November 19, 2014

Japan May Defy International Court Ruling on Whaling

I guess it’s no big surprise that Japan has advanced a new proposal to kill whales for commercial purposes in Antarctic waters, again under the guise of “science” and “research.”  In late March 2014, the highest court in the world -- the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- ruled that Japan’s previous program in these waters, JARPAII, was not based on science and thus was in violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling. Following the ruling, Japan indicated that it would abide by the decision and the rule of law. Indeed, there will be no whales killed for the first time in over a century in the Southern Ocean in the current season – a triumph for our cause and a respite for the whales.

Minke Whales
Japan’s new plan calls for a quota of 333 minke whales, which exceeds the number of animals that the whalers have actually killed in recent years. Photo: iStockphoto

However, at this year’s annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portoroz, Slovenia, Japan made it clear that it intended to respond to the detailed criticism in the ICJ ruling. Japan also indicated that it would resume its take of whales in the icy waters that include the IWC-designated Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which Japan does not recognize, in a renewed 2015-2016 whaling program.

Japan’s new plan, NEWREP-A, calls for a quota of 333 minke whales -- a sharply reduced quota over that of the prior plan, JARPAII, but one that exceeds the number of animals that the whalers have actually killed in recent years. Over the 12-year time horizon for the plan, the aggregate kill would be nearly 4,000 whales, if it all comes to pass. 

JARPAII targeted 855 minke whales, 50 humpback whales (although it never took any humpbacks) and 10 fin whales annually, and it is at least good news that Japan’s modified plan, coming after the court’s ruling, calls for no taking of humpback or fin whales.

At Portoroz this year, after intense debate, the member nations of the IWC approved New Zealand’s resolution to uphold the ICJ ruling and to impose strict review standards on any new proposals for scientific whaling. The IWC vote means that the Japanese plan must be carefully considered by the IWC’s Scientific Committee, using standards set by the ICJ, and then by the commission itself. Japan, unfortunately, will undoubtedly dismiss the anticipated criticism as political or emotional and will increase its effort to justify the logic of its proposal, a pseudo-scientific rationale for dressing up a commercial catch as an exercise in research. In the end, should Japan succeed, a few biological samples will be sent to laboratories while a ton of whale meat infiltrates the commercial marketplace.

It is difficult to fathom why Japan continues this archaic and cruel slaughter when it meets no pressing domestic need for protein, does so much to tarnish Japan’s image as an enlightened nation and a civil society, and, as a practical matter, harpoons and blows up the biggest creatures ever to live on the planet. What’s even more confounding is that the whole whaling industry is a financial boondoggle, surviving only because of the subsidies, the largesse, and the ceaseless diplomatic maneuverings of Japan’s national government.   

The ICJ ruling should have given the island nation an escape path to terminate its whaling programs. Whale meat already goes to waste, and young people in Japan are thoroughly uninterested in eating the slabs, steaks and cubes from whales. 

In fact, whale watching and appreciation is growing at a rapid pace in the country, and there is a more favorable ethos toward animals and the environment taking hold. The fact is, of the 200 nations in the world, Japan stands with just two others in attempting to justify a commercial hunt for these most remarkable creatures. 

It’s not too late for the country to restore its honor and reverse course on this important issue.

November 18, 2014

Poachers and Trophy Hunters Conspiring to Hurt Endangered Rhinos

Shooting a rhino for sport seems about as challenging as shooting a parked bus. The prehistoric-looking beasts are big and not fleet of foot. They confront a threat by charging it, not running away. That doesn’t serve them well as a hunting guide and a trophy hunter get within range with a high-powered telescopic rifle to bring down the endangered animals for their heads and horns.

Last year more than 1,004 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone and this year’s tally as of October 24th was 899 – that’s three rhinos poached each day. Photo: Dr. William Fowlds

But despite the absence of any challenge, there is an elite class of people that will go to great lengths, and will pay a pretty penny, to shoot a rhino. Corey Knowlton bid $350,000 at a January auction of the Dallas Safari Club for the privilege of shooting one, claiming he wanted to help the species. He needs a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow him to import the rhino's body following the hunt in Namibia, and The HSUS is opposing the import allowance.

Additionally, Michael Luzich, a Las Vegas investment manager, bid $200,000 for a permit to kill a rhino and is also seeking a permit to bring the trophy into the United States, which The HSUS is also opposing.

