B minus on animal protection
Pete Souza/Official White House Photo
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Earlier in the year, the The HSUS and our lobbying arm, The Humane Society Legislative Fund, published a 100-point “Change Agenda for Animals”—calling on the Obama Administration to make much-needed animal protection policy reforms within 18 different federal agencies. Because of the enormous number of policy actions required, and the raw number of agencies involved and occasional overlapping jurisdictions, we called on the Administration to appoint an Animal Protection Liaison to help coordinate this work. No appointment has been made to date, but nevertheless there has been some important action on these priorities, as well as other urgent federal matters relating to animal protection.
I summarize the major actions in a Report Card, providing a summary of both the actions helpful and inimical to animal protection, and highlight some key ones below.
For the year to date, we give the Administration a B minus on its activities. This Administration is far better than the last one on animal protection issues. Like any new Administration, appointments had to be made, and these new federal officials had to get their legs under them before taking action. Now that a year has passed, while some progress for animals has been made, it’s clear though that there has been a lack of focus on animal protection issues, especially within certain agencies. It is our intention to work with the Administration to make progress in this important policy and enforcement realm in 2010 and beyond.
On the positive side of the ledger, President Obama announced during his first 50 days in office that a pending rule would be finalized to close the loophole allowing slaughter of downed cows. This policy was a long-standing goal, but it was driven forward by our 2008 investigation at the Westland/Hallmark slaughter plant in southern California. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made it a priority to complete this rule. In a nod to greater transparency, which has been a watchword for the Administration, USDA posted inspection reports online for animal dealers, exhibitors, and research facilities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act. It also posted annual reports from research facilities, including information on whether drugs were provided to animals used in laboratories to relieve pain and distress.
At the Department of the Interior (DOI), led now by Secretary Ken Salazar, the Department sustained a ban on the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies into the United States and also submitted a proposal to provide greater protections for polar bears by moving the species to Appendix I of CITES, which would halt the international trade in polar bear skins. DOI has also actively supported legislation to list nine species of large constrictor snakes as injurious, which will prohibit imports and interstate commerce, based on a comprehensive risk assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is now considering how to improve the process for listing species as injurious. The agency has also dropped its appeal of a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decision overturning FWS’ rule allowing canned hunts of endangered species.
DOI has pledged to reform the wild horse program and committed to a much stronger and comprehensive population management control program through contraception, which The HSUS helped to develop. But the Bureau of Land Management seems committed to roundups and removal, which will harm horses and just add ruinous financial obligations to the agency and taxpayers.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took steps to address climate change, which will affect all animals if unchecked. One action we particularly appreciated was the agency’s decision to collect greenhouse gas emissions data from the largest factory farms. On climate change and other matters, the Obama Administration made a conscious and valuable effort to restore science as the basis for policy decisions. EPA is also embracing the vision for 21st century toxicology by investing in new scientific methods for risk assessment and by collaborating with other federal agencies to ultimately eliminate traditional animal tests.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) aggressively and persuasively defended the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law, which bans the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme and illegal acts of animal cruelty, before the U.S. Supreme Court. And DOJ joined a lawsuit with The HSUS against two companies, Hallmark Meat Packing and Westland Meat Company Inc., arguing the companies defrauded the federal government by violating the terms of their school lunch contracts, which require humane handling of animals.
The U.S. Postal Service issued a proposed rule to revise mailing standards in order to harmonize them with animal fighting provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. This rule bars shipment of publications that cater to animal fighters, and has resulted in the shutdown of two of the three major national cockfighting magazines.
Read our Report Card for the Administration.
On the downside, the biggest disappointment was the Administration’s effort to remove wolves from the Endangered Species list in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes populations. The Northern Rockies population has been downlisted in Idaho and Montana, and families of wolves are being killed for sport in both states. An HSUS lawsuit has blocked the downlisting of the populations living in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, but the Administration seems intent on downlisting them there, too. And that’s a prescription for reckless sport hunting and trapping of wolves in each of the states.
This year, USDA has doled out hundreds of millions of tax dollars in subsidies to the factory farming industry, buying up pork, meat from spent hens, and milk, but requiring nothing of these industries yet in terms of reforms that would improve animal welfare and public health. These industries operate in a deregulated environment when it comes to animal welfare, and they essentially do as they please. The passage of Proposition 2 in California and similar initiatives in Arizona and Florida demonstrated that the American public wants to see an end to these intensive confinement practices, and the Administration should help push that along, rather than continue to prop up inhumane, environmentally destructive, and dangerous confinement systems.
As we look ahead, there are many fronts of potential action, including:
- Reform USDA oversight of slaughter plants, including closing the loophole that allows slaughter of downed veal calves and establishing an ombudsman’s office to help ensure that inspectors can carry out their responsibilities without undue interference.
- Seek increased funding to improve USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to stop the cruel practice of “soring.”
- Strengthen USDA enforcement of puppy mills and require those who sell directly to the public via the Internet to comply with basic welfare standards.
- Transition to non-lethal predator control methods (USDA, DOI, and EPA) that can be more effective, less expensive, and far more humane than aerial hunting and toxic poisons such as Compound 1080 and M44s.
- Require that agribusiness entities meet conditions—such as no intensive confinement and no nontherapeutic use of antibiotics—before receiving additional USDA subsidies.
- List the entire species of chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, rather than perpetuating the “split listing” by DOI, in which captive chimpanzee populations are only listed as threatened while wild chimpanzee populations are listed as endangered.
- Stop United States Agency for International Development multimillion dollar subsidies to promote and lobby for trophy hunting of African elephants, leopards, and other wildlife, in some cases in contradiction to national laws.
- List sharks under the Endangered Species Act (DOI) and vigorously enforce a ban on shark finning (Department of Commerce).
- Shift away from the Department of Defense's use of live animals for military trauma training and utilize effective non-animal alternative simulations and other teaching tools.
- Collect data on animal cruelty crimes as a separate category in DOJ databases that collect crime statistics.