one of their kids watched the mauling like a spectator sport, goading the dogs to maul the defenseless animal. “There he his. There he is. Get him, Doc. Get him. ... We're going to get Cooter in here. He's a machine.” 

Today, MLive released a second videotape apparently created by the same men, in which they ran over a coyote intentionally, and wouldn’t put the animal out of his misery. Instead, they took the same gleeful approach toward the wounded coyote, killing the animal after some time elapsed—this time, allegedly witnessed by one of the men’s 12-year-old son.

In Wisconsin, where there is no ballot initiative or referendum process to check the excesses of state agencies and hunting groups intent on slaughtering wolves, it is legal to hunt wolves with dogs. If we don’t succeed with our current referenda campaigns in Michigan, we can expect that state authorities will open trapping and hounding seasons on wolves, in addition to trophy hunting of wolves with firearms – just as they have in Wisconsin. In fact, in Wisconsin, more than 250 wolves were killed during the hunting season there, including 80 percent with traps or hounds.

And the Michigan lawmakers who cooked up the case against wolves are at it again. On Wednesday, the Michigan House of Representatives is set to take up a third wolf-hunting bill – after the first two were stayed by referenda qualified by citizens.  It would be an unprecedented third try to subvert the will of Michiganders by these legislators, in their zeal to allow the killing of wolves for no good reason. 

These lawmakers, mainly from the Upper Peninsula, fear the exercise of the vote by the people of Michigan. They know that the entire case for wolf hunting has been built on a series of exaggerations and falsehoods. And they see the behavior of some of the people who want to hurt animals just for trophies or for pure hatred.  They know they’ll be drubbed at the polls, so they are making extraordinary efforts to deny the people a vote.

Just about every major newspaper in the state has called on lawmakers not to pass a third wolf-hunting bill and to let the issue be decided by voters. If they take this action, they’ll not only be opening up wolves to cruelty, they’ll be subverting the right of citizens to decide issues guaranteed to them by the Michigan constitution. 

If you live in Michigan, state House members need to hear from you now.

August 22, 2014

The Price of Progress – How Our Victories Breed Enemies

Precisely because The HSUS is so effective, we are the target of disinformation campaigns from our political adversaries. The king of disinformation is Rick Berman, the guy “60 Minutes” dubbed “Dr. Evil” for his work attacking public interest groups on behalf of anonymous corporations.  

Horse slaughter
Among many successes this year, we prevented the resumption of horse slaughter for human consumption on U.S. soil.
Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

If you’re new to Berman’s brand attacks on The HSUS, the Center for Public Integrity has a new investigative piece on the topic – building on exposés done by Bloomberg, The Boston Globe, TIME magazine, The Agitator, and many other sources. Here’s a man who’s shilled for interests defending drunk driving, smoking in public places, tanning beds, trans fats, the consumption of mercury-laden fish by pregnant women, and now a wide range of animal abuse – with a particular focus on defending pig factories, the mistreatment of elephants in traveling circuses, puppy mills, and seal slaughter.

Of course, there’s no mystery why animal abusers fund Berman’s attacks on us. Many businesses grounded on animal exploitation believe our work threatens their profits. For instance, consider just a snapshot of some of our accomplishments over the last year:

  • Just yesterday, Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, announced that it will cleanse its supply chain of animal products that come from the most abusive factory farming practices.  Earlier this year, we joined the biggest names in meat production – Cargill, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson Foods – in announcing movement away from gestation crates.
  • We helped pass felony-level penalties for cruelty in South Dakota – making it the 50th state to adopt severe penalties for animal abuse. We also made it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.  And we helped secure a landmark federal appeals court ruling upholding the federal law banning the sale of depictions of animal cruelty.
  • We prevented the resumption of horse slaughter for human consumption on U.S. soil, and we have brought together more than 350 U.S. Senators and Representatives in support of a bill to halt the barbaric soring of Tennessee Walking Horses.
  • We led the fight to kill the King Amendment – a nefarious provision in the Farm Bill that could have nullified anti-cruelty laws across the nation. This year alone, we’ve had a hand in passing more than 84 state laws, targeted at gas chambers for cats and dogs, shark finning, the trade in ivory, the pet trade in dangerous exotics, fox penning, and so much more.    
  • We helped secure a landmark World Trade Organization ruling upholding the EU’s ban on the import of slaughtered seals and a landmark International Court of Justice ruling striking down much of Japan’s commercial whaling program, along with over a dozen other legal victories for animals.

