December 2011 Blog Home February 2012

18 posts from January 2012

January 31, 2012

HSUS Documents Animal Abuse at Major Pork Producers

The HSUS went undercover again to record what’s happening at factory farms, and today we released our latest findings. We announced them this morning at a press conference in Oklahoma City, not far from the pig production facilities we examined.

For four months while pregnant, pigs are confined in gestation crates―two-foot by seven-foot metal cages. They’re moved to another crate to give birth, after which they’re impregnated again and put back into a gestation crate to repeat the cycle. This happens again and again, until the animals either die in their crates or can no longer breed at a profitable rate and are sent to slaughter. Each animal may spend up to three years locked in a crate, virtually immobilized for nearly her entire life.

Pig in gestation crate
Please take action today to help pigs.

Living inside a cage barely larger than your body isn’t humane and it is not right. Yet this is precisely how the majority of pigs used for breeding by the U.S. pork industry are kept.

The HSUS put a spotlight on this abuse today by releasing the details of undercover investigations we recently conducted at Oklahoma pig breeding facilities owned by two of the nation’s largest pork producers: Seaboard Foods and Prestage Farms. Seaboard is the nation’s third-largest pork company (and a supplier to Walmart), and Prestage is the nation’s fifth-largest.

Seaboard’s own animal welfare advisor―the renowned Dr. Temple Grandin―is unequivocal on this issue: “We've got to treat animals right, and the gestation stalls have got to go.”

In addition to documenting the chronic mental anguish suffered by pigs confined in this extreme way, our investigation also found workers hitting pigs in their genitals and pulling their hair to move them from one crate to another; injured piglets with their hind legs duct-taped to their bodies; and more.

Because our findings are in stark contrast to claims Seaboard makes about animal welfare (such as that it uses “the most humane practices”), we’ve filed legal complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission urging the agencies to put an end to Seaboard’s deceptive statements.

No one in the pig industry should be surprised that there’s a growing drumbeat of opposition to extreme confinement of sows in gestation crates. After all, eight U.S. states have passed laws to phase in bans on gestation crates. And just last month, Smithfield Foods (the nation’s largest pork producer) announced that it will stop using gestation crates in its company-owned breeding facilities by 2017. Cargill is 50 percent gestation crate-free.

Unfortunately, as our investigation reveals, Seaboard and Prestage have made little progress on the issue, and they keep sows in these crates every day of the year. Please encourage both companies to develop a plan for getting gestation crates out of their operations by contacting them today, and urge the companies that buy from these suppliers to stop doing so until the companies make changes.

January 30, 2012

Talk Back: Saving Tigers and Defending Wolves

Rescued tiger at Black Beauty Ranch
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
A rescued tiger at Black Beauty Ranch.

Lions, chimps, Burmese pythons, and other large, powerful wild animals do not belong in our basements or our backyards. We’ve been saying that for a long time, but after the bizarre and reckless release of more than 50 dangerous exotics at Zanesville, Ohio, by their owner Terry Thompson, there’s a newfound understanding of the urgency of this problem across the country. This year, we’ll be concentrating energy on public education and legislation in the seven states that place no restrictions on wild animal ownership for use as pets, and we’ll be working to plug gaps in other state laws.

Last week, The HSUS rescued 11 large exotics from a squalid zoo in Mississippi and transported five of them to our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch (see our new video of the rescue). It underscores for me how critical it is that we have strong policies to prevent the need for rescue and long-term care of animals like these. Our movement spends tens of millions of dollars every year caring for discards from the exotic animal industry, and policy-makers must understand this is an unfunded burden placed on the philanthropic community.

Many of you see the importance of balancing rescue work with policies to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place:

I have personally been to that "zoo" as a child; it is god-awful. They were supposed to close it down. But as seen, that never happened. They think they are doing a good thing but they are not. It’s sad. ―Kat Edwards

Glad those animals [three tigers and two wolf-hybrids] are headed to Black Beauty, where I know they will be very well looked after. I've been there a few times, and am very impressed with the facility and staff. ―Chemyn Reaney

Thank you, thank you for rescuing these beautiful animals from the horrid living conditions...cramped cages...not being fed properly or proper care. I pray these animals can live the rest of their lives in a happy environment. They deserve it.―Cindy Errington

I just don't even know what to think or say anymore! This is just plain idiotic that people are even allowed to have these types of animals. This has got to stop! These animals need to be left where they the wild! PERIOD! Please thank the above-mentioned sanctuaries for helping these animals. Also, thank your rescue team too, they are always so amazing! May God bless all of you and the animals too! ―Karen Wagner


