January 15, 2015

States Make Strides in Passing Animal Protection Laws

Each year, as legislative sessions get under way across the country, The HSUS issues a report card concerning animal protection laws in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. In it, we examine how the states are performing on policies related to wildlife, farm animals, companion animals, puppy mills, animal cruelty and fighting, and animals in research. We take about 70 policy ideas – such  as adoption of felony-level penalties for cockfighting, or humane breeding standards for dogs – as our benchmarks. Then we determine if a given state has a policy, add up the numbers, make our judgments, and rank the states from top to bottom.

Puppy mill
Minnesota, which cracked down on puppy mills, was among the states showing a big improvement in 2014. Photo: Chuck Cook/AP Images for The HSUS

This year, as for all six years that we’ve done this report, California tops the list for having passed the most animal protection laws, with Proposition 2 as just one of the strong measures that the state has adopted to help animals. California is followed by Oregon, Illinois (whose outgoing governor vetoed a bobcat hunting and trapping bill earlier this week), Massachusetts, and New York and Virginia (tied for fifth place), all of which have been consistently strong on animal protection laws relative to other states.

States that showed a big improvement in 2014 were West Virginia, which passed a ban on exotic animals as pets; Virginia, which phased out fox penning and began regulating pet stores with more rigor; and Minnesota, which cracked down on puppy mills and launched a program allowing for dogs used in research to be adopted instead of euthanized.

The poorest performers were South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Idaho - the only state in the nation to adopt an ag-gag measure in 2014. We do recognize, however, the strides these states are making to improve their animal protection laws. Last year, for example, South Dakota became the final state to enact felony level penalties for egregious animal cruelty.

Among other highlights in state legislation in 2014:

  • New Jersey and New York became the first states to ban the sale of ivory and rhino horns.
  • Colorado banned greyhound racing, and Arizona and Iowa also restricted racing.
  • Kentucky phased out the use of veal crates.
  • Louisiana made cockfighting a felony on the first offense.
  • Connecticut became the first state to restrict pet stores from acquiring puppies and kittens from breeders with severe Animal Welfare Act violations. 

There were also key defensive actions, such as Michigan voters nullifying two pro-wolf hunting laws. The HSUS blocked ag-gag bills in 11 of 12 states that considered them.  We also fought off a "right to farm" measure in Oklahoma, but, despite the efforts of our rural outreach team, a similar measure squeaked by voters in Missouri by less than half of one percent of the vote.

Altogether, working with animal advocates nationwide, The HSUS helped pass 137 new state and local laws to protect animals last year – the largest number ever passed in one year. A major item on our agenda this year will be to require that abusers handle the "costs of care" for the animals rescued from dogfighting, cockfighting, and other cases of cruelty – rather than placing the financial burden on animal protection groups.

Yet, with all of this lawmaking last year and in the years prior, we also inevitably face a backlash, with efforts to turn back our gains or to deny us the opportunity to document the suffering, neglect, and abuse of animals. That is the very purpose of the measures dubbed as ag-gag bills – bills that criminalize taking pictures of animals on farms or the hiring of an animal advocate as a worker at a factory farm. 

Take a look to see where your state ranks, and please take action this year to lift your state in the rankings. I can assure you that the animal advocates in California and Oregon will be happy to feel your state breathing down their state's neck because you've helped pass so many more laws to help animals.


For more details on how your state did in our Humane Rankings, visit our lists below:

Alabama through Missouri »

Montana through Wyoming, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico »

January 14, 2015

Moby: Why Does My Heart Feel So Good About Animals?

Wayne's CA tour
During my tour of California I connected with celebrities who care deeply about animals, including (from left) Kate Mara, Moby, Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder. Photo: Jeff Lewis/AP Images for The HSUS

I sat down for a discussion with musician and animal advocate Moby at our HSUS Los Angeles office last week, during my tour of California to celebrate and encourage the robust implementation of two groundbreaking farm animal protection laws – Prop 2 and AB 1437. I met with hundreds of Californians excited about these changes for the better, and The HSUS held joint events with the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, the Sacramento SPCA, and the San Francisco SPCA. These groups are all great friends to The HSUS. In addition to Moby, I was also so glad to connect with actors Kate Mara and Ian Somerhalder, and other celebrities who care so deeply about all animals. I traveled to more than a dozen cities, including major agricultural towns such as Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno. It was a great success, and I’m optimistic about the sweeping changes we’ll see in the Golden State in the months and years ahead.

I also had the opportunity to sit down with Moby, who has been an advocate for animals for 30 years, and a friend of mine for the last decade. In today’s video blog he talks to me about his advocacy work and why he believes that the world is at the cusp of a significant shift toward animal protection.

