April 07, 2014

See World From Orca’s Eyes

It’s been just a little over four years since the captive orca whale Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando. But largely due to a powerful documentary, “Blackfish,” so many Americans now see the issue of cetaceans in captivity from a different perspective, and there are serious questions about whether a business model built around captive display of orcas is either economically sustainable or morally acceptable.

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Orcas are noted for their striking appearance, their intelligence, and their very strong social bonds

The HSUS has long opposed the display of captive whales and other marine mammals for entertainment, and in the early 1990s we created a program to make our case to the public. Orcas, in particular, are noted for their striking appearance, their intelligence, and their very strong social bonds, which rival those of elephants and higher primates.

Yet we could not have imagined the sequence of events that has unfolded since Brancheau’s tragic death in February 2010. In May 2012, a federal judge affirmed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determination that SeaWorld had exposed its trainers to a hazardous environment, violating federal law, and affirmed OSHA’s recommendation that trainers never again be allowed in close contact with the animals unless protected by a physical barrier.

In 2012, St. Martin’s Press published the riveting book “Death at Sea World” by David Kirby, who spoke around the nation about the hazards for trainers and orcas at SeaWorld. “Blackfish” added the visual details to the narrative, and when it aired on CNN a number of times during 2013, it drew huge audiences, especially among young people. When I spoke just a month ago at the University of Oklahoma’s business school, it seemed as if all the students had seen the film.  The film had become a cultural phenomenon, and we recognized its director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, at our Los Angeles 60th anniversary gala a little more than a week ago.

We believe the book and the film provided an important backdrop as The HSUS and other groups pushed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2013 to reject a bid by the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia.  And they also set the stage for the introduction of legislation to end the captive display and performance of orca whales in California. 

In fact, on Tuesday, California state lawmakers serving on the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee in Sacramento will conduct a hearing on AB 2140, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, introduced by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, to phase out orcas in captivity in California.  Assemblyman Bloom’s legislation, if approved, would end the captivity of orcas for the purpose of entertainment in California. The HSUS supports AB 2140, and California residents can use our online alert to contact their Assembly members.

Scientific opinion over the last two decades or so has coalesced behind the case against keeping orcas and other marine mammals in captivity. We are too aware now of their intelligence, social needs, longevity, ranging habits and size, and it’s just harder and harder to accept their turning tricks for audiences day after day.

A few days ago, there were news accounts that attendance at SeaWorld facilities is down 13 percent. The company’s owner since 2009, The Blackstone Group, is filing to sell another 15 million of its shares in SeaWorld (SEAS), after selling off 18 million in December 2013.  That would make Blackstone a minority shareholder, which must make its ownership feel better given the run of events.  In the meantime SeaWorld is acquiring some of those shares, in effect trying to buy itself.  At this point, that may be the only option, since I cannot imagine many companies investing in an enterprise built around the controversial practice of captive display of orcas.  I don’t expect the public will want much to do with such an industry in the years ahead, and the sooner SeaWorld embraces a new model for doing business, the better.

April 04, 2014

Protecting All Animals Around the World

We live in the era of globalization, with international transport, communications and finance expanding the way we think about business, government, society and culture. All of this requires us to expand the way we think about animal protection. That’s my message today in my video blog about the vital role of Humane Society International, which is working across the globe to protect all animals, including animals in laboratories, farm animals, companion animals and wildlife.

April 03, 2014

Happy Birthday to our Leading Lady, Doris Day

Has there ever been a stronger individual champion of companion animals, or of the need for spaying and neutering pets, or of advocating compassion for all animals, than the remarkable Doris Day?  I can’t think of one, and today, as Doris celebrates her 90th birthday, I want to celebrate her magnificent generosity, spirit and resolve. 

