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August 06, 2014

Amendment 1 Decided by Less Than 1 Percent

* This version includes a correction to the last paragraph.

We and our allies nearly defeated Amendment 1 yesterday in Missouri, with the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Pork Association, and others in Big Agriculture apparently getting the barest majority on their “right to farm” measure.  There were 498,751 “yes” votes, or 50.1 percent, and there were 496,223 “no” votes, or 49.9 percent.

Republican state House and Senate lawmakers put the measure on the ballot, and they tried to doll it up to make it sound appealing to voters. Indeed, their early polling showed it had 70 percent support, largely because it had a feel-good ring to it. 

Proponents also poured in more than a million dollars to push it, outspending our side by more than two to one. Politicians aligned with Big Agriculture ran around the state on their behalf, touting the merits of the measure, including Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster (who has also brought a lawsuit to try to overturn California’s ban on the sale of eggs that come from battery cages).  Some Missouri politicians even donated to the Yes on 1 campaign from their own campaign accounts.  They needn’t fret though -- I’m quite sure their campaign coffers will be replenished by Big Agriculture soon.

Gestation crate
Family farmer groups opposed to Amendment 1 have asked the USDA to investigate the potentially illegal use of check-off funds by the Missouri Pork Association.

It appears there were other questionable fundraising and spending activities by the "Yes on 1" campaign, and the biggest one was the possible illegal use of federal pork check-off dollars to promote Amendment 1. The Missouri Farmers Union and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center – two family farmer groups opposed to Amendment 1 – have formally requested that the USDA investigate the potentially illegal use of check-off funds by the Missouri Pork Association. The association and its affiliated political action committee gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the “Yes on 1” campaign, despite an IRS filing showing virtually no membership contributions from rank-and-file pig farmers. That IRS filing did reveal that the association received more than half a million dollars from the pork check-off program. The catch is that money cannot be used for any political or lobbying activity – that’s strictly forbidden. The Missouri Pork Association has some explaining to do.

Despite corporate agriculture’s advantages in money and ballot language and its having so many politicians doing its bidding, our coalition of humane advocates and family farmers just about won, even after the proponents started with a 40-point lead. The other side is losing hearts and minds, and there’s no way it can consider this a victory, except in the strictest legal sense.

I believe that animal protectionists have a working electoral majority in Missouri. We won both prior animal welfare ballot initiatives in the state – banning cockfighting in 1998 and cracking down on puppy mills in 2010.  In the case of Amendment 1, it was a primary vote in an off-year election, and turnout was less than 25 percent. If the measure had been on the ballot in a general election, rather than in a primary, we would have prevailed. There’s still much apathy among the American electorate, and that’s in evidence most in our primary elections where more than three of four registered voters stay home.

It was heartening, however, to see so many Missouri voters who did turn out see through the deceptive, vague language, and to understand that this was a play by Big Agriculture to amend the state constitution in order to insulate itself from any future animal welfare, environmental and other standards. The “yes” crowd wants a free pass for its factory farms, puppy mills and captive hunting pens. Majorities of voters in 14 Missouri counties – including some rural counties -- saw through this charade and said “no” to the corporate interests that harm animals, consumers, and family farms.

For many of Amendment 1’s proponents, it was all about stopping The HSUS from driving reform in the future. But in the process, we built a vibrant grassroots campaign, and we’ve formed a strong coalition in Missouri.  We are stronger than ever in Missouri, and the demographic trends are with us.  Our work there is not done, and we are emboldened by the awareness we’ve created and the support we’ve built.

August 05, 2014

Update on Missouri's Amendment 1


12.10 a.m.: 
With all precincts reporting, it is 50.1 percent for and 49.9 percent against Amendment 1, with a 2,528-vote margin. I will provide more details tomorrow.