You also had a lot to say about my harsh review of "The Grey," which demonizes wild wolves and paints a false portrait of these animals. The issue is not that wolves molest or harm us, but that we are molesting and harming them, whether it’s aerial gunning, trapping, or sport hunting of these predators. Except for the cast of “The Grey,” people don’t eat wolves. The killing is driven by our irrational fear and hatred of these animals:

Continue reading "Talk Back: Saving Tigers and Defending Wolves" »

January 27, 2012

All Aflutter about New Bill to Help Egg-Laying Hens

Last night, National Public Radio aired a lengthy news story about the unusual agreement between The HSUS and the United Egg Producers to support newly introduced legislation to improve the lives of laying hens. The HSUS and the UEP have been fierce adversaries on the issue of the treatment of laying hens for many years. But in 2011, we reached an accord and together agreed to support federal legislation to improve the lives of these animals in all 50 states and give consumers more information on egg cartons about the conditions under which hens are kept.

White hen

The folks at UEP have been working diligently with The HSUS to enact this legislation. I am amazed, however, at the vitriolic reaction to this sincere effort at cooperation and problem-solving by other agribusiness trade groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

They just can’t seem to wrap their brains around the idea that sensible people are actually working to solve problems and figure out a way forward―that we don’t have to have never-ending fighting and conflict as the standard in debates over animal welfare in agriculture.

For The HSUS and other animal protection groups, the bill provides a pathway to improve conditions for more than 250 million laying hens now confined in barren battery cages. For consumers, the bill promises important information about their food. For the egg industry, it provides a uniform standard—rather than a patchwork of conflicting state laws—and a way to improve animal welfare in an industry that has had a controversial record on the issue. The leading scientists in the egg industry favor the reforms enumerated in H.R. 3798, because at a minimum the birds should have more space and enrichments to allow them to engage in natural behaviors.

Against all this compelling logic, the American Farm Bureau and the National Pork Producers Council are essentially saying they know more about egg production than egg producers. Against the wisdom of scientists, these critics seem to be saying they are for “science-based” solutions―except when science gets in the way.

In opposing this legislation, they stand squarely against four things: 1) animal welfare, 2) the self-determination of egg farmers, 3) sound science, and 4) cooperation.

These agribusiness groups like to talk about protecting farmers, but here they are trying to subvert the self-determination efforts of the egg industry.

Now, that’s not a position I’d like to defend. We are looking forward to a robust debate on this issue in Congress and an opportunity to take our case to the American people. We’ll be ready for the fight. Please take action if you haven’t already to support this important legislation.

January 26, 2012

Tigers, Leopards, and Other Exotics Saved from Neglect

Our Animal Rescue Team has saved cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, and even rats from all sorts of crises and cruelty situations. But this week’s main event was a particularly exotic mission: rescuing three tigers, two leopards, three cougars, two wolf-hybrids, and a macaque monkey.

HSUS responders deployed yesterday to the Collins Zoo in Mississippi, an unaccredited roadside facility where our undercover investigators had previously documented injured and emaciated animals and flimsy enclosures. We shared our findings with state officials in 2010, submitted legal complaints, and have been working with them ever since to address the problems. Ultimately, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks decided to seize 11 exotic animals and call in The HSUS to coordinate animal handling, transportation, and temporary placement with qualified sanctuaries.

Tiger rescued from Collins Zoo in Mississippi
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
One of the sedated tigers being prepared for transport.

Responders found the exotic animals in small enclosures with little enrichment to meet their needs to play and exercise. One leopard suffers from wounds on her leg and tail, and the male tiger appears to be overweight, probably a consequence of an improper diet and a cramped cage that prevented proper exercise. State officials also seized a number of native animals, such as snakes and turtles.

Safely transporting the large, potentially dangerous animals was no small feat. A veterinarian from the accredited Jackson Zoo and several other vets experienced in handling exotics worked to sedate the animals, microchip them for identification, and draw blood samples to assess their health. We carefully transferred the animals to special transport cages, then loaded these cages onto large trailers. Take a look at these photos to see how the team came together to transport animals such as a male tiger weighing more than 400 pounds.

This rescue is a reminder that most people have no business having dangerous and difficult-to-keep exotic animals; it almost inevitably turns out badly for the animals. The killing of tigers, wolves, and other exotic animals released by a man in Ohio brought the issue into the national spotlight, and The HSUS has said for years that dangerous exotics can only be safely and humanely cared for in qualified sanctuaries and accredited zoos.