But the high-minded talk of conservation in such circles always seems to break down quickly when there’s talk of their not being able to import the heads of slain animals into the United States. The Dallas Safari Club says it will return Knowlton’s money to him if the federal government doesn’t allow him to bring back the head. 

The whole fascination with killing a rhino is bizarre to me.

"I'm a hunter," Knowlton told WFAA-TV in Dallas. "I want to experience a black rhino. I want to be intimately involved with a black rhino."

All of this farce is playing out in the wake of a major federal investigation about a rhino-killing scam that stretched from Alabama to South Africa. The owners of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris -- Dawie Groenewald and his brother, Janneman Groenewald --  were charged with conspiracy to sell illegal rhinoceros hunts in South Africa (in order to defraud American hunters), money laundering and secretly trafficking in rhino horns. The operation was run out of Alabama and George Beck, the same U.S. Attorney who so deftly handled the prosecution of a ring of illegal dogfighters I wrote about last week, is handling the criminal charges against the alleged perpetrators.

According to a statement from the federal authorities, the defendants are charged with selling illegal rhino hunts by misleading trophy hunters. The defendants are alleged to have failed to obtain the necessary permits required by South Africa, and to have cut the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives. The indictment alleges that the defendants then sold the rhino horn on the black market. 

Eleven illegal hunts are detailed in the papers filed in federal court, including one in which the rhino had to be shot and killed after being repeatedly wounded by a bow, and another in which Dawie Groenewald used a chainsaw to remove the horn from a sedated rhino that had been hunted with a tranquilizer gun. 

We are grateful to the federal authorities for breaking up this scam and this unconscionable conduct, with people on two continents conspiring to profit from and participate in trophy hunting and rhino horn sales.

The whole business of the commercial killing of rhinos, at a time when the species is at risk of extinction, needs to end. Last year more than 1,004 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone and this year’s tally as of October 24th was 899 – that’s three rhinos poached each day. At this rate, the 2014 rhino poaching figure for South Africa will be 1,100, exceeding last year’s record-setting poaching level.

News reports have quoted a USFWS spokesperson Gavin Shire as saying that the agency is applying extra scrutiny to the import permit requests because of the rise in poaching. The USFWS should deny the permits to the Safari Club hunters and follow that the first rule of conservation, as stated by Aldo Leopold: preserve all the parts. And let’s hope that U.S. Attorney Beck is able to deliver meaningful sentences to the ringleaders of the Out of Africa scam, just as he did with a group of miscreant dogfighters in his home state.

November 17, 2014

For Christie’s Sake, Ban the Crates

I can understand Chris Christie’s dilemma – either signing an enormously popular bill to ban gestation crates in New Jersey or caving in to the veto demands of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose support is coveted by every aspiring Republican presidential candidate who trudges through Iowa. There’s no mystery that Christie is closely examining the idea of running for president, and that the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses often winnow the field and set up the front-runners. 

Sow in gestation crate
A recent poll found 93 percent of New Jersey residents want to ban gestation crates. Photo: The HSUS

But defying Gov. Branstad might be just what Christie needs to prove he’s no handmaiden of the political class in this country or of a trade association whose views are way out of step with mainstream sentiment.

Any rational observer of the debate over gestation crates must conclude that they are on their way out. The overwhelming bipartisan votes in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate in favor of Senator Raymond Lesniak’s anti-cruelty legislation, along with all of the favorable media attention, are just the latest indicators of the public’s strong opposition to the cruel practice of locking breeding pigs in tiny crates for nearly their entire life. The Star Ledger, New Jersey’s largest paper, correctly noted that the use of gestation crates  “is inhumane treatment, that is beyond debate.”

This issue has been on state ballot three times – first in Florida and then in Arizona and California – and each time voters approved the ban by ever-wider margins.  In Arizona, the conservative sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, was the pitchman for the HSUS ballot initiative to ban the crates. In 2006, 62 percent of Arizonans voted for the ban. California voters approved a similar ban with nearly 64 percent of the vote, with the measure even winning in much of the state’s more conservative and agriculture-dominated Central Valley.

Six other states, by act of their legislatures or state rulemaking, have passed laws to phase out the crates, including the major pig-producing states of Colorado, Michigan and Ohio.