11.45 p.m.: Amendment 1 is ahead by the narrowest of margins – about 10,000 votes out of one million cast. There are still thousands of votes to be tallied, and the race is too close to call. The “no” side appears to have won in 14 counties – Boone, Callaway, Christian, Clay, Greene, Jackson, Jefferson, Kansas City, Platte, Scotland, St. Charles, St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and Stone – where voters rejected the deceptive “right to farm” power grab. There are provisional ballots, and given that the margin is within 1 percent, there may be a recount. I will provide an update tomorrow, but The HSUS and Missouri’s Food for America are not conceding the race tonight.

10.55 p.m: The margin on Amendment 1 is razor thin. It’s now about 50.5 percent in favor of Amendment 1, and 49.5 percent opposed.  Just a small percentage of votes still trickling in. It’s going to be tough to make up that ground, but not impossible.

9.45 p.m.: It’s looking tough on Amendment 1. We are still 75,000 votes behind, but with very few votes reported in St. Louis or Kansas City.  It will be difficult, in this low-turnout election, to make up that kind of ground.  My guess is, a lot of voters got hookwinked by language that sounded good, and they didn’t probe further.

9.15 p.m: Results are coming in from the Missouri elections, and at the moment, the race is competitive on Amendment 1, the so-called “right to farm” amendment.  We are performing better in rural counties than we did when voters approved Prop B, the November 2010 ballot measure to crack down on puppy mills. We are also up very significantly in Boone and Greene Counties, but not winning by nearly enough in the urban counties.  The results though are still coming in.  At this time, we are down by more than 50,000 votes.

Stay tuned for another update in about 30 minutes.

No Ivory Auctions at Christie's

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation today to forbid his state from participating in the international trade in elephant ivory and rhino horns. This is the first law in the country to prohibit any imports or intrastate sale of such items, and it comes with the knowledge that the United States is the second largest ivory-trading nation in the world, after China. Together, these two consumer markets are driving the killing of tens of thousands of elephants, principally in Africa, by marauding, terrorist-funded poaching operations.

Elephants
The New Jersey law is the first in the country to ban the import and intrastate sale of ivory. Photo: iStockphoto 

We are anxiously awaiting a signature from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on nearly identical legislation. We hope his signature comes in the days ahead, and once it does we will have locked down two major ivory trading posts in the United States.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a proposed rule to close loopholes in federal law on the import of ivory, but it’s facing heat from the trophy hunting and gun lobbies, and from the music and antique industries, which still want to sell items with ivory on them. Amazing to think we’d jeopardize the fate of the largest land mammal in the world just so that someone gets an opportunity to resell a gun or a guitar with a little ivory on it. Where is the sense of broader responsibility and other-centeredness in people?

In other news, polls close at 7 p.m. central time in Missouri, and The HSUS is pushing hard to defeat Amendment 1, a so-called “right to farm” measure that was written to prevent future reforms of factory farms, puppy mills or captive hunting facilities. One rural paper called the measure a “farce,” and 16 of 17 major daily papers in Missouri have urged its defeat – including papers throughout the state’s countryside. So, too, have the Missouri Farmers Union, the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the Humane Society of Missouri, along with a big, broad cross-section of people concerned about corporate farms driving small farmers out of business and disregarding the needs of animals, the water and the land.

I’ll blog about the results in real time tonight after 8 p.m. Central Time, and post updates. Early reports from polling stations in Columbia and Joplin show voters trending “no” on Amendment 1, but these are unscientific samples.

August 04, 2014

MyBirthday, MyHumane

Lily says Happy Birthday!
My dog Lily gets the celebration started.
Photo: Crystal Moreland

Like most people, as I get older, there’s consistently decreasing excitement about my birthday. 

Of course, I cannot turn back the clock, so instead, I am focusing this birthday on spreading the word about The HSUS’ myHumane program.

As others have recently done, I have set up a fundraiser page where friends and family – and HSUS supporters –can donate to The HSUS’ many lifesaving programs, instead of their customary giving of birthday gifts. All of the money raised will go to help advance the wide range of critical animal protection work at the organization. Animals should get more birthdays.