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At 90, Doris Day continues to be a relentless advocate for all animals

Doris is a national treasure, and it was a proud moment in the history of The HSUS when we forged an incredible new partnership with her and her organization.  Since 2006, when the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) affiliated with The HSUS, Doris has continued to advocate for animals, strongly supported direct care work by The HSUS and other organizations, and pursued an active agenda to make animal welfare a national priority.  She’s been a giant in our field and added immensely to our cause.

Doris and her son Terry Melcher founded DDAL in 1987, but she had been standing up for animals for many years already.  She’s been rescuing dogs since her childhood in Ohio, and she’s still doing it. She’s been providing funds, for decades, to local societies doing vital work for animals, and she’s still doing it.  She’s been speaking out in a public way about cruelty to animals throughout her life, and she’s still doing it.  She’s going strong, and she’s made animal protection in the United States all the more strong by the consistency, tenacity and sincerity of her efforts.  Much of that work continues through DDAL and through the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

There are only a few entertainers who have established themselves as star performers in four separate mediums -- in her case, big band, radio, film and television -- and countless authorities in all of those fields have sung her praises.  But from our vantage point, former president George W. Bush truly said it best in 2004 when he recognized Doris with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors.  “It was a good day for our fellow creatures,” President Bush noted, “when she gave her good heart to the cause of animal welfare.”

In constituting DDAL as a 501(c)(4) organization, Doris and Terry anticipated the contemporary phase of our movement, one in which animal welfare concentrates considerable attention on lawmaking and other public policy goals. DDAL inspired the formation of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which like DDAL applies its energies to a political agenda that prioritizes many of Doris’s greatest concerns. 

When it comes to The HSUS, Doris’s influence is also substantial.  At the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, the recently built Doris Day Equine Center trains volunteers in horsemanship and rehabilitation. On the last Tuesday of each February, World Spay Day, which DDAL initiated as Spay Day USA, we shine the spotlight on companion animal overpopulation and coordinate hundreds of events and clinics worldwide.  And in our work at every level, we place a special priority on the companion animal issues so dear to her heart.

One of my favorite stories about Doris is how, as a young actress, she had the courage to stand up to the formidable Alfred Hitchcock on the set of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” saying she wouldn’t work unless the emaciated animals on the set received proper care. To this day, she continues to be relentless in her quest to help all animals.  Only a couple of years ago, she released another album, “My Heart,” and whenever I talk with her, she’s full of energy and ideas about our common interests within animal protection.  I can’t wait to learn what she has in store for us over the next decade.  But for now, I just want to say congratulations, best wishes, and many happy returns to the animals’ sweetheart, Doris Day.

April 02, 2014

A Détente in Whale Wars?

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A Minke whale photo by iStock

We’ve made more progress in our anti-whaling campaign in the last two days than in the prior two decades. Just 48 hours after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) called for a halt to Japan’s whaling program – declaring it in violation of an International Whaling Commission moratorium – Japan has announced that it will not send a whaling fleet to the Southern Ocean this hunting season. For the Humane Society International (HSI), which incubated the idea of the ICJ challenge 15 years ago, this is cause for glee.

Every year, for more than a century, Japan has been killing whales in the Southern Ocean.  Since 1986 when the IWC moratorium went into effect, Japan has killed 10,500 whales in this region alone, using a loophole that allows countries to kill whales for scientific purposes. The majority of countries around the world, including the majority of parties to the IWC, recognize Japan’s actions as commercial whaling very thinly disguised as a scientific enterprise.

More good news came in late last night when Rakuten, the world’s largest Internet seller of whale and dolphin meat products, agreed to stop all sales of products derived from whales by April 30th this year. Rakuten joins Amazon and Google in refusing to sell whale and dolphin products.  The only remaining major Internet seller of whale and dolphin products in Japan now is Yahoo.  That company should cease sales, too.

Much work remains in making the oceans a safe and healthy environment for whales and other marine creatures. Marine debris, toxic pollutants, ship strikes and climate change are just a few of those threats. But when it comes to whaling, there is a sea change afoot. After the ICJ action on Japan, Iceland and Norway - the two remaining commercial whaling nations - would do well to put their harpoon guns in storage. There is no honor in being the last nation to participate in the intentional slaughter of some of the largest mammals ever to grace the planet.