Most people following our work in the field know of Berman’s charade. There’s one character, however, whose charade is less well known, and that’s Brad Miller, the long-time director of the Humane Farming Association. He spent most of the 1990s and the first decade of this century attacking Farm Sanctuary, a highly reputable organization fighting factory farming. Within the last decade, Miller has focused his attacks on The HSUS – at the very same time that we were amassing our biggest advances against the industrialization of agriculture.

Miller and HFA have no record to speak of in securing tangible gains for farm animals. While California is HFA’s home state, the group refused to support Prop 2 (the groundbreaking campaign to ban battery cages, gestation crates, and veal crates), instead choosing to remain neutral and allow the rest of the animal movement to fight the agribusiness industry. In similar anti-factory farming ballot campaigns in Arizona, Ohio and Florida, HFA was a bystander while other groups such as The HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy For Animals shouldered the burden of advancing farm animals' interests. In fact, while HFA condemns farm animal protection bills that it thinks don't go far enough, it has never taken part in any campaign that has succeeded in banning any farm animal confinement practice anywhere.

HFA even opposed successful efforts to ban the sale and production of foie gras in California, which will save countless ducks and geese from hideous abuse and took effect in July 2012. HFA not only opposed the measure to outlaw this hideous factory farming practice that causes extreme animal suffering; in fact, Miller’s organization took out advertisements against the bill urging its defeat. HFA is an organization founded upon hollow rhetoric and direct mail fundraising, one that only pretends to have a farm animal defense program. 

Here at The HSUS, we wear attacks from Berman and Miller as badges of pride. We’re in the crosshairs of those who oppose the advancement of animals precisely because we are achieving transformational change. 

And I want you to know that no matter how loud our opponents are and no matter how dishonest their attacks, we won’t be deterred by them. With your support, we will continue to confront the worst cruelties to animals, no matter how powerful the abuser, or how deceptive they are.

August 21, 2014

Nestlé to Overhaul Farm Animal Treatment Across the Globe

The world’s largest food company has spoken: cruelty on factory farms has got to go. Nestlé is the single-biggest maker of food across the globe, with dozens of widely known brands such as Dreyer's, Lean Cuisine and Butterfinger. Today, the company announced an industry-leading animal welfare program that will eliminate many controversial-yet-currently-standard practices within its worldwide food supply chain. The announcement is the latest, and one of the biggest, in a series of actions by major food retailers, moving them away from an industrial-type production system that is callous and unforgiving toward animals.

Veal crates
Nestlé’s new program will cleanse its supply chain of calves in veal crates, sows in gestation crates and egg-laying chickens in cages. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

Particularly, Nestlé’s new program will cleanse its supply chain of the following practices: confinement of sows in gestation crates, calves in veal crates and egg-laying chickens in cages; the forced rapid growth of chickens used for meat products; and the harsh cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers. Bundling all of these reforms together, this announcement marks the most comprehensive and ambitious animal welfare program by a global food retailer to date. It builds on the enormous momentum we have created for moving away from the intensive confinement of animals on factory farms and marks new progress on issues related to the routine mutilation of animals. It also sounds the death knell for selective breeding practices that compromise the health of animals in order to achieve accelerated growth.

Nestlé is also encouraging food sustainability by promoting the global Meatless Monday movement via on-package messaging on Lean Cuisine products.

Nestlé’s policy follows dialogue with animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, Mercy For Animals and World Animal Protection. We are pleased to work with our colleagues in the field on such a major advance in farm animal welfare and sustainable agriculture. And we applaud Nestlé’s leadership for this game-changing commitment.