January 13, 2015

Alabama on My Mind

Yesterday morning, in Cottonwood, Alabama, in cooperation with local police, The HSUS rescued 65 dogs from a suspected “hog dog” breeding operation. As rescuers entered the property with law enforcement personnel, they were greeted by an appalling scene: starving, emaciated, severely underweight dogs and puppies, some chained to trees, others hiding in barrels or broken-down cars. The dogs are now at a temporary shelter where they are receiving medical care and enrichment. Once they are released by the courts, they will be evaluated for potential placement in homes.

Alabama dog rescue
Chip Burns, a field responder with The HSUS, carries an emaciated dog out of the suspected hog dog breeding operation in Cottonwood, Alabama. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The investigation that brought this nightmarish facility to our attention focused on hog dog fighting, an illegal and barbaric variation of animal fighting that festers in small pockets in the South. It’s a staged fight in which dogs chase trapped hogs in front of spectators and players rank the dogs by how quickly they bite into the hog’s face and pull the screaming animal down. The dogs in turn can be gored by the hog’s tusks.

It didn’t surprise us when law enforcement authorities also uncovered illegal drugs and firearms on the Cottonwood property, proving once again that operations that exploit animals often are tangled up with other illegal enterprises.

Yesterday’s rescue was the first we’ve conducted since a statute banning hog dog fighting passed in Alabama in 2005. The Cottonwood Police Department, which served a search warrant on the property, determined that the animals were in urgent need of care, and called us to assist with the rescue. “The cruelty these dogs were shown is painful to see, and we couldn’t stand by and allow them to suffer,” said Colonel Jim Smith, public safety director for the town of Cottonwood. “We are thankful that The Humane Society of the United States was able to assist on this case, and especially glad to see these dogs off to better lives.”

This is the latest in a series of successful collaborative efforts between authorities in Alabama and animal protection advocates to end animal cruelty and suffering in the state. In November 2014, George Beck, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, prosecuted a ring of alleged dogfighters that stretched across four states, including Alabama, getting tough sentences for a number of the participants. This was the second biggest dogfighting bust in U.S. history, and The HSUS has been caring for these dogs for more than a year, at an enormous expense to the organization. Local and county law enforcement were crucial players in breaking up this ring.

In another raid not long ago, our rescue team joined Alabama Alcohol Beverage and Control Board investigators to close in on a suspected cockfighting ring in Andalusia while a fight was in progress, resulting in the arrest by authorities of six suspected cockfighters. Our team also recently assisted in the court-ordered removal of dogs from a Berry, Alabama, property; the rescue was part of an ongoing case we have been involved with since October 2013, after our help was requested by local law enforcement.

In another encouraging development late last year, Alabama authorities cracked down on an international rhino killing scam that stretched from Alabama to South Africa. In that case, Beck charged the alleged perpetrators with selling illegal rhino hunts by misleading trophy hunters. The defendants allegedly failed to obtain the necessary permits required by South Africa, cut the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives, and then sold the rhino horns on the black market here in the United States.

All of this adds up to a surge in enforcement of state and federal laws against animal cruelty in Alabama. Collectively, it should send a signal that Alabama is not a place to conduct or abet illicit and cruel activities. It’s great to see law enforcement officials treating these cases in a serious way and partnering with us to deliver dogs, birds, and other creatures from the evils of people who have no regard for their welfare or their lives.


Join us in helping to rescue more animals like these.

January 12, 2015

Outgoing Governor Sends Lifeline to Bobcats in Illinois – Punctuating a Superb Record

Today, Pat Quinn, one of the nation’s most pro-animal welfare governors, relinquished office in Illinois after six years, making way for newly elected Governor Bruce Rauner. But from an animal welfare perspective, Quinn did it with a flourish, vetoing a bill on the eve of his departure today that would have, for the first time in 40 years, opened up a trophy hunting and commercial trapping season for bobcats in that state. In addition to The HSUS, Illinois’s two leading papers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, had urged Quinn to veto it. The Tribune, noting that “[n]o one eats bobcat steaks,” said “[t]he species is killed only to be mounted as a trophy on some hunter's wall — or for the skinning of its prized fur.”  Quinn agreed with that sentiment. “We all have a responsibility to protect and maintain Illinois’ wildlife,” he said in his veto message. “Allowing people to hunt bobcats in Illinois violates that responsibility.”

On the eve of his departure, Quinn vetoed a bill that would have, for the first time in 40 years, opened up a trophy hunting and commercial trapping season for bobcats in Illinois. Photo: Ray Eubanks

This veto is just the latest in a series of pro-animal actions that this good man took during his six-year tenure. Quinn signed a bill into law last year to ban the possession, sale, or distribution of shark fins within the state of Illinois.While Illinois does not have a sea coast, it is the nation’s fifth largest state by population. We do not want people selling and consuming shark fins anywhere, including the biggest population centers of Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York City (and it’s now banned in the three states that include these cities).

