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. 

March 21, 2014

Spring Forward -- for Wildlife

The calendar says spring, but winter doesn’t seem to want to release its hold in some parts, with snow forecast again for next week in Washington, D.C.. But rising temperatures and other signs of spring cannot be held off for many more days. 

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The first two baby squirrels of the season arrive at the Cape Wildlife Center. These two were brought in after someone found them and disturbed their nest and was not able to reunite them with their mom. See a slideshow of the spring animals at the animal care centers here.

As the air and soil warm, animals also get more active, bringing life with a new season. At our wildlife care centers, that means babies, and lots of them.  In March, April and May last year, our three affiliated wildlife care centers  (in California, Florida, and Massachusetts) took in more than 1,600 animals – from barn owls to turtles to foxes. To help animals at this time of year, there are some ways you can help, or some rules to pass on to neighbors and friends.

Ten Ways to Spring for Wildlife this Spring

  • Create a Humane Backyard. Perhaps the best way to help wildlife this spring is to create your own sanctuary for them in your own backyard, patio, or balcony.

  • Postpone your spring tree cutting. Squirrels and raccoons den in tree hollows with babies, and trees become nest sites for woodpeckers and all manner of songbirds. Your trees may be occupied, so before cutting, survey as best you can for active dens or nests. Learn more about humane spring cleaning here.

  • Scrap the trap. Spring and summer is when wild animals search out secluded dens and nest sites for raising young – and some of those sites may be in your attic, chimney, or under your deck. Whether you are having issues with prairie dogs, skunks, or pigeons, there are resources available to help you and them.

  • Re-nest baby birds. It’s a myth that if you touch a baby bird, the parents will abandon their baby. There are signs to look for to see if they need help here.

  • Don’t kidnap fawns. People don’t realize that it’s entirely normal for deer to “park” their fawns in yards or other “hiding” spots.  The doe will only visit and nurse her fawn a few times a day to avoid attracting predators to her scent.  Unless you know that the mother is dead, or if the fawn has been crying and wandering around all day, leave him or her alone. 

  • Leave baby rabbits. If the nest is intact and the babies are not injured, leave them be. Mother rabbits only visit their young 2-3 times a day. If you’re concerned, you can put an “X” of sticks or yarn over the nest to assess if the mother is returning to nurse them. If the X stays perfectly in place for 12+ hours, they may be orphaned and need to go to a wildlife rehabilitator.

  • Put up your woodchuck fence. Set up protection for your vegetable garden now - see our tips for preventing conflicts with woodchucks here.

  • Contain your trash. Many wild animal “problems” are actually created by poor garbage disposal practices. Keep trash indoors until the morning of pick-up, use an outdoor storage container (available at home building stores), or use Animal Stopper garbage cans, which have built in bungee cords and are virtually raccoon proof.

  • Don’t rush to judgment about rabies . It’s false that seeing raccoons, foxes, or coyotes active during daylight means they have rabies.  Only if they are acting strangely --- circling, dragging themselves, acting injured or unusually aggressive or tame, should you call an animal control officer for assistance.

  • Support your local wildlife rehabilitator and follow our animal care centers. In addition to volunteering or providing financial support, you can help by donating towels and blankets and other items to wildlife care centers. You can get other tips and learn of rescues and release stories by liking Humane Wildlife Services and our affiliated animal sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers on Facebook: South Florida Wildlife Center, The Fund for Animals Wildlife CenterCape Wildlife CenterDuchess Sanctuary, Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch and Doris Day Equine Center.

The HSUS is our nation’s largest animal care provider, and much of that work involves protecting wildlife. Wildlife need our help, especially during the spring.

March 19, 2014

Right to Farm or Right to Harm

PigsLet’s count the ways that our political adversaries try to thwart progress to help farm animals. They work hard to pass ag-gag laws to make it a crime to take pictures of animals on farms or to conduct undercover investigations. They work in Congress, with Rep. Steve King as their leader, to try to preempt state animal welfare laws that prohibit some of the worst abuses in factory farming. They seek to increase the degree of difficulty in qualifying ballot initiatives to help farm animals or other animals – either by raising the total number of signatures needed or by imposing an onerous distribution requirement – to block any future measures we might undertake. 