But those public policy gains are less compelling than the revolution that’s occurring in the food industry. More than 60 of the biggest names in food retail have said they want to cleanse their supply chains of pork from outfits that confine the sows so severely. In announcing it would phase out its purchase of pork from farms that confine sows in crates, McDonald's – which buys perhaps 15 percent of all pork bellies in the United States -- said gestation stalls “are not a sustainable production system for the future. There are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows.”  Denny’s said that banning gestation crates “is best for our company, our guests, and our continued work to improve animal welfare.”

During the last 30 months, almost every big name in food retail has gotten on board, including fast-food giants Burger King and Hardee’s, supermarket chains Kroger and Safeway, food service providers such as Aramark, Compass and Sodexo, and middle-America restaurants such as Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel.

But the argument that really clinches the case is that some of the biggest pig producers have decided to get out of the crates business.  Smithfield and Cargill have made pledges to rid their production systems of that form of extreme confinement. Tyson has indicated it wants to move in that direction. 

So if these big players are saying it’s the right thing to do, you know it’s also economically feasible for them to do so.

Australia, Canada, the European Union and South Africa are already there, or on their way.

As Christie contemplates banning gestation crates, there can be no question that his home-state residents favor the policy. A recent poll found 93 percent of them want to ban the crates.

And while Governor Branstad and the Iowa Pork Producers Council are urging Christie to veto the bill, they are now representing an extreme and losing proposition.  The world is moving forward, and that includes the vast majority of Iowans. In fact, one poll showed that only two percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers would be less likely to support Christie if he signed the bill, while 37 percent would be more likely to support him. The Des Moines Register said “crates may no longer have a future in pork.”

Chris Christie can show he’s his own man, doing the job he was elected for in New Jersey. Or he can pander to a few Iowa politicians and a trade group that is in denial about the imminent demise of gestation crates not only in the United States, but throughout the world.

The nation, and not just New Jersey animal advocates, are watching to see if he passes a basic test of decency and political acumen, or whether he buys a pig in a poke.

November 14, 2014

Lead Ammo Policy Tests the Rhetoric of Hunting Lobby

The trophy hunting lobby in the United States conveniently and selectively invokes “science” in defense of reckless practices. In Maine, in arguing against Question 1 (to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping), the National Rifle Association, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine told voters to “trust the biologists” because the state’s chief bear biologist – himself a bear trapper and baiter – and the politicians who run the agency were aligned with them.

Every year, an estimated 10 to 20 million birds and animals, including birds of prey like the bald eagle, die of lead poisoning, either by ingesting lead shot or by feeding on lead-contaminated prey. Photo: iStockphoto

But will they “trust the biologists” when more independent-minded scientists ask them to end retrograde practices?

What immediately comes to mind is lead ammunition, where there is a mountain of science that says that this toxic substance indiscriminately kills millions of wild animals each year. There are affordable and effective forms of ammunition that are widely used in its place, and there can be no rational argument that there is no practical alternative.

Last week, the international community, and specifically its wildlife scientists and policy-makers, made a significant statement in declaring that the hunting lobby across the globe must halt its use of lead ammunition. The Eleventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals adopted a resolution urging the phase-out of lead ammunition in all environments over the next three years, and agreed to guidelines to prevent the risk of poisoning of migratory birds.

The Convention on Migratory Species is an environmental treaty, administered by the United Nations Environment Program, which meets every three years to set the global conservation agenda. Although not legally binding, its resolutions have great weight and constitute a set of important, science-based declarations on wildlife management issues.

Because of its acute toxicity, lead has already been removed from various paints, gasoline, pipes, children’s toys and a host of other household items to protect human health. Every year, an estimated 10 to 20 million birds and other animals die of lead poisoning, either by ingesting lead shot or fragments directly, or by feeding on lead-contaminated prey. But, despite the more than 500 scientific studies affirming its serious impacts on wildlife, and alternatives readily available in the marketplace, lead-based ammunition remains one of the greatest sources of lead discharged into the environment.

As many as 29 countries have implemented some variation of regulation for the use of lead ammunition, and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began requiring non-toxic ammunition in hunting migratory waterfowl in 1991, after biologists and conservationists estimated roughly two million ducks died each year from ingesting spent lead pellets. And California passed legislation last year to phase out lead ammunition to protect the endangered California condor. The NRA and the groups that fought us in Maine, saying “trust the biologists,” are many of the same groups that fought the 1991 federal rule and vigorously fought California’s legislation against lead ammunition.