Quinn’s also been a big advocate for companion animals, and he’s done some heavy lifting on the issue. He supported and signed the Puppy Lemon Law that protects pets and consumers who purchase dogs or cats from pet stores, and holds these stores and their sources accountable if a veterinarian determines the animals were sick or diseased when purchased. He signed the Antifreeze Safety Law, mandating that a bittering agent be added to antifreeze manufactured and sold within the state, to prevent the accidental poisoning of children and animals. He put his stamp on measures to strengthen the Humane Care for Animals Act by providing restrictions on the practice of tethering dogs. And he mandated training for law enforcement officers on handling animals using nonlethal methods.

Finally, he helped us with our efforts to stop private ownership of dangerous exotics, by banning the trade in primates as pets.

Indeed, Quinn is as good an example one can find of the premise that having a pro-animal governor matters, and he’s helped deliver Illinois into the ranks of the top five states for animal welfare policies. While we lament seeing him go, the same cannot be said for another departing governor: Nebraska’s Dave Heineman, who has been one of the nation’s most ardent anti-animal welfare governors. Heineman vetoed a bill, introduced by Senator Ernie Chambers, to stop the trophy hunting of mountain lions – taking exactly the opposite view of Quinn on the killing of inedible wild cats. And Heineman signed on to the lawsuit to invalidate California’s law restricting the sale of eggs from barren battery cages – fortunately, we’ve won the first round in that lawsuit. He’s also been a horrid demagogue in defending factory farming, saying that he was going to “kick HSUS’s ass” out of the state and unapologetically defending battery cages and gestation crates. 

Good riddance Governor Heineman. And, Governor Quinn, we thank you, and we’re sorry to see you go.

January 09, 2015

The Snowball Effect: HSI Rescuers Take 23 Dogs Off the Menu in South Korea

The 23 survivors of the Korean dog meat trade arrived in the United States on a cold January day amidst bone-chilling temperatures and a bracing snowstorm, but theirs is a truly heartwarming story. For Snowball and the other dogs, the new year ushers in a new life, in a new country, with new and hopeful prospects as beloved companions. They will not be someone’s dinner. They are the beneficiaries of the first dog rescue operation of its kind. And they owe their journey to freedom and forever homes to a Humane Society International rescue team, its strong global partnerships, and a Korean farmer’s change of heart.

Snowball the dog
Snowball (above) and other rescued dogs are now headed to Washington, D.C. area shelters where they will be available for adoption. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Their story began in Ilsan, north of Seoul, on one of the thousands of dog farms that supply animals for the dog meat trade in South Korea where 1.2 to 2 million dogs are eaten annually. South Korea is unusual among those few countries involved in the trade because of this intentional breeding of dogs to supply demand. In other nations, the trade gathers up stray dogs, and then butchers them. 

With the 2018 Winter Olympics on the horizon as a global showcase for South Korea, and dog meat enjoying so little social and cultural sanction in the world, HSI has begun reaching out to Korean dog meat farmers with offers to help them to transition into other activities. Pressure is rising on the South Korean government to do more about the trade and its cruelties. As part of the Asia Canine Protection Alliance Korea, HSI is working to address the worst cruelties of the trade, and to create greater public awareness campaigns aimed at reducing the demand for dog meat in the country.

The recent rescue operation involved extensive logistical work in both South Korea and the United States. In-country partners, our Animal Rescue team, and our friends at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria joined together to ensure safe passage and to lay the groundwork for placing the animals in loving homes here in the United States. They’re the talk of the town in Washington, D.C. and a short video of Snowball has already secured more than one million hits on the HSI Facebook page. If every dog has his day, this was Snowball’s, for sure.

The media attention that the dogs and the hosting shelters receive will not only bring scrutiny to the dog meat trade, but it will hopefully encourage more people to visit the shelters and adopt other pets in those communities. But this is not just a feel-good story in the United States. It has also made a big impression in the Korean news media, stoking rising negative opinion of the dog meat trade. Koreans are praising the farmer who relinquished the dogs and declared his intention to transition to blueberry farming, and a growing chorus is encouraging other farmers to make a similar transition from the trade.

These actions are part of a broader field of battle against the dog meat trade, in China, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere. In China, HSI has supported numerous local animal welfare organizations working to suppress the dog meat trade there. Since August 2014, over 7,000 dogs have been rescued from large transport vehicles carrying hundreds of captured dogs in crowded cages to their deaths at various slaughterhouses in the country. In the summer of 2014, HSI joined massive global protests against the Yulin dog meat festival, bringing unprecedented attention to the issue in China.

The commercial trade in live dogs for meat is intensely cruel, with animals typically taken from the streets, hundreds crowded on top of one another in trucks, and transported long distances (often days) without food or water to a location for an inhumane slaughter. In many places, it is strongly correlated to the challenges of street dog overpopulation, and anxiety over the spread of rabies – a major public health issue in many of the countries that consume dog meat. 