From horses subjected to barbaric soring, to dogs forced to endure lifelong confinement in puppy mills, or the animals on factory farms who know only privation, there is no animal issue that we do not confront and tackle at The HSUS. Funds raised by the MyHumane Birthday pledge campaign will go toward fighting all of these cruelties, and others such as battling dogfighting, poaching, and seal killing.

Happy-birthday-wayne
A birthday greeting from HSUS staff and animals. Photo: Jennifer Fearing

Already, since the myHumane Birthday Pledge was announced in June, more than 4,300 supporters have pledged their big day and made it count for The HSUS. We are hoping thousands more will join, as part of making a lifelong commitment to supporting and protecting animals. On the myHumane page, you can ask for donations in honor of other life events, including weddings and memorials. You can also fundraise for animals during athletic events, as a classroom or as a community group.

All you need to do today is visit myHumane to pledge your birthday. When your big day rolls around, we’ll send you a reminder email to set up a fundraising page on myHumane. Then, instead of gifts, ask your friends to donate to your page. That’s it!

Birthdays are milestones in our lives. But they can get a little boring, and we can add value to them as they add up by doing good and sharing them with animals who need our help so desperately.

P.S. I received a special gift today, in the form of recognition from the Non-Profit Times, a major journal for the charitable sector. I was named one of the 50 most powerful and influential people in the non-profit world. Given that there are well over a million charities in the United States, and an extraordinary number of people who do non-profit work, I am honored to receive this recognition.

July 31, 2014

Red Nor Blue: United We Stand for Dogs and Cats

Are we a cat nation or a dog nation? It’s, of course, more of a mixed situation, with a good number of households, like mine, having representatives from both camps. But as The Washington Post reports, there are some geographic variances at work in our nation. According to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats outnumber dogs in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and on the West Coast, while dogs outnumber cats across the South. Massachusetts and Maryland are the most cat-friendly states, with almost two cats for every dog, while Arkansas and New Mexico vie for the title of most dog-friendly state.

Lily and zoe
New data show cats are more popular in the blue states while dogs are more popular in red states. With my cat Zoe and my dog Lily, I am trying to stay bipartisan.

These numbers also line up quite neatly with voting performance, especially on the red-blue state divide. Cats are typically more popular in blue states, while dogs are more popular in red states. That led the Post to coin the terms, “demo-cats” and “re-pup-licans” (with my cat Zoe and my dog Lily, I’m trying to stay bipartisan).

Overall, though, we’re a nation that loves cats and dogs pretty equally. Just under a third of U.S. households live with cats, while just over a third live with dogs. But there are more cats overall because each cat household typically has more cats. All up, Americans now live with an estimated 74 million cats and 70 million dogs (not to mention 3.7 million birds, 1.8 million horses and millions of other creatures great and small).

That so many Americans have welcomed animals into our homes is cause for celebration. We now share our homes with four times more companion animals than we did in the 1960s (the human population has only doubled since then). And we share a deeper bond with them than ever before: 90 percent of us consider our cats and dogs family members, while 80 percent of us would risk our lives for them.

But cats and dogs still face far too much cruelty, neglect and abandonment in this country. Puppy mills aggravate this problem, by breeding hundreds of thousands of puppies and bollixing up the adoption pipeline, while often relegating the mothers to lives of deprivation and suffering.

Consider these statistics:

• Every year, as many as eight million cats and dogs end up in animal shelters where, tragically, roughly 2.7 million healthy and treatable animals are euthanized.
• Cats make up about 70 percent of animals euthanized in shelters, with many relinquished for solvable behavior problems.
• Dogfighters chew up tens of thousands of animals in pursuing their vicious and barbaric form of “entertainment” and gambling.