At the recent UN Summit, the United States was a dissenter on the anti-lead resolution, indicating that lead ammunition should be regulated at the state level. While it’s true that state agencies have a critical role to play, the federal government is the biggest wildlife manager in the United States. This is why, in June, The HSUS and its coalition partners petitioned the Department of Interior to phase out the use of lead ammunition for hunting on federal lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which, between them, control more than 150 million acres of federal lands.

I applaud the international community for addressing this important issue and aiming to reduce the use of lead ammunition. Momentum is building around the globe. But the U.S. government must also do its part and so must the states in passing policy reforms that will end the use of this toxic substance in hunting – and that means standing up to folks in the gun and hunting lobby who invoke scientists who agree with them and who are often captured by the industry.

The conservation-minded leaders within the hunting community are faint voices, and the loud and politically identifiable leaders are the anti-environmentalists and anti-conservationists at the NRA, Safari Club International, National Shooting Sports Foundation and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. They treat conservation as a talking point or a historical artifact, but not as a continuing commitment. They cast the idea of sacrifice and the common good as part of a scheme to erode their rights. No true wildlife advocate should support the use of lead ammunition in hunting, given that the killing continues long after the bullet leaves the gun barrel.   

November 13, 2014

Dogfighting Smackdown

Yesterday, we closed an important chapter in a long-running anti-cruelty case when a federal judge in Alabama handed down tough sentences for a number of active participants in a dogfighting network that spanned four states. One defendant, dubbed by U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins as “the godfather” of this ring, was sentenced to eight years in a federal penitentiary—the longest prison sentence ever handed down in a federal dogfighting case. Testimony indicated that Donnie Anderson hosted 80 fights in which nearly 500 pit bulls fought for hundreds of spectators who bet as much as $100,000 per fight.

Dog with kong
Dogs like this one, rescued from the multi-state dogfighting ring last year, were battle-scarred but still gentle as we approached them. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The case came to light in August 2013 when I joined dozens of my colleagues from The HSUS and staff members from the ASPCA in southern Alabama as we teamed with federal and state law enforcement officials to carry out the second largest dogfighting raid ever in U.S. history. We freed 367 dogs from heavy chains and worn, barren patches of dirt, and from the clutches of a group of dogfighters intent on risking the animals’ lives for profit and amusement. Law enforcement, working under the direction of U.S. Attorney George Beck, Jr., arrested 15 suspects that day and in the days that followed, and the number of dogs seized surpassed 400 in total.

When we arrived on the scene on that hot August day, we saw that the dogs had been battle-scarred and neglected, but they were still so gentle as we approached them and gave them copious belly rubs and fresh water – the sort of human behavior they had probably only dreamed of but never experienced. For the last 15 months, we’ve been working with volunteers to care for them at an enormous expense to our organization but as a necessary follow up to the raids – in order to get them into a better place to start their new lives. Some of them have already found wonderful homes, and thanks to the Dogfighting Rescue Coalition many more will go on to good homes. 

It is with a special sense of pride that I look back on this case because The HSUS has worked so hard to upgrade federal laws against animal fighting, enabling federal and state officials and our own Animal Rescue team to take the needed actions on the ground and bring the law down on these criminals.  (Even this year, we upgraded the federal law yet again, making it a federal crime to attend or bring a minor to an animal fight.)

Judge Keith Watkins imposed three- and five-year sentences on three other big players in an effort to “promote respect for the law.” The judge also ordered that after their release from prison, each defendant serve a two- or three-year term of supervised release. While on supervised release, the defendants are prohibited from possessing dogs. Further, a hearing will be scheduled in the future where the defendants may be ordered to pay restitution to The HSUS and ASPCA for the cost of caring for the seized dogs. Some defendants will be required to attend a drug rehabilitation program because of the large cache of narcotics discovered at the sites.