 

April 01, 2014

Mountain Lions, Horse Soring, and Politics in America

On Saturday night, at the first of our series of celebratory events commemorating The HSUS’ diamond (60th) anniversary, Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb and I gave the first-ever “Humane Governor” award to California’s Jerry Brown.

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Gov. Jerry Brown of California, who received The HSUS' "Humane Governor" award, has signed 24 animal welfare bills in the first three years of his current term.

Gov. Brown, who won his first of three non-consecutive gubernatorial terms 40 years ago, has signed 24 animal welfare bills during the first three years of his current term.  He’s helped cement California’s place as the top humane state, signing bills to ban the shark fin trade, halt the hounding of bears and bobcats, phase out the use of lead ammunition in hunting, and create pathways for non-lethal approaches to human conflicts with mountain lions. In his remarks to the audience, Gov. Brown spoke about the web of life and caring for all of nature, making it clear that this was a big part of his motivation in signing the bills. 

We don’t take good, caring politicians for granted.  We know that some politicians don’t share a compassionate approach to animal welfare policy, more readily acting as demagogues than as defenders of humane values.  The poster boy for that is Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman. Last week, he vetoed a bill – which passed 28 to 13 in his state’s legislature – to halt the trophy hunting of Nebraska’s small population of mountain lions.  Sadly, Gov. Heineman’s second term has been filled with intemperate, ill-informed, and intentionally misleading comments about The HSUS, and he’s become a political front man for the most regressive interests within industrial agriculture in North America.  He’s an apologist for gestation crates, battery cages, and so many of the worst practices in factory farming.

Among U.S. Senators, we also see a range of rhetoric and voting behavior on animal welfare issues.  For me, one basic test for lawmakers on animal issues is whether he or she stands for or against criminal animal cruelty.  Indeed, in the 113th Congress, perhaps the two most discussed animal issues are directly concerned with making laws against animal cruelty crimes work more efficiently.  One involves cracking down on the attendees at staged dogfights and cockfights, and the other is about strengthening the Horse Protection Act of 1970, which makes it a crime to torment Tennessee Walking horses in a practice known as soring.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, co-sponsored the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act and helped get it attached as an amendment to the Farm Bill.  She’s also the Senate co-author of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 1406, which seeks to strengthen penalties for soring, eliminate a discredited and failed industry self-enforcement program, and ban the use of stacks and chains on the horses’ feet and legs – practices that have become tricks of the trade for unscrupulous horse-soring trainers. Her PAST Act and its House counterpart, H.R. 1518, have garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, with 51 Senators and 269 Representatives joining as cosponsors. 

Sen. Ayotte stands in contrast to Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee.  Sen. Alexander seems like a decent man, but he’s emerging as an apologist for animal cruelty.  When the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act came up in the Senate for a floor vote a couple of years ago, Sen. Alexander was one of just 11 “no” votes on the issue.  Fortunately, we were able to overcome his opposition, with nearly every Democrat and an overwhelming majority of the Republican caucus siding with the pro-animal position. This also enabled our allies to attach the anti-fighting provision to the Farm Bill that passed in February.  There’s a good bit of illegal cockfighting in rural Tennessee, and it’s obvious that Senator Alexander was playing to that crowd with his vote.

But now, Sen. Alexander has taken an adverse position on a second major humane issue by announcing his plans to introduce legislation on behalf of the horse soring criminals who infest the “Big Lick” segment of the industry.  His bill, as reported today in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, would maintain the industry’s discredited self-regulation scheme, would keep in place anemic penalties for illegal soring, and would keep it legal to use stacks and chains on the horses.  Sen. Alexander’s proposal is expected to largely mirror the pro-soring bill introduced by Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

How in this day and age can anyone defend animal fighting and intentionally injuring the feet and legs of horses to win prizes at horse shows?  Well, typically, they don’t, loudly proclaiming that they, too, oppose animal cruelty. 