Here at The Humane Society of the United States, we’re committed to confronting the biggest threats to cats and dogs. Our puppy mill campaign works to shut down abusive breeding operations across the country. Late last year we scored a major victory, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture promised to start regulating the online sale of puppies (our litigators are now defending this rule in federal court). We are anxiously awaiting a final rule from the USDA banning imports of puppy mill dogs from foreign nations.

Zoe
Zoe after a vigorous game of chasing her favorite toy bug. At The HSUS, we won't rest until every adoptable cat and dog in America finds a home as loving as those millions of cats and dogs already enjoy.

We’re also working tirelessly to reach our goal that no adoptable cat or dog is ever euthanized. In partnership with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council, we run the Shelter Pet Project to make adoption the first choice for every cat and dog lover. Already the Project has generated more than $170 million of donated ad time to spread this compassionate message.

We’re scaling up our work to keep dogs and cats in homes, fighting against relinquishment and abandonment and deficient care for pets. And we’re expanding our innovative Pets for Life Program into more underserved areas, to provide reduced cost spay and neuter, and outreach and services on compassionate pet ownership. We are now touching 27 communities quite directly with this program, and celebrating the human-animal bond in communities where people often don’t have the means or access to important services for animals. Our work to keep pets in their homes also includes tools for pet owners, shelters and rescues to resolve problem cat behaviors – the reason most often cited for cat relinquishments – and we are working to protect outdoor community cats and provide solutions to conflicts between cats and wildlife.

The trend is positive: euthanasia rates have fallen several times over since the 1970s, when an estimated 15 million cats and dogs were put down in shelters every year. But we won’t rest until every adoptable cat and dog in America finds a home as loving as those that millions of cats and dogs already enjoy, and we also won’t rest until we put the dogfighters and mills out of business. As a nation of cat and dog lovers, that’s the least we owe these animals.

July 30, 2014

Prejudice and Pit Bulls

Dogs have a great capacity to forgive and forget. It’s a characteristic on display in so many cases where dogs have been dealt a terrible blow or bad hand from callous people. Despite their experiences, animals who’ve known only hardship so often come to trust again in the presence of people who really care. That’s why I was so struck by an article in the latest issue of Esquire magazine where the writer, Tom Junod, writes about his own experience with his adopted pit bull-type dogs.

Dog
There is no credible evidence that shows pit bulls are overrepresented among classes or breeds of dogs who bite.
Photo: Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The pit bull “has become less a type of dog than a strain of dog that still makes many Americans deeply uncomfortable,” Junod writes. “We might accept pit bulls personally, but America still doesn't accept them institutionally, where it counts; indeed, apartment complexes and insurance companies are arrayed in force against them.”

Here at The HSUS we believe that dogs called “pit bulls” are just dogs, and we fight against misperceptions and prejudices. One of our most recent legislative fights, in Maryland, corrected a legal problem that declared all pit bulls as dangerous, despite their individual personalities or their record of gentle behavior in the home. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill removing the declaration of “inherently dangerous” from any­­ breeds or types of dog. He, and state lawmakers, corrected a policy grounded on unfamiliarity and, one might also say, ignorance.

While any pit bull type dog can do damage when they bite, because many of them are strong and agile, there is no credible evidence that shows pit bulls are overrepresented among classes or breeds of dogs who bite. Professional animal expert organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, concur that bad behavior among dogs relates more to improper socializing of the animals, and not to the inherent characteristics of the breeds or types. In 2014, reflecting the increasing acceptance of that principle, three more states added themselves to the list of those which prohibit breed-specific restrictions in their borders – now 17 in total. Pit bull-type dogs are among the most popular pets in America, and they are perhaps the most persecuted of dogs, too.  Many sheltering and adoption organizations are doing tremendous work in their communities finding new homes for dogs by keeping their focus on making great matches between dogs and people that will last a lifetime, and that includes pit bull-type dogs.