August 20, 2014

Fighting Factory Farming – With Every Tool We Have

We are in a pitched battle against factory farming – a battle to transform agriculture and the way consumers think about and consume food.

Gestation Crate
Animal agriculture has become thoroughly industrialized, with animals forced to live in windowless, overcrowded, stinking, ammonia-laden buildings. Photo: The HSUS

Our society is raising too many animals for food – nine billion in the United States, and perhaps 70 billion worldwide. Producing and raising that many animals requires huge inputs of resources – billions and billions of bushels of grains, enormous tracts of land, and vast quantities of fresh water and fossil fuels, to name a few. The rearing, transport and slaughter of these billions of living creatures adds dangerous levels of methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, warming the planet and threatening our communities. On top of all that, we throw away more than a billion animal bodies a year, raising them, putting their meat on our plates, and then dumping them in the trash. We throw out 22 percent of all meat.  That’s a disgrace, a colossal waste of animals’ lives, and a moral crime against animals and humanity.

Our society is raising so many of those animals harshly and inhumanely. Within the last 50 years, agriculture has become thoroughly industrialized, with the forced migration of animals from pastures and into windowless, overcrowded, stinking, ammonia-laden buildings. In some cases, factory farms immobilize the animals in small metal cages and crates barely larger than their bodies. They cut off parts of the animals’ bodies as routine management practices.  And they alter their growth rates and size, so much so that some animals are unable even to stand. They suffer from chronic lameness, inflammation, and other catastrophic health conditions within their short, brutish lives.

I could say much more about the ills of factory farming, including its impacts on public health and personal health issues and its role in pollution and the dissolution of many of our rural communities.  But I’ll get to the point of today’s blog – which is to ask for your understanding and your help.

At The HSUS, we are taking on factory farming from every angle – because the magnitude of the problem requires our full focus and a wide range of tactics. We are banning confinement practices through legislative and public policy work. We are working with food retailers to reform the treatment of animals in their supply chains (we’ve got a ground-shaking announcement coming tomorrow, so check the blog at 9 a.m.). We are suing factory farms for polluting and threatening the environment—and winning. On Monday, for example, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with The HSUS and members of a community fighting a massive new gestation crate pig factory in Todd County. This facility planned to drink up eight million gallons of groundwater per year. 

As part of that fight, we’re asking consumers to eat more plant-based foods and empowering them with the tools they need to do so. In fact, we just worked with the Houston school system to expand its Meatless Mondays commitment and to offer healthier, plant-based foods to kids.  And when consumers do eat animal products, we’re asking them to seek out the highest welfare products available.            

We’re also fighting internationally, making gains in Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, the European Union and other parts of the world.

When you take on such challenges, there’s pushback.  The Farm Bureau, the pork producers, the cattlemen and their political allies are all on the attack against The HSUS.  They push legislatures to pass ag-gag measures to thwart our investigations or “right to farm” measures” – in effect, to freeze their abusive current policies in place and to forbid any future reforms. They hire PR hit men and scammers like Rick Berman, who sets up phony front groups to attack us and to try to sow division within our movement. We know who they are and we’ve got their number.

But we do take a different type of pushback very seriously – from stalwart animal advocates who share our commitment to animals, but disagree with an occasional tactic of ours. We respect their views and want to address their concerns.  Through our HSUS Colorado Agriculture Council – which consists of farmers and ranchers who are HSUS members – we sponsored an event in Denver where several restaurants touted the fact that they are offering more humanely and sustainably raised animals products and abstaining from offering factory-farmed meats. We heard from more than a small number of supporters that the event – and our sponsorship – made them queasy. Indeed, I think they are right that the very name – Hoofin’ It – sounded disrespectful to the animals, and that alone raised alarm bells with caring people.