Our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch is caring for the tigers and wolf-hybrids until their custody is determined, while Carolina Tiger Rescue will be providing sanctuary for the leopards and a cougar, Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation will house another cougar, and Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary will care for the macaque.

There are about 200 accredited zoos in the country, but there are as many as 2,000 unaccredited facilities. There’s more work ahead and millions of dollars that our movement must spend in providing lifelong care as a consequence of the reckless acts of people who get in over their heads and then foist their problem on somebody else.

January 25, 2012

‘The Grey’ Plays Up Misconceptions against Wolves

In “War Horse,” director Steven Spielberg treated his audience to a compelling case of historical fiction, grounding his World War I saga of a boy and his horse on a set of common facts―including that the Germans and the United Kingdom were combatants and horses had a major role in the conflict. In “The Grey,” director Joe Carnahan makes up something out of whole cloth in his drama about stranded oil riggers who are hunted as intruders by a pack of wolves.

Fiction is a perfectly respectable form of storytelling, but demonizing animals, in this case wolves, has destructive consequences―especially at a time when a renewed persecution of wolves in the United States places the lives of these creatures at more at risk than ever.

Gray wolf looking up
Gray wolves were decimated by killing campaigns, yet
many wolves recently lost federal protections.

The historical record is unambiguous. Through the centuries, European settlers and generations of their descendants have slaughtered wolves, nearly exterminating them from the lower 48 states. There were federal hunters and trappers who killed wolves almost without limit. There were state-sponsored bounties. And ranchers and hunters did their own ruthless killing of wolves.

Now after modest recovery efforts over the last 35 years, wolf populations in the Northern Rockies and Upper Great Lakes have been removed from the list of federally protected species. Anti-wolf hysterics had a big part in the de-listing actions, and now these forces are clamoring for renewed widespread killing. Trophy hunters continue to make irrational claims about the impacts that wolves have on deer and elk, while ranchers exaggerate the threat that wolves pose to cattle and sheep. These notions are not grounded on fact, but on the mythology of the wolf as a rapacious predator who slaughters everything in its path.

Hollywood has generally been a force for the good in elevating the status of animals. But there have been awful stereotypes that have been fostered too―none worse and more lasting than “Jaws” with its vivid misrepresentations of sharks. Since that blockbuster made beaches feel so unsafe, hundreds of millions of sharks have been killed in an orgy of human-caused cruelty.

Let’s hope “The Grey” is a horrible flop, and doesn’t resonate with people like “Jaws” did. Putting aside its commercial prospects, “The Grey” does rival “Jaws” for its sheer ignorance and folly in terms of natural history and the human-animal relationship. The drama in the film revolves around bloodthirsty wolves hunting down humans as prey, even though there’s almost nothing in the historical record to reflect that wolves are any threat at all to people.

Director Joe Carnahan reportedly bought four wolves from a trapper and convinced the cast to eat wolf meat while on the set. The cast members, encouraged by Carnahan, apparently ate the meat in a preposterous attempt to create the atmospherics that real-life characters might find themselves in.

Even with protection under the Endangered Species Act for some wolves for 35 years, wolves now occupy less than 5 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states. There are some 4,000 wolves in the Northern Great Lakes and fewer than half that number in the Northern Rockies. There is abundant scientific evidence that these animals have had enormously beneficial ecological impacts in the range they inhabit. And they are not a threat to people.

Wolf haters have staked out an anti-science, anti-environment, anti-animal posture. Hollywood has no business adding to the hysteria. Do stay away from this box office stinker. Go rent “Babe” or “Bambi” or “Free Willy” as an act of protest, or spend a little extra time with your dog, who as it happens is a descendant of these dreaded wolves.

January 24, 2012

Religious Leaders Speak Out Against Cockfighting

In my speaking engagements throughout the country, I often say that opposition to cruelty is a universal value. No matter what traditions you consult―secular or faith-based, or both―there’s no escaping that humans have a moral duty to be merciful to animals. Our opposition to cruelty is no modern invention, but a moral fiber that can be traced back for a century and a half in our nation, and even longer in the wider world.

Rooster rescued from fighting in 2011
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Watch the new anti-cockfighting video.