The footage I’ve seen of the dogs buoyed my spirits, but I was also moved by the farmer’s decision to shift to a new line of work, because that’s the kind of thing we want to see occur across the board whenever animal cruelty is concerned. We must believe in the ability of others to alter their thinking and their practices, if we are to be successful in our broad goals of building a better world for animals. In Korea, we’ll continue to work with farmers in helping them transition from dog meat into alternative trades, providing financial incentives where needed.  

As for the rescued dogs, after some quarantine time and health checks, and some additional socialization, they will begin the final leg of their journey: finding homes. Some dogs will stay at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, which coordinated the shelter placement of the dogs here in the United States. Snowball and several other dogs will go to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, and still more dogs will head to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, the City of Manassas Animal Control and Adoption Shelter, Loudoun County Animal Services and the Washington Animal Rescue League. These dogs are, in their own way, agents of change – the kind of change we’re committed to pursuing every day throughout the world. 


January 08, 2015

Faulty Arguments, Greed, and Gluttony Put Foie Gras Back on Menu

In a court pleading written last year to challenge a California law stopping the sale and production of foie gras, attorneys for chefs and producers of fatty duck and goose liver made a Holocaust analogy, writing: "With apologies to Martin Niemoller, 'First they came for the foie gras...'"

Foie Gras Ducks
In 2004, California legislators voted to phase out force-fed foie gras after being presented with evidence of the inherent cruelty of forcing metal tubes down birds' throats to force their livers to expand. Photo: Animal Protection & Rescue League

Yesterday afternoon, after a California district court struck down the state’s first-in-the-nation ban on the sale of force-fed foie gras, they had other absurd things to say. "I've been jumping up and down for about 90 minutes," Napa Valley chef Ken Frank, who has been active in the pro-foie gras movement, told the Los Angeles Times. Providence chef Michael Cimarusti likened it to the end of Prohibition: "It feels a little like December of 1933." 

It’s nothing short of amazing to see the pent-up and dramatic hyperbole served up by people convinced of their “right” to torture animals for a table treat – for a morsel of fatty food that is the furthest thing from a staple in the American diet. I’ve seen selfishness and hedonism on display before, but this brings it all to a new level.

Nonetheless, Judge Steven Wilson, by arguing that one part of California’s foie gras ban is preempted by federal law, did strike a bitter blow against geese and ducks who are painfully force-fed so that gourmands can feast on their fatty livers. The California legislature voted in 2004 to phase out the production and sale of force-fed foie gras after animal protection groups presented legislators with evidence of the inherent cruelty of forcing metal tubes down birds’ throats to force their livers to expand up to 10 times their natural size – as a set-up to kill the ducks and extract their livers.

Yesterday’s ruling didn’t find foie gras production humane or acceptable, nor did it disturb the current ban on the production of foie gras in California. In fact, the court didn’t address the cruelty of force feeding birds at all. Instead, it found that the Poultry Products Inspection Act – a federal food safety law that has never been applied to the raising of animals for foie gras – prevents California from stopping the sale of force-fed foie gras. The court concluded that force-feeding birds is an “ingredient” of foie gras, and Congress had intended for only the federal government to regulate the ingredients in poultry products.

That’s a real reach by this judge. Not only has Congress never regulated the practice of force-feeding birds for foie gras  – or perhaps even given the subject a passing thought –  it has never regulated the on-farm treatment of farm animals at all. There are no federal laws stopping cruelty to animals on farms, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has even interpreted the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to exclude any protection for birds – including geese and ducks raised for foie gras.

And, of course, you can bet that foie gras producers won’t now be lining up for federal regulation of their abusive practices. We’ve tried before to get the federal government – through the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration – to stop the sale of force-fed foie gras, which is not only cruel but also dangerous to consumers. Each time, foie gras producers have lined up to argue that the federal government has no right to regulate them. 

This anti-regulation zealotry is also the stock-in-trade of the pork industry. When California banned the transportation and slaughter of “downer” pigs – those too sick or injured to walk – the pork industry and other meat groups took them to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that only the federal government could regulate the handling of animals at federally inspected slaughter plants. But, in fact, the National Pork Producers Council has for years fought federal legislation to crack down on the abuse of downer pigs. The pork industry is so against animal welfare standards that it even worked to torpedo modest animal welfare rules in the egg industry! 

So if the neither the state nor the federal government can regulate cruelty to farm animals, who can? The telling answer, for many factory farmers, is “no one” – they want no oversight whatsoever, and believe they have the right to treat farm animals however they want. They are happy to take enormous federal subsidies, however, in the form of price supports, insurance, buy-ups of surplus products, predator control, and so much more. These commercial producers milk taxpayers of billions, yet they do not want to adhere to any animal welfare standards. "Got hypocrisy?"