I am heartened by the stories like one that came out of Alabama this week, as the latest chapter in our anti-dogfighting work and our attempt to rehabilitate and adopt dogs wrongly conscripted into the world of dogfighting. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that most of the dogs rescued from a dogfighting operation, which The HSUS assisted Alabama law enforcement officials with in November last year, had found new homes. It took a lot of effort on the part of our animal care team, and both expertise and faith among local animal welfare groups and potential adopters. These dogs teach us a lesson about both forgiveness and resiliency and the power of good influences in their lives.

The HSUS is committed to advancing companion animal welfare by providing access and information to communities, keeping pets in their homes and leading a paradigm shift in animal welfare philosophy. Pit bulls are special not because of their breed, but because they are dogs. And like any other dog, they deserve to be kept safe with loving families.

July 29, 2014

Right to Know, Wrong to Sow

This morning, I awoke to unseasonably cool weather in Washington, D.C. As the day progressed, we got a different kind of cool – the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a blow to the National Pork Producers Council’s efforts to keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from and affirmed Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rules adopted by Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gestation crate
Consumers have a right to know where their meat is coming from so they can choose to avoid meat from inhumanely raised animals. Photo: The HSUS

The USDA issued the rule last year, which simply requires meat product labels to show the country in which the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. That proved too much transparency for the NPPC, which joined with other meat industry lobbyists to sue the USDA over the rule, claiming corporate meat processors have a constitutional right to withhold such information from consumers.

We countered by partnering with the Organization for Competitive Markets, United Farm Workers of America, American Grassfed Association and three independent family-owned farms to defend the labeling rule. In our amicus brief to the D.C. Circuit Court, we argued that consumers have a right to know where their meat is coming from, so that they can choose to avoid meat from inhumanely raised animals. Kevin Fulton, an independent rancher and member of our Nebraska Agriculture Council, explained that “country-of-origin labeling allows consumers to make an educated choice, which ultimately helps the American family farmer.”

Today the D.C. Circuit Court agreed, finding that consumers have a legitimate interest in knowing where their food comes from. The court rejected the meat industry’s turn-logic-on-its-head argument that it had a First Amendment right to not inform consumers about the origins of their meat. This ruling is a major setback, and expense, for the NPPC and others in industrial meat production.

The attack on the labeling rule is just the latest attempt by the NPPC to shield the public from a close look at its business model, as well as its efforts to thwart progress on animal welfare. For years, the NPPC has been backing “ag-gag” laws that criminalize investigations into the cruel and unsanitary conditions at factory farms. And the NPPC fought to scuttle our agreement with the United Egg Producers, which would have provided customers with information on the carton about how the eggs were produced (e.g., “eggs from caged hens”).

I’ve written about the NPPC’s stubborn defense of gestation crates, which even the pork industry’s own animal welfare consultant, Dr. Temple Grandin, says “have got to go.” And last week I blogged about how the NPPC is trying to force pork from pigs treated with a potentially dangerous drug, ractopamine, onto European consumers.

If the NPPC is proud of its product, and its methods of production, neither country-of-origin labeling nor more transparency on the farm should cause them the least of concern. But when you see the inside of these industrial confinement facilities, and understand the drugging practices on industrial farms, you can well understand why they want to conceal the reality from their customers. The HSUS will continue to work for more transparency, more humane treatment, more awareness and more conscious shopping by consumers.

July 28, 2014

Show Me the Money: Corporate Ag Bankrolling Missouri’s Amendment 1

The people who tried a full-on repeal of Prop B – the 2010 voter-approved ballot measure to crack down on cruelty to dogs in a state that had become notoriously known as the puppy mill capital of the United States– are now trying to pull a fast one on Missouri voters in a statewide vote next Tuesday, August 5th. The state has long had a statutory “right to farm” provision. Now, through Amendment 1, they want a “right to farm” provision in the state constitution, far more sweeping in effect, that reads in part that “farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in the state.” 