The HSUS was founded by people who embraced that tradition and sought to build on it. Indeed, since our founding in 1954, we’ve worked relentlessly to fortify the social, cultural, and legal frameworks against cruelty. Throughout, we’ve always been driven in part by faith-based values; in fact, the two prior CEOs came from the ministry before leading the organization, and people of virtually every faith tradition have been strong supporters.

That’s why I am so pleased that The HSUS is now partnering with Dr. Richard Land and Dr. Oran Smith―leaders, respectively of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Palmetto Family Council―on a campaign against cockfighting. Both Christian leaders remind us that we do not have the right to kill animals for our entertainment because animals are not ours to do what we want with. They belong to God―He made a covenant with them. Watching animals hack each other to death, with knives affixed to their legs, and gambling on the outcome finds no safety net in the Christian tradition. You'd never find Jesus at a cockfight, Dr. Land observes in this video.


Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, but it’s only a misdemeanor in 11 states, most of them in the South. A few states have particularly anemic penalties; in Alabama, cockfighting faces a minimum $20 fine and a maximum of $50. The weakest of these laws provide essentially no deterrent. It’s time to make cockfighting a felony in these states, and to make it a federal crime to be a spectator at an animal fighting venture.

We cannot tolerate this kind of cruelty in our communities. It’s not consistent with our values as a nation.

January 23, 2012

California Downed Animal Law Struck Down, Hens Legislation Introduced

There are big stirrings today at the federal level―both bad and good―on farm animal policy.

White chicken closeup
Take action here to help hens.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a harmful ruling nullifying major portions of California’s 2008 law to ban the mistreatment and slaughtering of downed animals, with implications not only for the humane treatment of pigs and other farm animals, but also for the health and safety of consumers. The challenge to California’s law was brought by the National Meat Association and supported before the court by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), which argued that the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempts any state from banning the use of sick and injured animals in the food supply, even though downer pigs are 16 times more likely to have antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter (the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning in the United States) than ambulatory pigs. We criticized the ruling and urged Congress and USDA to take action to strengthen federal rules related to downed animals.

Just across the street from the Supreme Court at the Capitol, a bipartisan group of four U.S. representatives, led by veterinarian Kurt Schrader, introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 at the urging of The HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP). This legislation (H.R. 3798) would codify a landmark agreement between The HSUS and UEP, essentially doubling the space per laying hen, banning forced starvation molting of the hens, and creating a labeling program to provide consumers with consistent information on production systems (e.g., “eggs from caged hens” and “eggs from cage-free hens” on cartons).

Already, the NPPC and several other livestock industry groups that have nothing to do with egg production have announced their opposition to H.R. 3798 because they oppose any federal animal welfare standards. Remember, this is the same NPPC that successfully used federal law as a sword to nullify California’s anti-downer law. In that case, the pork industry group argued that only the federal government can set rules for the humane treatment of animals at USDA-inspected slaughterhouses, and that the states have no role at all.

So just to keep this all straight: NPPC wants federal standards to override state laws for downer pigs, but it wants to tell the egg industry not to have a federal standard for its animals.

When it comes to downer pigs, the pork industry doesn’t want either Congress or the USDA to enact any measures to stop the mistreatment of these animals. And it’s urged federal courts to strike down any state laws against the mistreatment of downer animals.

So there’s one overriding conclusion. The pork industry wants no state or federal laws to protect any farm animals. Federal or state. Pig or chicken. Animal or mineral. It wants to be left to its own devices, even though it routinely confines animals in gestation crates barely larger than their bodies and has no problem with downer animals being dragged or abused to get them into the kill box.

So you’ve got two very contrasting visions for how animals should be treated in society. The HSUS and the egg industry believe in reasonable, consistent rules that can help animals and producers alike, and the pork industry and some others think there should be no rules whatever. I bet I know where the public stands on these issues. And now it’s up to Congress to act on behalf of the people, not special interests who care just about profits.

Please contact your U.S. representative and urge him or her to cosponsor H.R. 3798, and ask your two U.S. senators to support the legislation, too. Tell them the improvements for laying hens are good for animal welfare and supported by nearly the entire egg industry and animal protection community. Animals need protection from people who treat them like they don’t matter at all.

Léalo en español (Read this blog entry in Spanish).

January 19, 2012

Find Out Where Your State Stands for Animals

The HSUS works on so many stages, saving animals in crisis, but also working to prevent cruelty―whether that’s changing corporate behavior, educating the public, or improving the legal framework for animals. In order to make progress, we’ve got to take stock of where we are, and that’s why we released earlier this week the third annual “Humane State Ranking,” evaluating all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their performance on 66 different animal welfare policies. You can see where your state rated on our interactive map of our 2011 Humane State Ranking.