Throughout the hearing, Judge Watkins commented on the extreme cruelty committed both due to the dogfighting and the conditions in which these dogs were forced to live. Many of the dogs in this case were emaciated and very ill with skin conditions, eye infections and wounds that were never properly treated, if at all. He estimated that the defendants had injured or killed between 420 to 640 dogs in the course of this dogfighting operation. Also noted was the amount of drugs, weapons and violence intertwined with dogfighting. Testimony also revealed several instances when children were brought to dogfights—a crime that now carries a felony penalty of up to three years in prison, thanks to a provision we worked to include in the Farm Bill passed earlier this year.

Over the last quarter century, The HSUS has helped change the legal framework in this country, working to make dogfighting a felony in all 50 states and also a federal crime. And year after year, we’ve worked to train thousands of law enforcement personnel on investigating this criminal behavior and to remind law enforcement officials and prosecutors that when you see dogfighting in action, you see people who typically have no quarrel with breaking the law.

By bringing cases to the attention of law enforcement agencies, by upgrading the law, by caring for the victims of fighting, and by training agencies and officials and helping them to build cases on the ground, we are helping to establish a zero-tolerance policy for dogfighting in this nation. We are grateful to all of our partners in this important case, and we want to acknowledge in particular the diligent and serious-minded work of Judge Watkins and U.S. Attorney Beck in taking this case seriously. These criminals did not get a free pass for their crimes, and that’s as it should be.

November 12, 2014

Virginia Pet Stores: Selling Puppies and a Pack of Lies

Our undercover investigations have proven time and time again that most pet stores purchase puppies from puppy mills. But that hasn’t stopped so many pet stores we’ve investigated from trying to deceive customers about the origin of the pups it sells. This year we sent an undercover investigator with a hidden camera into every pet store in Virginia we could find that sells puppies. Our researchers also traced the sources of more than 2,000 puppies shipped to Virginia pet stores over seven months of 2014. 

This dirty, underweight boxer was photographed by USDA inspectors at the facility of Charlene and Darlene Koster in Kansas, which sells to Petland, one of the stores in Virginia found purchasing from puppy mills. Photo: USDA

The results of our investigation have only fortified our previous assessments. We found widespread deception and omissions -- all seemingly designed to provide false assurances or to dupe the public into buying expensive puppies from mills treating dogs deplorably.

Some of the most noteworthy findings:

  • A puppy in one store (Pet-Go-Round, Virginia Beach) was so sick that he was gasping for air and could barely stand: our investigator called law enforcement as soon as she left the store. The puppy had been shipped from a dealer in Missouri, the nation’s hotbed for mills.
  • One store (Family Pet, Chesapeake) told our investigator that they buy from a small breeder when really they buy from a Nebraskan with a long list of Animal Welfare Act violations.  That kennel was featured in our 101 Puppy Mills report along with other large-scale breeders that violate the minimal standards of care set by the federal government.
  • Another store (Dreamy Puppy in Chantilly) claims in online ads that it doesn’t buy from puppy mills, and its staff told us they get puppies only from “local breeders…small breeders in the area.” Yet we found that Dreamy Puppy received puppies from several notorious puppy mills in Arkansas and Missouri, including one that cited “.22 shot by owner” as its official form of euthanasia, and another that pleaded guilty to complicity in cruelty to animals charges last April.

Altogether, we found most of the stores purchasing from large breeders who have been cited for Animal Welfare Act violations, or major out-of-state brokers linked to puppy mills in the Midwest. Six of the pet stores had purchased puppies from puppy mills so substandard that we had identified them by name in our previous reports on problem puppy mills.  Most of the remaining stores refused to divulge much, if any, breeder information, apparently in violation of a Virginia law that requires them to post breeder information near each cage.

USDA inspectors found many Animal Welfare Act violations at a facility owned by Judy and Jeffrey Gray in Missouri, including puppies with their legs dangling through wire flooring. This puppy mill sold a puppy to Savita Pets in Deltaville, Virginia. Photo: USDA

Our findings underscore what HSUS undercover investigations have proven time and time again, including our prior pet store investigations in New York, Chicago and Texas: the vast majority of pet stores are supplied by puppy mills, regardless of the assurances offered up by the stores’ sales teams.

Virginia has a strong law to regulate large-scale breeders in the state. This is a much-needed policy, but alone, it is incomplete.  The state needs to consider laws that even the playing field by ensuring that out-of-state substandard puppy mills can’t enter the same market. State lawmakers can address this problem by passing laws to require pet stores to purchase only from breeders that meet the same Virginia standards of care already on the books. The state should ask more of these pet stores and the breeders who supply them. 

