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17 posts from January 2014

January 14, 2014

Emergency Response Gets Life from Firefighters

Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast, turning the world upside down for so many people and animals. The nation rallied to help the region, and that included rushing in to help animals and the people who care about them. In addition to the enormous response we mounted, The HSUS worked hard to help pass the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in the months after the disaster response faded. The PETS Act requires local and state disaster plans to include provisions for household pets and service animals in a major disaster or other emergency event.

In addition to some states forming State Animal Response Teams in the wake of the PETS Act, many communities created Community Animal Response Teams trained to assist the people helping animals and the animals themselves during crisis situations. We also created our Animal Rescue Team, which is called on by local agencies when a cruelty case or a natural disaster is too large for a local group to handle on their own.

Training pic - TLAER
Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, Inc.
Firefighters lead horses out of a simulated barn fire
during a training.

One leap forward happened very recently in the United States: the National Fire Protection Association, with a membership of 70,000 individuals, included a chapter and annex on animal rescue. This group has an audience of primarily firefighters and first responders, and publishes more than 300 codes and standards each year. This addition to the guide, which is often referred to as providing the de-facto standards for those in technical rescue, has been in the works for several years and this year marks the first time that animal rescue has been covered in the standard. It includes several techniques for both small and large animals, as well as what signs to look for in an animal’s behavior that indicates if the animal is afraid, aggressive, or shy, among other things.

The chapter and annex that have been added to the NFPA standard address the different levels of training that first responders can take. This includes the awareness level, which trains those responding first to the scene (most often firefighters) to have the basic knowledge to keep themselves and their colleagues safe, and to minimize stress on the animal while they intervene or call upon others with more specialized training. Knowing whom to ask for help, and quickly, can be a life-or-death decision for an animal in crisis.

If every fire department in the United States had the training to assess a situation involving an animal in distress and knew what expertise it called for (whether it be a vet, local CART team, technical animal response team, or animal control agency), emergency response would improve drastically for animals, including those not covered in the PETS Act, which is limited to household pets and service animals.

This latest development in emergency response for animals, years after the PETS Act passed, shows the catalytic impact of legislation. While not everything changed immediately with the PETS Act, there have been a series of incremental improvements to first response and animal care brought on by its enactment. For example, today the New Jersey Senate is scheduled to consider A-3445, sponsored by Assembly Members Annette Quijano, Connie Wagner and Joseph Cryan. This legislation would permit pet owners to board public transportation with domesticated animals during emergency evacuation.

It’s great that the NFPA has seen the importance of including animals in their standards, and I hope that momentum continues to build so that we as a nation are better able to serve people and animals in crisis situations.

January 13, 2014

Beef Tax: It’s What’s for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

What if every time someone acquired a dog – either through adoption from a rescue group or shelter, a purchase over the Internet or at a pet store – they paid a hidden fee on that transaction, and the entire pot of money accrued through these fees went to The HSUS? Well, I feel confident we’d do great things with the bounty, such as promoting adoption or spay-and-neuter programs, or perhaps research on canine health disorders. There would be lots of socially beneficial ways to spend the millions sent our way.

But no doubt, there would be a hue-and-cry from some parties, especially our adversaries in the puppy mill industry and other animal-use sectors. They would, to put it mildly, object that not all would-be pet owners favor our animal-welfare work. They’d add, I’m sure, that it’s wrong for dog owners to be forced to unwittingly finance a portion of the work we do.

That’s not, of course, how money comes into our organization. Everyone who donates to The HSUS does so intentionally – they send a check or give us a credit card number to show their support. Fortunately, there are millions of Americans behind us, and thanks to their generosity, we’re able to conduct a dizzying array of programs.

Cow at Black Beauty Ranch

Yet, the meat lobby isn’t financed through voluntary contributions from ranchers. Several major meat industry trade groups – most notably the National Pork Producers Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association – get a pork barrel of money from a mandatory fee imposed on the sale of every animal produced within their respective industries. It’s called a “check-off program,” but no producer or consumer has a choice to opt in or out. It’s like a federal tax on every one of them.

In the latest issue of Washington Monthly, reporter Siddhartha Mahanta deconstructs, in an extraordinary and lucid way, the check-off program that benefits the beef industry. “Nearly 99 percent of all the beef tax dollars collected by the government, some $45 million a year, winds up in the hands of just one group, the NCBA, which relies overwhelmingly on this public money to support itself,” he writes. “With its membership having shrunk from 40,000 in 1994 to 26,000 today,” according to Mahanta, “only 7 percent of the NCBA’s revenue comes from membership dues.” 

He continues, “Fewer and fewer actual ‘cattlemen’ belong to the organization, while more and more complain that the NCBA presses for policies that undermine their own way of life and the public’s interest by favoring large packers and other corporate giants.” 

Fred Stokes, founder of a farming group called the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) and a man who has seen hundreds of thousands of family farmers pushed off their land and out of agriculture partly because of NCBA’s policies favoring industrial agriculture and packing houses, says, “In being forced to pay the beef check off, cattlemen are funding their own demise.” 

The NCBA lobbies, to the chagrin of many family farmers, for packer ownership of livestock, subjecting producers to the price controls imposed by a handful of slaughtering and processing companies, such as IBP and JBS Swift. It fights country of origin labeling standards, even though Americans want to know where their beef is produced, and the information also helps retailers in crisis and recall situations.  It also advocates for federally subsidized predator control programs that kill millions of animals a year, often on our public lands. It has lobbied, for the last three years, aggressively against minimum animal welfare standards for laying hens, even though the egg industry itself favors this reform. It’s lobbying for the King amendment to the farm bill, which would nullify state animal welfare and food safety laws – against the wishes of the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Sheriffs’ Association, among others.