California built on its prior first-place finish by enacting nearly a dozen new laws in 2011, including a vital measure to ban the sale and possession of shark fins. Several other major reforms enacted within the last two decades in California came through the ballot initiative process, and our consistent success in taking measures to the people has demonstrated to elected officials that there is an overwhelming majority in the Golden State committed to improving the lives of animals. In short, our direct democracy work through the initiative process has given lift to our efforts in the state legislature.

Dog at capitol building

New Jersey and Oregon tied for second place in the national rankings, while Illinois and Massachusetts tied for fourth. Earning the lowest scores were South Dakota (last place), Idaho (50th), North Dakota and South Carolina (tied for 48th), and Mississippi (47th place).

Idaho, North Dakota, and South Dakota are the only three states in the nation with no felony penalty for egregious acts of animal cruelty. We intend to press for reform in each one of these states, even if we must conduct ballot measures in order to establish a basic legal framework for the proper level of protection for animals.

Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia are the only 11 states without felony-level penalties for cockfighting, and we’ll be pursuing reforms with energy on that front, too.

Several states showed strong upward movement in the last year. Ohio moved up to 36th from 45th place after the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board adopted standards to phase out veal and gestation crates and tail docking of dairy cows, bar new battery-cage egg facilities, and require humane euthanasia of downer cows.

Ohio will be under close scrutiny this year as it considers vital legislation on private ownership of dangerous exotics, cockfighting, and large-scale commercial dog breeding―all elements of an agreement between The HSUS and agricultural groups. There are six other states that have no restrictions on keeping dangerous wild animals as pets, and we’ll be focused on that reform, too.

Texas tied for 25th place, up from 36th the year before, after upgrading its anti-cockfighting law and enacting humane standards for breeding dogs and cats. Maryland (tied for 15th) also worked to strengthen its puppy mill law.

As you’ll see if you drill down and look at the numbers, no state is yet close to having a perfect score―even the top states have big gaps in their laws and sometimes regress. For example, California's governor has just proposed repealing significant laws that have improved outcomes for homeless pets in shelters for more than a decade. We have a lot of work to do to improve animal welfare policies in the states. We’ve seen remarkable progress across the country in recent years, but a number of states are badly lagging, especially in the Plains states, the Northern Rockies, and the Deep South. That lack of progress is due, in many cases, to obstructionist efforts by the agribusiness and trophy hunting lobbies, which sometimes stand in the way of even the most modest reforms, such as felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to companion animals. Overall, however, we’re gaining ground, and winning the support of the public and elected officials for humane laws and regulations.

If you’d like to make a difference in your state to support animal-friendly policies, please join us for Humane Lobby Day in your capital.

January 18, 2012

What Are Agribusiness Groups Trying to Hide with ‘Ag-Gag’ Bills?

A number of state legislatures have opened their 2012 sessions, and others are gearing up. We are sure to see a raft of pro-animal legislation introduced by lawmakers, but also measures to open up new opportunities for animal cruelty and abuse, to conceal what’s going on in certain industries, and to maintain the status quo.

Animal science professor Peter Cheeke writes in an agricultural textbook, “One of the best things modern animal agriculture has going for it is that most people...haven't a clue how animals are raised...For modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows about what's happening before the meat hits the plate, the better."

Pigs in gestation crates
An HSUS undercover investigation in 2010.

But a number of exposés from news-gathering organizations and from animal protection groups like The HSUS have thrown back the curtain on extreme confinement methods and inhumane handling and slaughter practices. One of the most notable was surely our investigation into the Hallmark Westland plant and the abuse of downed animals in California, which led to cruelty convictions, Congressional hearings, a shut-down of the plant, and the largest meat recall in U.S. history. This slaughter plant was the number-two supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program.

In the wake of these scandals, the response from certain segments of industry has not been reform and transparency, but concerted efforts to turn the curtain into a concrete wall―barring anyone not part of the industry from seeing what’s going on.

So far this year, big ag interests are actively pushing for the enactment of bills in Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York to ban undercover anti-cruelty investigations on factory farms.

These so-called “ag-gag” bills range from banning taking a photo or video of a factory farm without permission, to even banning possession and distribution of such photos or videos. Some of the bills seek to accomplish the same goal by essentially making it a crime for an undercover investigator to gain employment at a factory farm. Some of the bills go so far that they would prevent whistleblowers from exposing illegal activities at a factory farm, even financial embezzlement, sexual harassment, or violations of worker safety laws. It's an attack on the First Amendment of the worst kind.