Whether you’re in Virginia or any other state, you can help end the cycle of misery for dogs in puppy mills. Make the next member of your family a shelter pet, adopt from a rescue or find a responsible breeder whom you can visit in person and see first-hand how the dogs are treated. 

Take the pledge to help stop puppy mills»

November 11, 2014

The Agro-Industrial Complex in the U.S. and Its Drug Dependency

Pigs in a research barn squealed with every step they took, their movements accompanied by intense pain and discomfort. A pork producer opened his transport truck to find 10 to 12 pigs dead after each journey. And in one slaughterhouse, documented by animal behavior expert Dr. Temple Grandin, “the pigs were so weak they couldn’t walk. They had five or six people just dedicated to handling the lame pigs.”

Gestation crates
Residues of the drug ractopamine have been found in one in five samples of fresh pork in supermarkets, according to the magazine Consumer Reports. Photo: The HSUS

All of these incidents were “adverse events” suffered by pigs after they were fed ractopamine, a rampantly used growth-promoting drug that has triggered more reported incidents of negative side effects – more than 160,000 and counting – than any other animal drug on the market. Banned in the European Union, Russia and China – which is, in itself, telling, given that the latter two nations are not known for rigor in food safety – the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ractopamine for use in pigs after reviewing only one questionable study on the direct effect of its exposure to humans. Consistent with human health concerns, ractopamine residues have, nevertheless, been found in one in five samples of fresh pork in supermarkets, according to the magazine Consumer Reports. Despite these deeply troubling statistics, ractopamine is fed to a majority of American pigs, as well as cows and turkeys, to spur rapid lean muscle growth.

Last Thursday, The HSUS, the United Farm Workers of America and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit challenging the FDA’s approval of ractopamine and ractopamine combination drugs (including combinations with medically important antibiotics such as tylosin). The Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a companion lawsuit the same day. The two cases argue that the FDA has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that an agency consider the health, safety and environmental consequences of its actions. The FDA has never conducted a single independent study into the safety, environmental or animal welfare effects of ractopamine.

The collaboration with the United Farm Workers of America is a vivid reminder that ractopamine affects not just animals and consumers but also workers. So often we find that where there are problems for animals, there are also troubles or hazards for workers. Farmworkers have reported becoming violently ill after exposure to this toxic compound. And since the drug can make animals more aggressive, it puts farmworkers in greater danger, too.

We’re also highlighting the dangers of ractopamine to the highly vulnerable ecosystems around factory farms. Pigs, cows and turkeys excrete most of the ractopamine fed to them into their manure, which is often dumped onto fields, potentially introducing over a million pounds of the drug per year into the environment. Once in the environment, it can pollute waterways and harm plants and aquatic invertebrates, including 98 species of threatened and endangered aquatic invertebrates and plants that we’ve identified as having critical habitat in areas where ractopamine is used.

The fact that the FDA approved ractopamine without considering all of these risks shows how broken our veterinary drug approval system is. Just as a staggering 80 percent of antibiotics used in America are now fed to farm animals for non-therapeutic reasons, hormones and growth-promoting drugs are also commonplace on factory farms, and, as this lawsuit shows, they are often used in tandem. The FDA should start pulling these risk-laden and harmful drugs off the market, and ractopamine is a perfect place to start.

There is no animal welfare justification for using ractopamine, which causes pigs to overheat, collapse and suffer in transport – the pork industry uses the drug solely to boost growth rates and increase profits. If the National Pork Producers Council is serious about treating these animals as more than just widgets and units of production, it should urge America’s pork producers to stop using the drug immediately. Until ractopamine use is eliminated, consumers should stop buying these risky pork products.

In a path-breaking report in 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production spoke of “an agro-industrial complex” exerting immense control over regulatory agencies and Congress to the detriment of animals, consumers and the environment. The use of ractopamine is an ugly reminder of the power of that agro-industrial complex, and how good decision-making is subordinated to the profit-making of the pharmaceutical lobby and the factory farming industry. When we’ve fallen behind China and Russia on these issues, you know there’s something terribly amiss in our oversight system and our policy-making processes.