One of their latest gambits are the so-called “right to farm” measures now moving through some Midwest state legislatures and headed for the ballot or into law in others.

After trying to block all ballot measures related to animal welfare in 2002 – the same year we had an anti-cockfighting measure on the ballot – Oklahoma lawmakers are now seeking to place a measure on the November ballot that would guarantee that “the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”  The measure goes on to say, “The Legislature shall pass no law which abridges the rights of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices.”  North Dakota voters approved a similar measure in November 2012, and Missouri voters will have a nearly identical measure on the ballot later in the year. 

No other industry is afforded such an unreasonable blanket protection in any state. Why should farming practices -- which for good reasons ought to be the subject of unending innovation and improvements -- be locked in place from a legal perspective, in a fashion that precludes voters or legislators from enacting reasonable standards that reflect our core values in society?

Has animal agribusiness been such a remarkable upstanding corporate citizen that its practices are beyond reproach? Some players within the industry confine animals to the point of immobilizing them for their entire lives. Others release enormous amounts of untreated animal waste into their communities. Others lace feed and water with antibiotics, threatening to develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could have dangerous consequences to the health of people throughout the nation.

This is not the kind of track record that warrants a policy response to forever inhibit state legislative standards. The “Right to Farm” constitutional amendment will not allow Missouri or Oklahoma legislators to impose common sense environmental and animal welfare controls on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Lawmakers will have no recourse to make sure that industrial farms don’t pollute our water, or to keep multinational corporations from bullying family farmers and driving them out of business. Or what about foreign corporations buying up farms and then doing whatever they want with the constitutional protections enshrined in law with “right to farm?” As an example, do we want foreign officials calling the shots on pig farms and chicken farms owned by the company or contracting with the company, in Oklahoma or Missouri?

And what happens if a giant hog farm wants to open near a new community development, or near a scenic trail or a high-use river? Can the state not step in and balance the interests? And who will decide what types of modern farming will be given constitutional protection? Will people have the right to farm horses or dogs for meat in a residential neighborhood? The result will be endless and costly litigation to sort out which regulations are allowed and which ones are trumped by the state constitution.

The Right to Farm measures are an unwarranted overreach by industries that want free rein, and don’t want accountability in our system of checks and balances. Consumers, government, and industry all have responsibilities to examine behavior and business, and the beauty of our system of government not only involves the interplay of these actors, but a continuous level of engagement between them all. To freeze the current policies, and to prevent legislators from touching an enterprise as fundamental as agriculture, is reckless and antidemocratic, especially at a time when the citizens of our nation are more interested in food policy than ever. 

I guess though, that’s the point of their effort. They don’t want to hear from consumers. Just eat what’s on your plate. They’re not interested in what you have to say or what you want.     

March 18, 2014

Sounding the Alarm on Horse Soring

 

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A horse at the National Celebration in Shelbyville in 2013, one of many wearing chains and stacks.

This week, The HSUS rolled out a new television advertisement calling on lawmakers to crack down on the illegal, unethical, and inhumane practice of horse “soring” – where trainers injure the feet and legs of horses by mechanical or chemical means to force them to perform an exaggerated high-stepping gait (known as the “Big Lick”) at competitive shows. The ads started running in Kentucky this week, and urge viewers to call on Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to support the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which has 51 cosponsors and was introduced by their Republican colleague Kelly Ayotte. (The House bill, introduced by Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield and Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, has a remarkable 268 cosponsors.) We’ll be expanding the reach of these advertisements to other media markets around the country in the coming weeks.

Sen. Paul sounded off recently in a news story and said he was considering introducing a companion to Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn’s pro-soring bill, H.R. 4098, which would put authority to oversee the practice of soring under the control of the very people engaging in criminal conduct. The Blackburn bill is sham reform, and it would make enforcement of the current weak rules even more difficult.

Sen. Ayotte’s bill, on the other hand, would end the failed industry self-policing system; ban the show-ring use of chains, stacks, and excessively heavy shoes (devices that are part and parcel of the soring process); and increase penalties for violators.

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Footage from the undercover investigation revealing shocking abuse. You can ask your legislators to support the PAST Act here.