We get that not everyone is going to be comfortable with all of our approaches to fighting factory farming, and we’ll be mindful of getting involved with events that drive our end goals of reducing suffering and driving consumers to make more conscious eating choices. But we are asking everybody to stretch –corporations, consumers, lawmakers, farmers, and even our supporters and colleagues within the animal protection movement. The kind of change we are seeking won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen if we all head down the same path. If we want solutions in a pluralistic society, we need pluralism when it comes to tactics. We are investing in and promoting plant-based foods so that people have good vegan and vegetarian choices in the marketplace to reduce or replace their meat consumption, and we also want real options supplied by real farmers for people who eat meat and want products that don’t come from abusive factory farms. 

Our policy, our strategy and our program commitments make it clear that we’re serious about this approach. What you get with The HSUS is a group that will be fearless in taking on the big fights.  We are going to aim big, and we are going to tip over some tables and challenge some orthodoxies in doing so. In the end, we ask everyone who cares about animals to do their part. Everyone has a role to play and is part of this cause – vegans and vegetarians, farmers and cowboys, chefs and conservationists, omnivores and inveterate carnivores.

We ask for your tolerance of these diverse approaches, and we ask for your participation in this critical fight against factory farming, with so much at stake for animals and the whole of society.

August 19, 2014

Trumped Up Charges Against Wolves, Dirty Dealings With Voters

When lawmakers take an oath to “faithfully discharge the duties” of their office, they shouldn’t play games with the voters who put them there in the first place.

Wolf
Michigan lawmakers are trying to keep voters from weighing in on the fate of their state's small, recovering population of wolves. Photo: Alamy

About half of the states have constitutional provisions to provide for citizen lawmaking, allowing voters to initiate legislation by petition, and to nullify acts of the legislatures in their states through a similar process. Both processes require the collection of a large number of signatures of registered voters by citizens within a short, definite time frame, and the mandate that voters decide the issues by majority vote. The initiative and referendum process have helped the causes of direct election of U.S. senators, voting rights for women, animal welfare standards, civil rights, campaign finance reform, and many other reforms we now view as critical in a civil society.

The HSUS and a strong coalition of organizations – including Michigan’s Native American tribes, the Detroit Zoological Society, Audubon Society chapters, the Sierra Club and so many other organizations – are utilizing this constitutional process to restore the state’s long-standing protections for the small, recovering population of gray wolves, who inhabit the rich and wide forests of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The state constitution not only provides the basis for the initiative and referendum process, but it also creates a system of representative government, where lawmakers are elected to serve the interests of voters in the state. The people vest power in these citizen lawmakers and executives and other officeholders.

Respect for the democratic process is a foundation stone of our political and civil society, and state lawmakers should be the first group to honor the process and the constitution. But what’s happening in Michigan is an abuse of power – a legally defensible set of actions, but a morally and politically unacceptable series of maneuvers and dirty, dishonest dealings that subvert the principles of citizen decision-making and undermine what limited confidence citizens have in representative government. It also eliminates a critical check-and-balance on representative government run amok. Indeed, the initiative and referendum process was designed as a hedge on the actions of lawmakers in the hold of special interests.

Here’s some background:

The HSUS and other groups qualified a referendum in the early part of 2013 in an attempt to give all state voters the opportunity to decide on a wolf-hunting season set by lawmakers, soon after the federal government removed wolves from the list of endangered species. State lawmakers tried to subvert our referendum by passing a second wolf hunting measure before the people could even vote on the issue. 

We responded with a second referendum, collecting hundreds of thousands of voter signatures, even though we felt aggrieved by this abuse of power by lawmakers and their special interest allies.

Now, lawmakers are making a third attempt to lock in wolf hunting, and doing so by trying to subvert our second ballot measure. Hunting groups qualified their own initiative petition, and now lawmakers are attempting to rubber-stamp it and deny a vote of the people. If lawmakers approve the petition, it could undermine the two referenda we’ve already qualified, and that will appear on the November ballot.

Just about every Michigan newspaper has called this series of legislative actions an abuse of power – with state senators coming back for a single day of lawmaking to take a third swipe at wolves and voters, even though the state had many pressing matters that lawmakers rightly should have focused on.