November 10, 2014

Federal Court Leaves Puppy Millers Out in the Cold

On Friday, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by 42 plaintiffs, including dozens of dog-breeding clubs, that aimed to neuter a U. S. Department of Agriculture rule to crack down on Internet sellers of puppy mill dogs who don’t meet basic care standards. Commercial puppy breeders and others filed their suit in federal court last December challenging a regulation that sought to bring all large-scale commercial dog breeders, regardless of their sales strategies, under the regulatory authority of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA.

In the last 20 years, thousands of dog breeders have escaped USDA oversight by adopting an Internet sales approach. Photo: Pam Sordyl

In a detailed and witty opinion, the court concluded that these breeders "are barking up the wrong tree" because "their complaints are more policy disagreements with APHIS’s regulatory approach than they are valid legal objections to APHIS’s authority." Dismissing the breeders' legal claims as "a dog that won't hunt," the court granted judgment in favor of USDA and The HSUS – which intervened to help defend the agency’s rule.

I am very pleased that this long-overdue USDA rule, to bring oversight to as many as 5,000 dog, cat and rabbit dealers who sell over the Internet, has been upheld by a federal court. Every large-scale commercial breeding operation, whether it sells to a pet store or directly to the public through an Internet site, should be licensed and inspected, and every dog should be provided with a bowl of clean water and enough space to move around. The original Animal Welfare Act never contemplated the idea of Internet sales of dogs, with the dogs shipped to a buyer several states away who would have no knowledge of the underlying conditions endured by the dogs. In the last 20 years, thousands of dog breeders have escaped any oversight by adopting an Internet sales approach, while their competitors did have to deal with USDA oversight. Last year’s rule-making action – fortified by an effort in Congress to pass the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, which enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in both chambers – was overdue, and it filled a gaping hole in the law that was being exploited by unscrupulous puppy sellers.  Responsible breeders, many of whom we work with, support the new rule.

We hear so much from animal-use industries that they care for animals so well, and that our actions to secure and enforce minimum standards are unneeded and unwelcome. Well, here we have a modest rule that simply asks for inspections and the most basic care standards for dogs.  Any decent and responsible breeder automatically conforms because the standards are so modest – clean water, enough space to turn around, the animals’ fur not matted and covered in feces. Their opposition to such a rule means either that they believe they cannot comply with the minimal standards (and they really don’t give a damn about the dogs), or they are philosophically opposed to any kind of government oversight of their operations. Either way, it doesn’t inspire confidence, and frankly, it’s an embarrassment.

Our past investigations have uncovered that many Internet sellers of dogs had gleaming websites, seeming to show well-cared-for dogs. But the situation on the ground was entirely different. Many dogs under the control of these breeders suffer in substandard, filthy and overcrowded cages, often for the duration of their lives. A good number of these breeders were licensed by the American Kennel Club (AKC), making a mockery of its so-called inspection program – with standards and inspection reports the non-profit organization won’t even disclose. The interventions we make – where we work with law enforcement to intervene and rescue the dogs – costs The HSUS and other animal welfare groups millions of dollars every year. In North Carolina alone – the home state of the AKC – we’ve conducted more than 20 puppy mill rescues in the last three years, demonstrating the problem in spades; yet the puppy mill industry and their allies in the legislature have thwarted any state standards, creating an even greater need for the consistent federal oversight and a level playing field.

The question is, why should the dogs and the whole of society have to absorb the effects of the reckless and inhumane behavior of these puppy mills?  As a result of these breeders treating the dogs like objects or mere commodities, dogs suffer immeasurably, and the humane community picks up the bill to handle thousands of animals horribly mistreated by this industry. What a sad statement that dozens of dog-breed clubs worked to nullify this sensible regulation. I’m so pleased that the court left them out in the cold on this one.

November 07, 2014

REACHing Beyond Animal Testing

Our global #BeCrueltyFree campaign to end animal testing for cosmetics grows each day. Last month we celebrated a landmark move by India to close its borders to newly animal-tested cosmetics, becoming the first cruelty-free cosmetics market in South Asia. And our #BeCrueltyFree teams are on the ground in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States, working with lawmakers, regulators, and companies to make similar progress toward an end to cosmetics animal testing worldwide.

But we’re not stopping there. HSI and HSUS scientists and policy experts are also working behind-the-scenes with stakeholders in other product sectors — chemicals, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals — changing laws and regulations across the globe to replace decades-old animal tests with modern alternatives.