What would Amendment 1 mean in practical terms? Assuming the worst-case scenario:

  • The state could not restrict foreign ownership of factory farms, or impose standards for animal care on these megafactories. That should concern every family farmer.
  • The state could not restrict captive shooting of deer on hundreds of cervid ranches in the state. That should concern every sportsman, since deer farming ranches are at odds with the North American Wildlife Management Model and it is documented that these deer farms have been major incubators for Chronic Wasting Disease, a progressive, fatal disease that threatens wild deer populations.
  • Missouri's standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial dog breeding operations might be fully repealed, creating a free-for-all for puppy mills in the state.
Puppy mill dog
If Amendment 1 passes, standards for the care of dogs in Missouri puppy mills might be fully repealed. Photo: Shannon Johnstone

Amendment 1 is a radical, overreaching, dangerous ballot measure brought forward by organizations, led by the Missouri Farm Bureau, that opposed voter-approved ballot measures to outlaw cockfighting and to crack down on puppy mills.

Just about every major paper in the state has urged voters to oppose Amendment 1.  Here’s what they have to say:

“….[c]reating a constitutional protection for all agricultural enterprises could create a haven for corporate farms that pollute our environment and put undue pressure on family farms.” Springfield News Leader: July 26, 2014.

Amendment I is “a measure designed to protect corporate agriculture rather than the traditional family farm.” Joplin Globe: July 13, 2014.  

“Changing the state constitution to give extra protection to an industry that has had its way in Missouri since the founding of the state shuts consumers out completely.” St Louis Post-Dispatch: June 16, 2014.

“Amendment 1 is a concerted effort to shield factory farms and concentrated agricultural feeding operations from regulations to protect livestock, consumers and the environment.” Kansas City Star: June 23, 2014.

“The amendment is likely to create some new litigation without good purpose….Amendment 1 is clutter. Vote ‘no.’” Columbia Daily Tribune: July 15, 2014. 

“Amendment 1 protects the farming practices of corporate farmers absolutely…..The right to build factory farms--including those with thousands of hogs confined next to family farms? Spraying poison over our homes and farms that can also drift over towns?” West Plains Daily Quill: July 22, 2014.

“This bill is NOT good for farmers. It will greatly increase further consolidation of agriculture, increase proliferation of genetically modified patented life forms, and destroy local control of the spread of the consolidating (ie. Family Farm Destroying) CAFO’s.” Ozarks Sentinel.

Amendment 1 could “give big corporate agriculture an even bigger advantage over family farms.” Christian County Headliner News:July 22, 2014.

“If you see the ghost of Proposition B in [Amendment 1], your eyesight is excellent. Proposition B, our readers will recall, is the animal welfare law approved by voters in 2010 but then changed dramatically by lawmakers.” Jefferson City News Tribune: June 8, 2014.

The measure has been funded almost exclusively by corporate and commodity agriculture groups who want no standards in agriculture, including on puppy mills. It’s so overreaching that a remarkable array of groups are opposed to it – including family farming groups such as the Missouri Farmers Union and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center; humane organizations such as the Humane Society of Missouri, Great Plains SPCA, and the ASPCA; conservative organizations such as the Missouri Libertarian Party and the Locke and Smith Foundation; good government and religious groups such as the League of Women Voters of Missouri and Missouri Faith Voices; and environmental groups such as the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club.

Missouri voters should cast their ballot against Amendment 1 on August 5th. And please spread the word to Missourians you know.

Paid for by The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, CEO, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037. 

July 24, 2014

Updates on Urgent Battles for Animals

Today, some updates on important issues in our orbit.

Ag-gag legislation

California downer cow abuse
Our investigations like this one at a California slaughter plant have unearthed shocking animal abuse. Photo: The HSUS

Last night, former HSUS undercover investigator Cody Carlson and I appeared on PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton to talk about the concerted effort by agribusiness interests to stifle animal welfare investigations of factory farms and slaughter plants. This was an in-depth treatment of the issue, with undercover investigative footage broadcast on MSNBC. It was especially nice to see Rev. Sharpton, who has his own considerable political following, associate himself with animal protection, and he vowed to keep on top of the subject.