While our adversaries won a partial victory yesterday, they have not had the final say in court. The courts have rejected their line of argument before. Horse slaughter operators have argued that federal law prohibits states from banning the slaughter of horses for human food, and two years ago California shark fin traders argued that the state’s ban on the sale of shark fins was preempted by the federal fisheries law. Both cases went against them. That’s why we’re confident that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will also reject the foie gras producers’ claim that California cannot stop the sale of force-fed foie gras when this case comes up on appeal. Just a year and a half ago, in an earlier permutation of this case, the Ninth Circuit held that California had a right to ban the sale of foie gras to “prevent [its] complicity in a practice that it deemed cruel to animals.” The Supreme Court recently refused to review that ruling.

That’s the only line of argument that holds up. Under the district court’s theory in this case, California would even lack the authority to ban the use of poultry feed that is contaminated with salmonella or E coli. And any state would lack the authority to stop the sale of meat from animals that are subject to unsanitary, environmentally destructive, or inhumane conditions long before they enter federally regulated slaughterhouses – or indeed, even meat from animals raised using child labor.

We’re now asking California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is in charge of defending the state’s laws, to file an immediate appeal. We believe that the district court’s ruling is plainly in error. In the meantime, you can help by asking restaurants you frequent to never serve force-fed foie gras – because no gourmet pleasure is ever worth cruelty to animals.

January 07, 2015

'Celebrating' Corruption and Horse Abuse at Main Tennessee Walking Horse Show Event

If there was any doubt about rampant corruption in the Big Lick sector of the Tennessee walking horse show industry, the latest test results from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) put all of that to rest. As in prior years, the cheaters, scofflaws, and horse abusers were out in force and they were the big winners of last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn. 

Walking Horse
Soring is a systemic problem that corrodes every fiber of the Big Lick horse industry. Photo: The HSUS

Data recently released by the USDA revealed that 52 percent of horses the agency randomly selected for testing were found positive for illegal foreign substances at the 2014 Celebration, the walking horse industry’s marquee event. Several of the foreign substances detected are known to be used in the soring process – the practice of deliberately injuring a horse’s legs and hooves to force them to perform an artificial, high-stepping gait – or used to hide evidence of soring. When you consider that there were far fewer horses shown at the 2014 Celebration than in 2013 or in many years prior - likely because owners and trainers inclined to flout the rules pulled their horses from the show before inspection to avoid being caught – the rate is striking.

Imagine if 52 percent of pitchers in the World Series, cyclists at the Tour De France, or running backs in the NFL playoffs were caught using illegal substances? There would be recriminations, investigations, and people ousted from the sports. Executives would be fired, and team owners stripped of their ownership rights. But not in the show world of Tennessee walking horses – there, it’s business as usual.

The USDA’s foreign substance testing results come just months after the agency released a report revealing 219 violations of the Horse Protection Act among 1,075 horses inspected at the 2014 Celebration  – double the number of violations found at the 2013 event. 

Even the Celebration’s own newly minted Veterinary Advisory Committee (VAC) – which itself was little more than a sham, with one of the three veterinarians not even apprised that he had been selected and the other two appointees firmly in the Big Lick camp – found problems with non-compliance. According to the VAC’s blood-testing program at the 2014 Celebration, 36 of the 230 horses sampled were found in violation, having been administered one or more of the substances prohibited by the VAC.  The VAC’s list – separate and apart from the USDA’s list of banned soring chemicals – was published weeks before the Celebration. The VAC even provided a corresponding clearance time for each prohibited substance, so entrants would know just how much time was needed for a particular substance to pass through a horse’s system, and still trainers tried to cheat their way to a blue ribbon and some name recognition. The VAC released the names of 30 horses it found in violation. Of those, 11 were named world grand champions; 14 other horses placed first in at least one class entered at the Celebration.

It’s shocking that such a high percentage of horses were found in violation during inspection at the Celebration, and that so many that had been passed through inspection and cleared to compete were later found to have been administered prohibited substances but still permitted to keep their titles. In no other sport – equine or human – would this be allowed to stand. It’s indicative of the degree to which participants will work to hide the indefensible torment of horses in an industry where cheating is rampant – in fact, it’s the name of the game. The VAC blood testing results combined with the USDA foreign substance results leave no question that soring and the concealment of soring is a systemic problem that corrodes every fiber of the Big Lick horse industry.  The denials and the umbrage taken by the Big Lickers about our efforts to see the federal anti-soring law strengthened are hollow protests from a deeply corrupted faction of the industry.