By doing so, they mask their true intent by speaking of “states’ rights” or “keeping government out of our lives” or even making the Orwellian claim that their pro-cruelty bills are actually aimed against cruelty. 

But we read the bills, and we know the facts, and we’ve thoroughly investigated and documented these forms of cruelty.  These are criminal industries, and it’s shameful for any lawmaker to serve as an impediment to rooting out this type of gratuitous animal cruelty.

When it comes to animal cruelty, you stand for it or against it.  So many politicians – Republicans and Democrats – join with us in our desire to root it out and end it forever, but there are still too many of them who think they can pull a fast one with the voters and confuse their constituents with fast talk and the rhetoric of reform.  We’ll be working hard to tell the full story and to demand real reform, since so many lives hang in the balance. 

March 31, 2014

A Whale of a Ruling

It’s rare that animal abuse ends with one blow to the head. Typically, it takes a thousand strikes before the perpetrator – whether it’s an industry, a nation, or an individual – moves on. That’s been the case with all of the major breakthroughs in civil rights, women’s rights, and so many other important causes. Such is the case, too, with the movement to stop the commercial slaughter of the biggest animals, with the biggest brains, who have ever lived on the planet: the many species of whales that swim the world’s oceans.

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A Minke whale photo by iStock

Today, Japan sustained its biggest strike since the 1982 global moratorium on commercial whaling with a ruling by the International Court of Justice that its current Southern Ocean whaling activities are in breach of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling. 

Humane Society International (HSI) was the incubator of this idea, nearly a decade and a half in coming to fruition. But it found powerful and decisive expression in a 12 to 4 ruling of a court created under the authority of the United Nations. 

Specifically, in 1999, HSI hatched an idea to challenge Japan at the International Court of Justice for its so-called scientific whaling programs. Japan has been violating the ban on commercial whaling since it first went into effect in 1986 – by using a loophole in the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling that allows countries to kill whales for scientific purposes. The majority of countries around the world including the majority of parties to the IWC – the body that regulates whaling – believe Japan’s science to be nothing more than commercial whaling thinly disguised as a scientific enterprise. Yet the IWC is unable to stop Japan because it lacks the ability to enforce the Convention’s rules.

We needed a new angle, a new point of attack. As our HSI team in 1999 prepared for the 2000 IWC meeting in Adelaide, Australia – led by current vice president Kitty Block, they crafted a legal argument laying the foundation to take Japan to the ICJ for its ongoing whaling. 

One hurdle was to find a country to bring the legal action. For a variety of reasons, we felt Australia was the right nation; we asked, and the Australian government accepted this important, bold challenge. That nation and our affiliate HSI-Australia, which won a significant legal victory against Japanese whaling companies a few years back, deserve a lot of credit on this historic day.

In the years since HSI’s whale campaigners forged this approach, the ICJ case has been ripening, and today’s ruling marks the most important announcement in the trajectory of the anti-whaling movement since the IWC passed the commercial whaling moratorium 1982. It is the strongest third-party rebuke of Japan’s disguised commercial whaling program ever, and it has the force of international law behind it.

But, in the end, this is not a time to focus on which countries won and lost in this legal battle. It’s bigger, much bigger, than that. This is an inflection point in the decades-long battle over whaling, and an opportunity for Japan to join the rest of the worldwide community in valuing live whales over dead ones. There’s much more money to be earned, and more national brand building to be gained, by transitioning entirely to a responsible whale watching approach and leaving the commercial killing behind. Indeed, there is a growing whale watching industry in Japan, and this is the future.

The new, humane economy beckons. The nations of the world, the courts of the UN, and the lion’s share of global citizens want Japan, and other whaling nations, like Norway and Iceland, to join them in protecting whales and recognizing the beauty and majesty and sentience of these remarkable beings.