While the industry’s lobbyists were able to ram an ag-gag bill through in Idaho (after the state’s powerful industry was angered by Mercy for Animals’ shocking exposé of animal cruelty), they failed in every other state, including Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Vermont.

Missouri right to farm amendment

Missouri already has a longer-standing ag-gag law, and now interests there are trying to prevent any further state regulation of any agricultural operations, whether it is factory farms, puppy mills, or captive deer hunting facilities, by enacting a constitutional amendment that provides a “right to farm.”  The proponents of this ballot measure, led by the Missouri Farm Bureau, are spending hundreds of thousands as an investment in deregulating these industries for good. But the state’s opinion leaders are having none of it. All of the state’s major newspapers – including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Kansas City Star, Joplin Globe, Jefferson City News Tribune, along with many small town papers – have urged voters to oppose Amendment 1. Family farmers, including the Missouri Farmers Union, have joined The HSUS in saying that Missouri should not protect foreign or state corporations from hurting animals, degrading the land or fouling water. We can win this fight, and we must. To get involved go to www.VoteNoOn1.org.

USFWS suspension of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe

Elephant
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspension on the import of sport-hunted trophies from Zimbabwe should be broadened to include all African countries that permit elephant hunting. Photo: Alamy

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the suspension of the import of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Zimbabwe. Given the crisis situation African elephants are facing, with tens of thousands of elephants slaughtered each year for their ivory, this is good news. Hunting these majestic animals in a head-hunting exercise does not enhance their survival and the suspension should be broadened to include all African countries that permit elephant hunting.

Massachusetts bans shark fin trade

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts signed legislation banning the possession and sale of shark fins in the state. The HSUS worked to pass the bill, along with our allies at the New England Aquarium, MSPCA-Angell and Fin Free Massachusetts. This is the latest victory in our campaign to end the cruel practice of shark finning, in which sharks’ fins are cut off and the fish are then thrown back into the ocean, leaving them to drown. Annually, as many as 73 million sharks are slaughtered worldwide. Massachusetts is the ninth state to ban the sale and possession of shark fins.

Michigan wolves petition

Wolf
There is yet another attempt by the trophy-hunting lobby in Michigan to nullify ballot measures that would  protect wolves from needless killing. Photo: Alamy

Michigan’s state Board of Canvassers certified a pro-wolf hunting petition for the November ballot. This petition represents yet another attempt by the trophy-hunting lobby to nullify ballot measures to protect wolves from needless killing. We have an amazing coalition of humane groups, Native American tribes, environmentalists and scientists intent on protecting the state’s small population of wolves, who were just removed from the list of federally endangered species. We want to let Michigan citizens vote on these issues in November, and we are urging the politicians in Lansing to stop undermining fair elections. Pledge to protect Michigan wolves here.

Comment period on constricting snakes ends today

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) comment period seeking additional information for the listing of five species of large constrictor snakes—boa constrictor, reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda—as injurious species closes today. So there is still time for you to write the agency to urge them to end the inhumane trade of these beautiful, wild creatures. It has been more than four years since USFWS proposed listing nine species identified as “medium” or “high risk” for colonizing the southern tier of the United States. In 2012, USFWS got only half the job done, listing only four species. Almost all of Florida’s major newspapers – from the Sun Sentinel to the Orlando Sentinel to the Tallahassee Democrat – have urged the Fish and Wildlife Service to take action, since that state has become ground zero on the issue.