The recent election of Billy Young as the new president of the Walking Horse Trainers Association underscores this fact. The WHTA claims to be an organization committed to promoting and protecting the welfare of the Tennessee walking horse. Yet, it elects as its leader someone with a history of citations for violations of the Horse Protection Act. Young was just suspended at the 2014 Celebration for a violation of the HPA, and in July 2013, he was charged by the USDA under the Act. He entered a consent decree and was disqualified from participating at horse shows for eight months. He was represented in the case by a Shelbyville, Tenn. attorney Jack Heffington – who himself just recently entered into a consent decree stemming from a 2012 USDA complaint under the HPA and was likewise disqualified, for seven months.

Young’s election is a clear indication that the WHTA is either unable or, more likely, unwilling to be led by someone who is not entrenched in the horse soring world - and that the Big Lickers have no interest in moving toward sound horse practices and the preservation of the walking horse breed.  

The Big Lick segment of the walking horse industry simply won’t clean up its act, despite having had nearly four decades to do so. Legislation is necessary to eliminate the industry’s failed system of self-regulation, strengthen penalties against those who break the law, and ban the devices used in the soring process. The 113th Congress failed to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, despite the fact that 60 senators and 308 members of the House (including a majority of the majority) cosponsored the bill. We’re calling on the 114th Congress to take up this measure without delay upon its reintroduction, and end half a century of intentional abuse to a great American horse breed.

January 06, 2015

Uncaged in California

This morning, I did a series of television segments in San Diego - the latest stop in a statewide tour of California - about the implementation of the state’s landmark animal protection laws, specifically those statutes that ban cage confinement of laying hens and require any shell eggs sold in the state to conform to that standard. Many of the news anchors asked me about recent increases in the price of eggs in California and repeated the framing remarks from some critics of the laws who say the price increases are due to their recent implementation.

Laying hen
California’s statutes on cage-free eggs will usher in a new, better era of higher-welfare agriculture in the nation. Photo: The HSUS

The reality is, egg prices are never entirely stable – they fluctuate, as do other commodities, based on a wide variety of factors. Look at the price of oil, and its recent steady decline; that won’t last forever, and prices will again spike based on supply, demand, the presence of new supplies, and all sort of geopolitical concerns. Generally, eggs are a very cheap form of protein, but food retailers have long inflated prices for cage-free eggs - not because of additional, underlying costs, but simply because they could charge a premium and get away with it. Cage-free eggs are viewed as a value-added product, and farmers and retailers can get more for the product as consumers are willing to pay more – because of their strong commitment to associated values and ideas about what’s right for both people and animals.

I think some of that is going on in California – egg sellers are taking advantage of the change in policy on Prop 2 to secure some additional profits. There’s also an avian influenza outbreak in Canada and Mexico, and that is allowing more U.S. egg producers to export eggs, which has added to demand and thus increased prices in the markets. Some egg producers are shrinking their flock sizes and also making investments in cage-free systems or larger cages, but that’s just a small part of the equation and it’s also something many would do anyway. Egg farmers often have to make capital improvements once their equipment depreciates.

Prop 2 gave egg producers six years to convert their housing systems to cage-free, and AB 1437 gave food retailers four years to deal with supply chain issues. If they had started on conversion early in the process, this transition might not seem as difficult to them.

Many major producers, across the nation, are converting entirely to cage-free, and that’s a smart business move. The American public is unlikely to accept cage-based systems, since egg production is basically the last bastion of extreme confinement in industrial agriculture. The veal industry has almost entirely converted to crate-free systems, and today, Smithfield announced that it’s more than 70 percent converted to crate-free production systems for its company-owned breeding sows. These industries, with the veal industry generally being more willing to change than the pig industry, are on an inevitable course toward more extensive systems and away from crate or cage confinement.

I am traveling through California this week to rally supporters and celebrate the implementation of two important animal protection laws.

I’m traveling through California for the rest of this week to rally supporters throughout the state and to celebrate the implementation of two of the most important laws in our era of animal protection. But I’m also here to ask food retailers – from Trader Joe’s to Save Mart to McDonald’s – to honor the letter and spirit of Prop 2 and stop purchasing any animal products from cage-confinement systems. The egg industry needs to change here in California and throughout the nation, and it would be the forward-thinking business decision for this transition to start in earnest now.

I hope soon we can look back on the era of extreme confinement on factory farms as a sad but closed chapter of our history. California’s actions will kickstart the move away from cages and usher in a new, better era of higher-welfare agriculture in the nation. That’s something to celebrate, but it’s also a task that we must help along through determined, focused advocacy. 

January 05, 2015

New HSUS Exposé Reveals Deplorable Slaughter of 'Spent' Egg-Laying Hens

California’s Prop 2 took effect on New Year’s Day, and we’ve been urging major food retailers to honor the letter and spirit of the law by not buying or selling any animal products that come from caged farm animals, with a particular focus on laying hens in cages. While continuing to advance the argument that cage-free production should be the minimum standard in California, and eventually the nation, The HSUS is also today shining a spotlight on the lives and deaths of laying hens in the Midwest. Specifically, after reviewing the report and footage from one of our brave undercover investigators who worked at Butterfield Foods Co. - a slaughter plant in Minnesota - I say, without hesitation, that laying hens are some of the most abused animals on the planet. They face abject misery and privation throughout their lives and then terror and inhumane treatment during transport and slaughter.