 

March 28, 2014

From Russia with Love

Two days ago, it was former puppy mill dogs, rabbits, and birds from Arkansas arriving in D.C. Yesterday, to considerable and much warranted media fanfare, it was 10 street dogs from Sochi, Russia, who with our help made a trip across two continents to start a new life in America.   

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Jimmy in one of the open air enclosures at PovoDog, the first dog shelter in Sochi.

These transports and rescues provide glimpses of our never-ceasing, far-flung, and direct efforts to help dogs and other animals in need.

Humane Society International staff members have been working hard with Sochi based Povodog to help these dogs since the Olympic flame was extinguished, making arrangements to get them to the U.S., after the heroic efforts of Olympian Gus Kenworthy and his friend Robin Macdonald to draw attention to their plight.

As I’ve said before, street dog problems are a familiar challenge to us. We have street dog management programs at work in a number of Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and the Philippines, as well as in a growing number of Latin American nations.  We’d like to expand that work to Russia, and we are taking a look at the feasibility of that idea now. 

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Jimmy taking a break after a long flight from Russia. He then headed to the Washington Animal Rescue League, the Emergency Placement Partner taking in the ten Sochi dogs.

No group provides more hands-on care to dogs and other animals than The HSUS and our affiliates, and our work with dogs has an extraordinary footprint.  Just this month, we rescued 17 dogs from an awful hoarding case in Costa Rica, and we conducted our 18th and 19th puppy mill rescues in the last three years in North Carolina alone. 

Meanwhile, we are expanding the reach of our groundbreaking Pets for Life program throughout the country, providing critical pet care services to underserved communities. Thanks in part to support from PetSmart Charities, Pets for Life is now in 22 cities. And tonight, we’ll gather at an opening ceremony for our new dog-care center in Los Angeles, where we offer free pet care, dog training and other important Pets for Life services.

The HSUS’s opponents hate our effective advocacy campaigns against factory farming, dogfighting and cockfighting, puppy mills, sealing, the exotic pet trade, horse slaughter, and so many other areas.  They don’t want their cruelty or their exploitation of animals challenged, and I can understand they don’t like being confronted by a force like The HSUS. 

But it’s an amazing psychological process to see how such adversaries construct their own image of The HSUS, one that has so little bearing to reality, and try to twist the public’s perceptions of our organization and its important work. Time and again, for example, they falsely argue that our advocacy work crowds out our hands-on care of animals – somehow that we cannot do both.

The fact is, they are wrong – willfully wrong.  The HSUS and its affiliates are number one in advocacy and number one in animal care, and the dogs of Sochi and tens of thousands of animals we’ve helped throughout the United States and abroad are living evidence of that life-saving work.  Our advocacy work prevents much avoidable suffering and cruelty, and our direct care work meets the needs of animals in crisis.  It’s precisely the vision our founders championed and sought to implement sixty years ago.

March 27, 2014

Something is Rotten in Denmark

Take a look at two contrasting institutional responses to challenging circumstances with animals, which together give a clear measure of diametrically opposed value systems – one merciful, and the other ruthless.

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One of the dogs from Arkansas after arrival, ready to go to a placement partner so that he can find a home.

Yesterday, our HSUS staff greeted at our headquarters outside of Washington more than 55 dogs and an assortment of other creatures that our Animal Rescue Team rescued a month ago from a Jefferson County, Arkansas puppy mill. The dogs were living in filth and squalor, and they had a wide range of problems, including one dog who had lost the use of his lower jaw. We’ve been working hard over the last month to improve the health of these dogs, and yesterday, we handed them over to several of our Emergency Placement Partners after a 700-mile journey in one of our big rigs, for more tender care and then adoption in the weeks ahead. 

Then take a look at Act II at the notorious Copenhagen Denmark Zoo. Act I, involving the killing of a perfectly healthy 18-month giraffe named Marius, provoked widespread global outrage and condemnation not too long ago. The zoo said that it already had sufficient genetic diversity given the captive population of giraffes within European zoos and so officials there decided Marius was expendable - and should be killed. They did kill him and fed him to the lions.