July 23, 2014

Time to Make a Racket About Ractopamine in U.S. Pigs

If you have any doubt about the contempt that some leaders within the pork industry have for their own customers – to say nothing of the pigs locked in gestation crates – the dispute over a dangerous animal drug named ractopamine should dispel it. On Monday, McClatchy reported that the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is maneuvering to derail free trade talks with the European Union unless the EU agrees to accept imports of pork from pigs fed ractopamine. Ractopamine is a beta-agonist (a drug used to treat asthma in humans) that producers feed pigs, cattle and turkeys to induce rapid weight gain. It is banned or restricted in around 160 nations—including in the EU and even in Russia and China. But that hasn’t stopped the American pork industry, which now treats an estimated 60 to 80 percent of its pigs with ractopamine, from routinely using the drug. And, despite substantial evidence that ractopamine causes pigs to suffer, the American pork industry is now trying to push its product into more foreign markets, too – under their doctrine that its profits should trump any concerns from regulators, scientists or consumers about food safety or animal welfare.

Pigs
Research shows that ractopamine causes pigs to become stressed and aggressive, and makes them more likely to collapse. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

There are serious questions about food safety and ractopamine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ractopamine for use on pigs after just one human health study—a study of six young, healthy men, one of whom dropped out because his heart began racing and pounding abnormally. Three years later, the FDA sent ractopamine’s sponsor a 14-page letter, accusing the company of withholding information about the drug’s “adverse animal drug experiences” and “safety and effectiveness.” The European Food Safety Authority subsequently investigated the drug and concluded that there was not enough data to show that ractopamine is safe for human consumption at any level. That’s concerning, especially given that a recent Consumer Reports test of pork products at U.S. supermarkets found samples testing positive for ractopamine residues.

We do know, though, that ractopamine is bad for the pigs forced to consume it. The FDA has linked ractopamine to nearly a quarter million reported adverse events in pigs (more than half of those pigs were sickened or killed)—more than any other animal drug. The most common adverse events linked to ractopamine were trembling, lameness, inability to stand, reluctance to move, stiffness, hyperactivity, hoof disorder, dyspnea, collapse and death. Our report on pig welfare cites research showing that ractopamine causes pigs to become stressed and aggressive, and makes them more likely to collapse and become “downers,” no longer able walk. Not only do these downer pigs suffer terribly when they collapse, they also become more vulnerable to abuse. We’ve conducted our own investigations of hog factories, and documented gross mistreatment of downer pigs. The pig industry vehemently fights all of our efforts to require the euthanasia of downer pigs, and to prevent additional handling and slaughter of these infirm animals (processing downed cattle is forbidden under federal law, but not pigs).

More broadly, the dispute over ractopamine shows the arrogance of the leadership of the pork industry, which insists on using a dangerous drug and then complains when other nations and American consumers don’t want their pork. They have some sort of expectation that they are the parents and they will tell the children to eat whatever is on their plate. It reminds me of their stubborn refusal to stop using gestation crates—coffin-sized crates that confine pregnant sows so tightly that they can’t even turn around – and their disregard of public attitude surveys that show that consumers in every state oppose their continued use. NPPC criticized McDonald’s and a cascade of other major food retailers that have made public pledges to phase out their purchase of pork from operations that confine the sows so severely. These retailers are telling the pork industry that if the industry won’t pay attention to the wishes of consumers, then retailers will. The mentality of the industry is best summed up by an NPPC spokesman who told a reporter in 2012 the following: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets. I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around…” The NPPC, and some others within the industry, seem to think that their customers exist to serve them, rather than they to serve customers.

These obstructionists are facing a major challenge from within their industry, with major producers splitting from NPPC on gestation crates and ractopamine. Smithfield Foods, for example, has committed to phasing out all of its gestation crates and to reducing its use of ractopamine. And just last month, we were pleased to announce that Cargill is following suit in eliminating gestation crates. Now it’s time for the pork industry’s laggards to step up—and for the obstructionists at the NPPC to get out of the way. Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture or U.S. trade negotiators, nor their counterparts in the E.U., should buckle to the unreasonable demands and the unsafe and inhumane policies of the leadership of the U.S. pork industry.