Hens abused for a lifetime inside battery cages meet their grisly end at the Butterfield slaughter plant in Minnesota. Photo: The HSUS

Our investigation, with results and footage released to the press, law enforcement and the U. S. Department of Agriculture, pulls back the curtain to expose the final, painful misery that “spent” hens - whose bodies are worn out by egg production and who are then sold for cheap meat - endure at Butterfield. This is, to my knowledge, the first-ever look inside a “spent” hen slaughter plant, and it reveals that birds shipped from battery cage operations throughout the United States and Canada arrive battered and emotionally helpless, with many severely weakened or debilitated by broken bones and starvation. The company has a painfully untrue motto – “We Love Old Hens.”

After a lifetime of being locked inside cages so cramped they can’t even spread their wings, these long-suffering animals are crammed inside transport cages that immobilize them. They are trucked to slaughter through all kinds of weather conditions, and always with no food or water. Birds who arrive at the plant over the weekend are simply left to languish on the trucks until the killing shifts resume again on Monday, with the birds crushed up against one another and having to endure the worst sort of overcrowding. If hens in battery cages are like eight people jammed in a tiny elevator and never able to get out, add five or six more birds (or for the analogy, five or six more people to the elevator), and you get a sense of the heart-rending and sickening overstocking of the animals in the cages on the trucks that go to the slaughter plant.

This plant—like nearly all others in the poultry industry—kills birds in an archaic process that would be illegal under federal law if the animals were cattle or pigs. And chickens and turkeys represent more than nine out of 10 of all farm animals slaughtered in our country. But since the USDA exempts birds from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), these laying hens are not even required to be rendered insensible to pain before they’re killed.

Among the animal welfare problems we documented:

  • Each day many birds were scalded alive and forced upside down into tanks of scorching hot water in which they drown. In just one 30-minute period, the HSUS investigator witnessed approximately 45 such animals. This possible violation of Minnesota’s anti-cruelty code has been reported to local authorities.
  • Hens were removed from crates and shackled upside down while alive and fully conscious. Their removal began with workers jabbing metal hooks into the densely packed transport cages to rip hens out of the cages by their legs.
  • Birds were ineffectively stunned and inhumanely killed. After being shackled, the line of upside-down birds moved through an electrified trough of water designed to stun them—although that was not always the outcome.
Minnesota spent hen slaughter plant
Birds at the Butterfield slaughter plant are  forced upside down into tanks of scorching hot water in which they are scalded alive. Their skin turns red. Photo: The HSUS

While chickens don’t have USDA protection under the HMSA, the federal agency acknowledges that there are higher-welfare methods of slaughter available. For example, controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) is widely acknowledged as entailing less animal suffering. The USDA notes that, “The general consensus among many researchers in the United States, the European Union (EU), and Japan is that CAS is more humane than the current method of electrical stunning.”

While Prop 2 highlighted the urgent need for reform in the way egg-laying hens are treated on factory farms - itself a very acute problem in Minnesota, where millions of birds languish in cages that do not even meet the voluntary and deficient space allotment standards called for by the United Egg Producers - our new investigation highlights the urgent need for reform in chicken slaughter plants. It’s long past time that this industry - which principally slaughters broiler birds for meat - recognize that the days of terrorizing, injuring, and slaughtering fully conscious animals must come to an end. How can the leaders in the poultry sector, with a straight face and a clear conscience, continue to defy the universally accepted principle that animals killed for food must at least be slaughtered as quickly and painlessly as possible? If there are not serious and comprehensive changes throughout the industry, then consumers must consider taking their business elsewhere.

The footage below will turn your stomach, and it should shock your conscience. No small amount of protein is worth this kind of pain that these poor animals endure.

P.S. I’ll also note that many battery cage egg operations cannot even sell their “spent” hen meat for human consumption, because the birds are so sick and battered and their bones so weak that the chicken is splintered with shards of bone.  Where this meat from the Butterfield plant is going is beyond me, but consumers beware. 

January 02, 2015

Let’s Get This Stuff Done in 2015

When you support The HSUS, you back a non-profit organization rated by its peers as the nation’s number one force for animal protection. In some ways, it is incomplete to talk only of The HSUS, because we really are a constellation of organizations working in coordinated and complementary ways to drive big changes in public policy and enforcement, corporate reforms, public education and awareness, and hands on care for animals. In addition to The HSUS, there is Humane Society International, which is now operating in 20 countries; the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which does lobbying and political work; the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, which permanently protects habitat for wildlife in more than 30 states; The Fund for Animals, which runs several animal care centers; the Doris Day Animal League, which does critical policy work; and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, which aims to put veterinarians at the forefront of the cause of animal protection. 