It was not as if they loved the lions so much that they had to feed the big cats fresh meat. Two days ago, this same zoo announced it had killed four lions, including two cubs. Again, officials said they already had enough genetic diversity among captive lions, so these lions were expendable, too. What’s more, they were bringing in a new male lion and worried he’d kill the cubs.

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A lion cub in the wild. Photo by Alamy

“If the Zoo had not made the change in the pride now then we would have risked that the old male would mate with these two females - his own offspring - and thereby give rise to inbreeding,” said a statement from Copenhagen Zoo officials.

Apparently, the memos on the option of sterilizing the big cat, or the other cats in the pride, never made it to them.

When you think of animals as individual beings, with their own lives, you rescue them from crisis and then find a way to give them a good quality of life, as we did with the Arkansas animals. If you treat animals like a bunch of ambulatory exhibits or repositories of DNA, then you have the outcome that played out in Denmark. Sadly this outcome is all too routine in many of the zoos of Europe.

The World Associations of Zoos and Aquariums and other professionals in this field must condemn these unacceptable actions in the zoo community and remind officials like those at the Copenhagen Zoo that individual animals matter. 

March 26, 2014

NRA, Farm Bureau Stand in Way of Progress

This week, as always, there are an extraordinary number of high-profile outcomes as well as continuing debate over the major issues The HSUS is engaged upon.  Here are a few short takes:

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One of the pigs I met while visiting Lucky 3 farms in North Carolina. Photo by Shannon Johnstone

North Carolina Puppy Mills: Our Animal Rescue Team was on the ground again in Duplin County, North Carolina, rescuing 50 dogs from absolutely atrocious conditions at the request of law enforcement. The North Carolina Farm Bureau and other agribusiness entities have opposed state legislation to set humane breeding standards in the state, despite The HSUS and its local partners having conducted 19 puppy mill rescues since 2011. What more evidence is required to document the widespread problem with mills in the state, and the urgent need for reform? I had just been down in North Carolina days before, visiting family farmers, including two members of our North Carolina Agriculture Council. These folks make animal care a priority and don’t subscribe to the views of the Farm Bureau that there should be no progress on animal welfare policy in the state. Here are a few pictures from my visits.

Kentucky Ag-Gag Measure Introduced: The Kentucky Farm Bureau has hijacked a good animal welfare bill introduced in that state’s legislature to establish humane standards for euthanasia, and added an ag-gag provision making it a crime to simply record animal abuse, food safety violations or other crimes on factory farms without the owner’s consent. This action comes just a few weeks after an HSUS undercover investigation at a hog factory farm in Owensboro that showed sows languishing in cages and where our investigator documented dead baby piglets being ground up and fed to adult pigs in order to ward off a dangerous diarrhea-inducing disease. The Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Board did accede to The HSUS’s request to ban veal crates in the state two weeks ago, but it failed to adopt a policy banning gestation crates, which confine pigs just as severely as the stalls that confine veal calves.

California Shark Finning: U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick III issued a ruling yesterday upholding California's ban on possession or sale of shark fins, rejecting claims that the law discriminates against the Chinese-American community. The HSUS worked with its partners to pass this law in 2011, in what is the biggest shark fin market outside of Asia. After Chinese-American business groups filed to stop the law, the National Marine Fisheries Service intervened, arguing that federal law preempted state laws prohibiting shark fins. The HSUS mounted a furious challenge to that argument, and the Administration reversed its position after hearing our legal arguments and after negotiating with state attorneys general. Judge Orrick noted that reversal in his important ruling yesterday.