Sen. Paul would only bring shame on himself to stand in the way of legislation to root out this form of illegal, malicious and intentional cruelty to horses. It’s my hope that he sees that the industry is attempting to deny that abuses are widespread and to protect the “Big Lick” scofflaws. No one should be able to get away with burning chemicals on the legs of horses to cause them pain and misery in order to win ribbons for themselves.

The entire issue was thrust into the spotlight after a 2011 HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s (no relation to the Senator) stable in Collierville, Tenn. The investigator recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face and intentionally burned with caustic chemicals. The new commercial shows footage from this investigation.

McConnell is not just one bad apple. He was a leader in the industry and a Hall of Fame trainer, and insiders have said that just about everybody in the “Big Lick” segment of the industry is abusing horses. If they don’t, they feel the other trainers will have an unfair advantage. The rot within the industry has set in for decades, and they are fighting this effort to clean out the decay and criminal subculture.

If they weren’t doing it, why would they fear the PAST Act? And why are they saying the PAST Act would destroy their industry? If there were just a handful of bad operators, they would have nothing to worry about.

The PAST Act is endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, every state veterinary medical association (including the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association), the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the American Horse Council, along with a host of other national animal protection, veterinary and horse industry organizations.

It is noteworthy that such a diverse and powerful array of organizations have come together to call for a legislative solution to a problem – and some of these groups disagree on other welfare issues, such as horse slaughter. But all of them see soring as torture, and agree that the law must speak and it must be enforced.

Watch the ad below, and then take action by contacting your legislators here

 

March 17, 2014

From Millstone to Milestone

Our movement achieved a remarkable milestone last week, with South Dakota becoming the 50th state to adopt felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals (The bill also makes cockfighting a felony offense).  A couple of our founding fathers (Washington and Jefferson) and their heirs (Lincoln and Roosevelt), represented by Mount Rushmore in the state, must have cracked a smile in their granite facades, since it marks a moment in the growth of civility and the rule of law in our society.

Doll at emergency shelterEstablishing serious penalties for malicious cruelty has been a top priority for the HSUS over the last quarter century, and the enactment of the South Dakota statute closes out an important element of our quest for universal opposition to cruelty. I’ve long believed that our movement is grounded on anti-cruelty principles, and the enshrining in the law of meaningful penalties for cruelty is a foundation stone for the acceptance of our ideals. 

In this case, the effort in South Dakota to pass the bill was led by South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven. There were a broad array of stakeholders involved, including livestock groups, law enforcement officials, veterinarians, local animal control officials, along with animal welfare supporters. Darci Adams, HSUS’s state director in South Dakota, called it a “great day for animals in the state.”

The stage for enactment of this measure was set after a 2012 ballot initiative in neighboring North Dakota that we launched to make that state the 49th to adopt felony-level penalties for cruelty to animals.  Voters there rejected the measure, but only after our adversaries promised to enact an even more comprehensive measure against cruelty in the legislature. That bill was passed in 2013.  Then, with South Dakota standing alone among the states, and with people talking about a potential HSUS ballot initiative there, the stage was set for action in the state.  South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed the bill into law late last week.

No one wants to stand out on cruelty to animals issues, and that’s how things played out some years ago with our campaign to outlaw cockfighting in all the states.  We conducted ballot measures in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma to outlaw cockfighting some years ago, and that left only Louisiana and New Mexico with legal cockfighting.  Then Governor Bill Richardson led the fight to ban cockfighting in his state in 2007, and Louisiana followed suit, after a strong HSUS campaign, with that ban coming into effect in 2008. 

Prior to 1986, only four states had felony animal cruelty laws. Only about a dozen states had felony-level penalties for dogfighting, and about a half-dozen had felony penalties for cockfighting. But today, all 50 states and the federal government treat dogfighting as a felony offense.  In 2008, a year after the Michael Vick case came to light, Idaho and Wyoming adopted felony-level penalties for dogfighting, at the urging of The HSUS.  

We at HSUS have had a lot of monumental accomplishments, but this is surely one of the biggest.  It’s a moment to celebrate our gains, and to look ahead to the goals we as a movement want to achieve in the years ahead.