Fb-hsus-stickwithus-2015Between these organizations, there are literally hundreds of campaigns and activities.  But I want to remind you of a few key goals for 2015, as we close the door on the prior year and look ahead to assert the role of human responsibility in our dealings with animals. 

Ending animal testing for cosmetics worldwide

We made big gains in the European Union and India in banning cosmetics animal testing as well as the sale of cruel cosmetics, and now we need to expand the map to prohibit these archaic, outmoded live testing practices everywhere. In the United States, that will include working for the passage of the Humane Cosmetics Act in Congress. 

Eliminating gestation crates and battery cages and other inhumane factory farming practices

Yesterday, we watched with excitement as Prop 2 and a related law took effect in California to establish that farm animals have the right to lie down, turn around, stand up, and fully extend their limbs– a watershed moment in our campaign against factory farming. We led the fight to pass these measures, and we’ve also fought to defend them against lawsuits and other attempts to undermine them. As I write, we’re working full-tilt to promote and facilitate compliance in the Golden State. But we’re also busy gearing up for a year of continuing efforts to secure anti-confinement laws throughout the nation, to work with the biggest food retailers to see that they no longer purchase animal products that come from animals confined in cages or crates, to work with major institutional food service providers to cut their meat use, to reduce financing for extreme confinement systems in emerging and developing economies worldwide, and to support and collaborate with small family farmers committed to the highest standards of animal care, including the interests of farm animals in being able to live healthy and happy lives, free from confinement.

Driving down euthanasia in the United States, and promoting humane street dog management programs throughout the developing and industrializing world

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/For HSI

We work tirelessly to curb the abuses of puppy mills here and abroad, rescuing animals, pushing higher standards, restricting importation, and working to persuade pet stores and the public to prioritize animals from shelters and responsible breeders over those offered for sale by puppy mills and their retail partners. We are also working in underserved communities, in urban and rural regions, to bring spay-and-neuter and other services to animals and the people who care about them. Our charge extends to helping dogs in the developing world through our innovative capture, neuter, vaccinate, and release (CNVR) method.

Putting a stop to horse slaughter and horse soring throughout North America

We’ve fought the horse slaughter industry toe-to-toe in the legislative arena, the courts, the frameworks of international trade and diplomacy, and in the public arena, and 2014 was a turning point, with gains in the United States and in Mexico. But the horse slaughter industry is one that just won’t stay dead, and we’re going to have to meet its relentless campaigning in defense of an indefensible proposition.

The same is true for the horse soring racket, now in turmoil and disarray after several years of big setbacks dealt out by The HSUS and its partners and by federal, state and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies. We’ve investigated the trade, helped to secure the first convictions of soring trainers, and successfully pushed for heightened enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.  For its part, the horse soring faction in show competition has done its mighty best to halt our progress, especially when it comes to passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.  This year, we’ll do everything we can to get it across the finish line, and you’ll see the best from The HSUS as it seeks to convert the broad support for this legislation into action toward its passage.

Passing anti-cruelty laws throughout the world, to create a legal framework that allows for prosecution of people who engage in malicious cruelty.

In 2014, we achieved a milestone by achieving our goal of establishing felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty in every state.  Now we want to do that throughout the world, to normalize the notion that animal cruelty is not just a moral problem, but a legal one as well.  We’ll continue our vigorous efforts at home and abroad to end dogfighting and cockfighting.

Ending the bloody ivory and horn trade to save elephants and rhinos from poaching and trafficking.

Photo: Mike Dabell/iStockphoto

Poachers kill tens of thousands of elephants and rhinos each year, with people in far-off markets wearing or consuming ivory or rhino horn and perhaps not realizing that they are contributing to the decline of the largest land mammals on the planet. Although the federal government has announced its plans for a  war on poaching and the ivory trade, trophy hunters and other interest groups have gotten in the way of final action and implementation. We’re fighting their blocking maneuvers and continuing our efforts at the multinational level and in the states in the United States to crack down on the problem, focusing more on the demand that drives the killing on the ground in Africa and Asia.

Of course, we’ll continue our efforts to end commercial sealing and whaling; protect wolves, bears, lions, and others from trophy hunting and other unfair and inhumane hunting and trapping practices; mount an offensive against drugging of horses on race day; complete the transfer of chimps from laboratories to sanctuaries; end the trade in dangerous exotics as pets, and much more. We hope you’ll redouble your commitment to The HSUS and its family of organizations this year, in order to put us in the greatest position to drive reform in the tremendously wide-ranging and challenging arenas in which we work.

Stick With Us in 2015 »