One of HSI’s top areas of focus has been on reforming Europe’s chemicals law, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals). REACH requires a variety of animal test data for upwards of 30,000 substances, which means horrific suffering from chemical poisoning and death for potentially millions of rats, mice, rabbits, and other creatures. But REACH also requires the use of animal testing alternatives where available, including measures to revise the law itself to reflect scientific progress on alternatives.

Back in 2012, HSI proposed substantial changes to REACH testing requirements to spare millions of animals while providing the same level of regulatory scrutiny of chemicals. Last week we celebrated a long overdue victory as the EU took steps to adopt several of HSI’s life-saving proposals into law. These include:

  • Allowing exemptions for skin lethal dose tests, potentially sparing 15,000 or more rabbits or rats.
  • Replacing a wasteful animal test for reproductive toxicity, sparing up to 2.4 million rats.
  • Virtually eliminating rabbit eye and skin irritation testing through recognition of available alternatives, sparing approximately 21,000 rabbits.
  • Paving the way for full replacement of mouse and guinea pig tests for skin allergy, potentially sparing as many as 218,000 animals.

But our work on REACH isn’t done yet — not until the EU adopts all available animal testing alternatives identified by HSI. You can help by taking action here.

Between 2010-12, we worked with European institutions and companies to revise testing requirements for pesticides, prior to which many redundant animal poisoning tests were required by law, subjecting 10,000 or more rodents, rabbits, dogs, and other animals to suffering and death for every new pesticide chemical registered for sale. Imagine row upon row of dogs in cages, forced to consume toxin-laced food every day for a year, growing sicker over time, until they are killed for dissection, or rabbits locked in neck restraints while a pesticide chemical is dripped into their eyes or on to the shaved skin on their backs. So archaic, so horrifying.

But our scientists successfully argued for deletion of the one-year dog test, for adoption of reconstructed human skin and other validated alternative methods in place of obsolete rabbit tests, and for nearly 100 other life-saving changes, which together have the potential to reduce pesticide animal testing by as much as half in Europe.

We have already had some success with Canadian and U.S. pesticide authorities, and our teams on the ground are actively engaged with regulators in Australia, Brazil, and India, and through international regulatory cooperation agreements, to update testing requirements to incorporate the most modern and humane testing tools.

In the near-term, these regulatory changes will save millions of gentle creatures from ever becoming “laboratory animals.” And as the toolbox of animal-free test methods continues to grow, the foundations we lay today will pave the way for closing the sad era of animal testing for cosmetics, pesticides, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. 

November 06, 2014

Black Rhinos and African Lions in the Crosshairs

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published notice that it has received import permit applications for two individuals who want to shoot critically endangered black rhinos in Namibia and then import the trophies into the United States. One of the permits was auctioned for $350,000 at a Dallas Safari Club event and went to Corey Knowlton, who is trophy hunting consultant and TV personality. Michael Luzich, a certified member of NRA’s “golden ring of freedom” which requires a minimum donation of $1 million, also filed an import permit application.

It’s one thing to hunt for food, but a different matter just to shoot an animal for his head. It’s an even more significant moral problem to shoot a survivor among a very small population of a critically endangered species. No matter how the trophy hunting crowd dresses it up, the greatest need of these animals is to stay alive. This means securing additional protections for them, including space to live and protections from poachers. For that reason, we’ll be opposing the granting of these permit applications.

But we will be supporting the effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has responded to our petition for listing, to establish federal Endangered Species Act protection for the African lion. There were about 75,000 African lions in 1980, according to the best estimates of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Now there are between 32,000 and 33,000, most concentrated in 10 areas in eastern and southern Africa, and they are subject to killing by poachers, ranchers, trophy hunters, and other traffickers in wildlife parts, in a part of the world that is seeing significant human population growth. That’s why it’s critical to limit human-caused killing of the lions, including for trophies and parts.

After a 90-day comment period, if the Service takes action, the African lion would be the last big cat to be added to the list of protected species. Our team has been working on this issue for nearly four years, and I vividly remember the 60 Minutes piece where ranchers were poisoning lions in their range in extraordinary numbers. With so many threats, the last thing the lions need, just as with rhinos, are wealthy Americans going over to kill them just for bragging rights and the heads.

Aren’t we beyond this, especially when it comes to some of the rarest and most charismatic species on the planet?