I do believe that the state’s newspapers have it exactly right, and this is what they had to say: 

“[A]n MLive.com investigation last fall found government half-truths, falsehoods and skewed statistics distorted arguments for the hunt…. Considering these facts, voters should be given the opportunity to decide … Lawmakers: Don’t deny Michigan citizens their voice yet again.” Grand Rapids Press (and seven other major newspapers), Aug. 3.

“Since the public called for these questions by collecting a substantial number of signatures on petitions … voters should decide. Next week, the state House should let them.” Livingston Daily, Aug. 15.

“[The Senate’s] legislation effectively thwarts the effort to ban wolf hunting… This isn’t the first time the lawmakers have acted against the public’s right to decide important state issues.” Port Huron Times Herald, Aug. 16

“In light of the poor decision making skills of the state when it comes to wolves, citizens rightly stood up to them and started a petition to protect these animals. But [the Senate instead endorsed] a competing petition, based in those same untruths and fears that caused the wolf to be made a game animal in the first place...” Petoskey News, Aug. 15.

“Adding insult to injury, Wednesday’s wolf hunt vote was held on the only day in August the Senate will meet. Senators interrupted their five-week summer vacation to return to Lansing solely to steal the voters’ right to participate in the lawmaking process.” Traverse City Record-Eagle, Aug. 14.

“The GOP-controlled Senate … utterly disregard[ed] the will of the majority of citizens who oppose the hunting of gray wolves…. [T]he zealousness of those pursuing the hunt, their willingness to exaggerate or fabricate examples of wolf depredation and the dismissiveness with which they treat wolf biologists inspire no confidence in us.… [T]his initiative belongs … on the November ballot — and we beseech lawmakers in the House regardless of their personal view to put their trust in citizens.” Battle Creek Enquirer, Aug. 14.

“There is no imperative — no pressing public interest — to establish a wolf hunt, certainly not against the will of the majority of Michigan voters…. If lawmakers give a lick about the rights of its citizens and the democratic process, they will let voters decide this issue.” Battle Creek Enquirer, July 26.

“By blocking not one but two efforts to refer legislation to voters, lawmakers would send a bad signal. Let voters spend the next three months considering the merits of the proposals.” Lansing State Journal, Aug. 9.

“Last week, the Detroit area was hit by a massive rainstorm that closed parts or all of every freeway, some for days. Thousands of basements were flooded … But incredibly, when lawmakers met the day after the flood, the only item on their agenda was passing a bill to prevent a referendum that would outlaw the hunting of wolves.” The Toledo Blade, Aug. 18.

The Michigan House is set to vote on the issue on August 27th. But if they care about good government and matters like trust and proper governance, they will not call up a third wolf-hunting bill. The voters of the state deserve an opportunity to decide the issue. That’s proper and right. 

But if lawmakers continue to charge ahead with the subversion of voting rights, they will expose themselves as holding the view that they think that Michiganders are too dimwitted to decide whether wolves should be hunted or trapped – ironically the same group of citizens who put these lawmakers in office.

August 18, 2014

Tip of the Hat for Big Cat Habitat

As I’ve mentioned before, The HSUS and its affiliates are collectively the largest provider of hands-on care for animals. Last week I was on the ground at one our facilities – in Texas – for the opening of the Big Cat Habitat at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, run by the Fund for Animals and The HSUS. In my video blog today I talk with Ranch director Ben Callison about what makes this Big Cat Habitat so distinctive and appealing. We also discuss that while rescue and animal care are critical, they alone are insufficient to deal with all of the problems faced by animals – in this case, the exotic pet trade. We must prevent animals from getting into dangerous situations in the first place – and that comes by convincing people not to acquire wild animals as pets and by creating laws to forbid private ownership of these animals.