As The HSUS’s Paul Shapiro told CNN viewers, it’s understandable that the meat industry would want to pass these bills and conceal its practices from Americans. After all, poll after poll shows that Americans don’t want animals confined in tiny cages where they can barely move an inch their whole lives. Yet this extreme confinement is regrettably a standard practice for millions of farm animals in our country.

Animal agriculture has become more consolidated and more industrialized over the past few decades, and more people than ever are removed from the daily experiences of animals. There’s a widespread assumption in the American public that someone’s looking out for the creatures on the farm. 

When people learn of systemic abuses, however, they want change.

Some industry organizations are changing, such as the United Egg Producers, which is joining with The HSUS in an effort to transition the egg industry away from barren battery cages. Other state-based groups have also driven reform in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and other states.

These ag-gag bills take our nation in the wrong direction. They should be defeated. And instead, we should be working on improving conditions for farm animals and letting sunshine flow into food production facilities across the country.

January 17, 2012

The Way Washington Works

It’s amazing how in Washington, D.C., the simplest things can turn into a mess.

Burmese python
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s announcement by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in the Everglades to ban the import and trade in Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons is, to be sure, an important advance—for animal welfare, conservation, and public safety. These large constricting snakes are not suitable as pets; they suffer from capture in the wild and long-distance transport for trade; they can injure and kill people who possess or interact with them; and they can wreak havoc on our natural resources as an invasive species, killing native wildlife, including endangered animals.

But there’s a back story here, and it says so much about Washington, D.C., and how good policy and common-sense ideas get scuttled, delayed, or weakened in this town, to the detriment of the nation.

Here’s a timeline.

June 2006: The South Florida Water Management District petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) requesting the listing of Burmese pythons as injurious under the Lacey Act, a federal law that regulates trade in wildlife.

January 2008: FWS published a Notice of Inquiry in the Federal Register asking the public for comments on several large constrictor snakes.

July 2009: U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about the dangers posed by large constricting snakes to Florida’s ecosystems, unveiling the skin of a 17-foot Burmese python perhaps shed in the Everglades.

October 2009: The U.S. Geological Survey issued a science-based report that identifies nine species of large, constricting snakes as posing a medium or high risk as invasive species in the United States.

March 2010: FWS issued a proposed rule to list nine large constrictor snakes as injurious under the Lacey Act.

January 2011: Open Secrets, a website that discloses federal lobbying expenditures, announced that the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers spent $120,000 lobbying against the FWS rule. USARK submitted a report saying that banning the trade in these species would cost the industry $100 million–an utterly absurd figure.

March 2011: The White House Office of Management and Budget/Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs received the final rule from FWS. (This White House agency's review process is usually 90 days, yet the rule was held up for 10 months.)

January 2012: Salazar makes the announcement covering only the four species.

What or who got in the way here? There’s only one reasonable explanation: narrow thinking and poor political judgment at OMB.

The folks who run OMB for President Barack Obama are focused on the vulnerability of the administration on the jobs issue, with Obama facing a competitive re-election with high unemployment numbers. So when USARK and its lobbyists made a jobs argument, it struck a nerve at OMB. OMB appeared ready to kill the whole thing, until lawmakers from Florida on both sides of the aisle started demanding action. Ten of the 11 largest newspapers in Florida urged adoption of the FWS rule and demanded that the Obama administration stop dragging its feet and do something about the trade in these invasive, dangerous species.

The administration had to do something; it had to deal with the Burmese python. But in the end, it excluded five species from the import restrictions—two of which, boa constrictors and reticulated pythons, alone make up two-thirds of the trade. As a result, the trade is likely to shift to these species. Salazar said his agency will watch and see how things are going with the other constrictor snakes, and consider banning the other five species down the road, but given the administration’s track record on this issue, that seems highly implausible.

So, in the end, no one is happy—not animal advocates or environmentalists, or even the reptile dealers. The administration shows itself as weak, quick to jettison science for politics, and essentially tone-deaf on this entire issue in the critical battleground state of Florida, whose electorate and opinion leaders clearly want something done about invasive species of snakes.

And for the animal protection community, the burning question is, if OMB cannot stand up to the reptile dealers—who created this problem by peddling high-risk snakes to unqualified individuals and cost the government tens of millions of dollars in invasive species control efforts—how is it going to handle the really tough animal welfare problems the country faces?