The Ivory Trade: The National Rifle Association and some antique dealers are opposing a proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to tighten up loopholes in the trade in ivory occurring in the United States. It’s easy for us to point a finger at other nations of the world for their role in selling ivory, which is driving not only the grisly killing of tens of thousands of elephants in Africa, but also providing hard cash for terrorist groups on that continent that are destabilizing governments and killing civilians. But the U.S. is the second-largest market for ivory after China, and our “ban” on ivory allows pre-1973 ivory and other ivory items to be legally traded. But it’s impossible for law enforcement officials to distinguish between that ivory and more recently carved ivory from tusks of poached elephants. The new proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service would require proof that the ivory had been legally obtained if it’s going to be traded, and that makes it a critical component to cracking down on elephant poaching and reducing our market demand for ivory. 

Maine Bear Baiting: I reported recently that the state certified our initiative petition in Maine for a ballot measure in November to ban the unsporting and inhumane practices of bear baiting, trapping, and hounding – a priority for The HSUS since Maine is the only state in the nation to allow all three practices.  The trophy hunting lobby is mounting a case that the only way to control the bear population is to allow baiting. But Daryl DeJoy, of the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and a Maine guide, eviscerates that argument in an op-ed today in the Bangor Daily News, showing that professional guides are dumping literally millions of pounds of junk food in the woods in the critical period before bears go into hibernation.  This reckless supplemental feeding – conducted when guides set up bait sites (one guide says he puts out 200,000 pounds of food!) – increases fat reserves, and almost certainly improves survivorship, causes females to bear young much earlier, and also habituates bears to human food sources. In other words, baiting grows the bear population and causes bear-human conflicts, and has no place in responsible wildlife management.

March 24, 2014

The Disreputable Trade in Horse Meat

In 2013, there were three horse slaughter plants set to open in the United States, and it took determined efforts in the federal courts and in the Congress to prevent them from opening. They’re shuttered at least through the fall, and we hope to extend that prohibition indefinitely.  

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A horse slipping and falling entering the kill chute at a Mexican slaughter plant.

But while we’ve won that battle on U.S. soil, we are far from winning the global war over horse slaughter. There are still well more than 100,000 American horses being slaughtered per year – it’s just that they are being exported live to Canada and Mexico, where they’re slaughtered and then exported to Europe and Japan. There are also hundreds of thousands of horses slaughtered in China, Europe, and South America to meet global demand for their meat. When you add it all up, it’s a dirty, inhumane global business, feeding consumers who have no compunction about eating horses or who are simply unaware of the inhumane treatment these creatures endure.

Today I am in Brussels, with Humane Society International’s EU director Jo Swabe and VP Kitty Block. We’ll be speaking with European authorities about a range of issues, including horse slaughter.

Remember that the EU, for food safety reasons, bans imports of U.S. produced animal products because of reckless animal management practices – bathing dead chickens in chlorine to try to disinfect them and kill off pathogens and injecting pigs with ractopamine and cattle with hormones in order to promote fast growth.   

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Horses in line at the chute during an undercover investigation of a Mexican horse slaughter plant.

But horses are loaded up with more than 100 substances not suited for human consumption, primarily because, knowing that horses are not raised for meat, pleasure riders, show riders, racing trainers, and others inject th em with a variety of substances for inflammation issues, disease prevention, and other purposes. What’s more, as recently reported by Swiss animal advocacy group, Tierschutzbund, (warning the video report is graphic) when American horses are gathered up, often disreputably at auction barns, and then jammed into cattle trucks and sent to Canada or Mexico, they are delivered with no veterinary records or any other documentation of their medical history. 

The same is true for horses from South American countries, such as Argentina and Uruguay, bound for slaughter. It’s anything goes when it comes to drugged horses. Yet, for some strange reason, the EU suspends its standards when it comes to horses.

It’s time now for the Europeans – who are so strong on farm animal welfare and animal testing – to show more ethical and scientific consistency when it comes to horse slaughter standards. Only when that happens will we be honoring the role that horses have played in helping people all throughout the world. To treat them like a cheap commodity results not only in inhumane treatment, but also a disdainful disregard for their historical role in transport, commerce, recreation, and other functions that have been fundamental to the development of modern society.