August 15, 2014

United States Moves to End Puppy Mill Imports

As a result of an announcement today from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other nations will no longer be able to raise tens of thousands of dogs in puppy mills and flood the U.S. market with them. After delaying final action for years, the USDA today made final a federal rule prohibiting the import of puppies into the United States for resale. Together with our supporters, we’ve won a profound and major victory for animals.

Otis
Otis, a bulldog puppy bred in Russia and sold by a Pennsylvania dealer, suffered multiple illnesses and died before he was eight months old, leaving behind heartbroken parents and thousands of dollars in veterinary bills. Photo: Lisa Mullins

In this era of globalization – with a robust trade in wildlife and their parts, pork and other animal products from factory farms, and the sale of fur pelts all over the world – this is a major moment in our global effort to make trade more humane and to prevent a handful of nations from watering down animal welfare standards in the name of free trade. In this case, it’s our goal to choke off the trade in dogs from puppy mills, no matter where they originate.

Each year, thousands of puppies – all just a few weeks old and barely weaned – endure appalling abuse as they are transported to the United States. They are packed into crowded, filthy plastic tubs with little or no food or water, and often exposed to extreme temperatures during transcontinental plane journeys that would be taxing for even an adult, healthy dog. A large number of the puppies get sick, and then perish. The puppies are too young to have received a full series of vaccinations, so they could carry diseases that infect other dogs or even humans, making their import a significant public health concern as well as an animal welfare issue.

Over the years, we have heard hundreds of sad stories resulting from this indiscriminate import and sale of puppies. One example: a New Jersey couple purchased Otis, a bulldog puppy, from a Pennsylvania dealer. What they did not know at the time was that Otis had been imported from Russia when he was just six weeks old. Through his first few months, Otis suffered from numerous infections and genetic problems, including roundworms, coccidia, severe allergies, tremor, an enlarged heart and persistent drug-resistant pneumonia. He died before he was eight months old, leaving behind two heartbroken parents and thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.

Then there’s Tink, a high-priced teacup Maltese puppy, sold to a New York resident by an Internet dealer in Texas. Tink was actually bred at a suspected puppy mill in Korea. By the time the buyer picked up Tink at a New York airport, she had endured several long flights, was covered in filth, and was lethargic, coughing and sneezing. Tink was luckier than Otis because she survived, but not before three emergency vet visits and more than $1,000 in veterinary fees.

These are just two of the hundreds of horror stories we have encountered here at The HSUS, but we are now hopeful that things will take a turn for the better. Under the USDA final rule, which goes into effect in 90 days, dogs cannot be imported for resale unless they are at least six months of age, in good health, and have all necessary vaccinations.

This is a long-awaited victory for us at The HSUS and for our affiliated political arm, the Humane Society Legislative Fund. The decisive moment in this battle came six years ago when we succeeded in persuading Congress to add a provision to stop puppies bred in foreign puppy mills from being imported into the United States, as an amendment to the 2008 Farm Bill. Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee, championed the language in the bill. The USDA did not issue a proposed rule until September 2011, and then it took three more years for today’s announcement.

Despite our frustration with the delays, we acknowledge the USDA’s action today and celebrate it. We salute our supporters who kept pressing the case: more than 53,000 of you wrote to the USDA to encourage them to finalize the rule as quickly as possible. We are also grateful to other lawmakers who urged the USDA, time and again, to adopt the rule, including Senators Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and David Vitter, R-La., and Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Jim Gerlach, R-Penn. and Dina Titus, D-Nev.

This is the second major announcement within the last year from the USDA to protect puppies. Last September, the department adopted a long-awaited rule that requires breeders who sell puppies and kittens sight-unseen, mainly over the Internet, to be federally licensed and inspected. That rule went into effect last November, and it is expected to potentially double the number of puppy mills nationwide that are regulated. Now, with this latest decision from the USDA, we know that sick puppies from foreign puppy mills will not be coming into the United States to take their place.

Dogs and their puppies are not breeding machines, nor cash crops.  Our laws should reflect that sensibility, and with today’s announcement, we’ve taken a major step as a nation to protect dogs from cruelty at home and abroad.