NCBA claims all of the “check-off” funds are used for promoting beef eating, and not for lobbying. But animal advocates and even many rank-and-file family farmers, including those at the OCM, believe differently.

But even if these critics were wrong, and NCBA had a very precise and lawful accounting of all of its dollars, “Would you be happy if the government gave the National Rifle Association a dollar for every gun sold in the United States on condition that the NRA spend the money strictly for promoting the use of guns and no other purposes?” notes Mahanta. “Perhaps you would, but either way, such a flow of public money would without a doubt make the NRA more powerful in everything it did, and with the inherent complicity of the government. If nothing else, the NRA could put the money toward covering its current overhead costs, thereby freeing up resources for other purposes, like, say, opposing background checks.”

The hypocrisy is, NCBA and so many other meat industry groups claim that The HSUS should give all of its money to animals in shelters, and forget about the other 99 percent of animals at risk, including animals used in industrial agriculture. Our promotional materials, and very specific fundraising appeals, call unmistakable attention to our campaigns against puppy mills, seal killing for fur, dogfighting, the trade in exotic pets, the slaughter of horses for human consumption, invasive experiments on chimpanzees, the extreme confinement of animals on factory farms, and other forms of mistreatment – issues our members care deeply about and give us money to tackle.

Not only are they wrong about The HSUS, but their hypocrisy, when one considers the way the group is bank-rolled, is mind-numbing.

January 10, 2014

HSUS’ Family Planning Work - for Elephants

It was momentous that Smithfield Foods and Tyson made announcements this week indicating they are moving away from gestation crates as an accepted method of confining pigs. Momentous in another way was China’s action to destroy six tons of ivory this week as a statement against the killing of elephants for trinkets. In their own way, each announcement is not only hopeful, but startling.

What’s also a bit startling, when it comes to elephants, is that animals who are generally disappearing from the landscape also have localized populations that are abundant – sometimes too abundant for their own good or for the people who live in neighboring communities.

240x270 elephant - credit guenterguni istock
A recent study shows elephant contraception is a humane
and effective form of population control.

This issue is most acute in South Africa, especially in the country’s many small parks and private conservancies. So in these cases, the challenge is controlling these subpopulations, and for us, doing it humanely.

A new study published in the Dec. 2013 edition of the “Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine” concludes that the use of immunocontraception to control growth of populations has no detectable behavioral or social consequences – one of the remaining questions about the use of immunocontraception in African elephants.

Audrey K. Delsink, the lead author of the study and Humane Society International’s field director of the Greater Makalali Elephant Contraception Program in South Africa, concluded along with her colleagues that the 11 years of research showed that immunocontraception had no detectable behavioral or social consequences in their study group of elephants, providing a convincing argument for the use of sustained immunocontraception in the medium to long term as an important tool for elephant management.

The HSUS and HSI have funded cutting-edge research on the use of immunocontraception in African elephants since 1996. Immunocontraception is a non-hormonal form of contraception that is based on the scientific principles of disease prevention through vaccination. The immunocontraception vaccine contains agents that, when injected into African elephant cows, causes an immune reaction that prevents eggs from being fertilized by sperm.

Delivered remotely by dart gun, the contraceptive vaccine is being used to successfully control elephant populations in 14 parks and reserves in South Africa.

According to Delsink, “The results of this study demonstrate that concerns about the negative behavioral impact of the use of immunocontraception on African elephants are unfounded. We hope that elephant managers will fully embrace and use this technology to control elephant population growth in a proactive, effective and humane manner.”

We are proud to have been able to support this research for nearly two decades and are pleased that it has resulted in this widely accepted, effective and completely humane way to control elephant population growth.

January 09, 2014

Even More Progress for Pigs in Gestation Crates

On Tuesday, Smithfield Foods announced it is upgrading its animal policies by providing incentives for its contract farmers to move away from gestation crates.

Gestation crate
Tyson sent a letter to farmers in its pork supply system
indicating that gestation crates ought to be replaced
with alternative housing systems.

Today, Tyson Foods, another major pork producer, also took steps in that direction. The company, whose production is conducted primarily through its contractors and independent suppliers, has sent a letter to all the farmers in its pork system outlining desired improvements in its animal welfare program. While the letter contains several promising points on a variety of issues, like encouraging a shift away from “euthanizing” sick or injured piglets through blunt force trauma and urging the development of pain relief during castration and tail docking, the stand-out, in our view, is Tyson’s language on the issue of sow gestation crate confinement.

“We believe future sow housing should allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs,” writes Tyson, indicating that gestation crates – which prevent those behaviors – ought to be replaced with alternative housing systems. “We’re asking the contract farmers who manage Tyson-owned sows,” it continues, “to implement improved ‘quality and quantity of space’ standards in the design of any newly built or redesigned gestation barns beginning in 2014. We also strongly encourage the hog farmers who sell market hogs to Tyson to improve quantity and quality of space standards for sows when they or their piglet suppliers re-design or build new gestation barns.”

Unfortunately, Tyson’s letter does not mandate anything of its suppliers with regard to sow housing, nor does it outline any timeline by which alternative housing systems must be in place. Nonetheless, this is big movement from an important company. Tyson may still have a ways to go when it comes to shoring up a gestation crate-free supply system, but its first steps on this issue – like all steps on the path toward a more humane way of living or conducting business – are most welcome.

P.S. In response to this news, The HSUS has withdrawn the shareholder proposal on gestation crates that we’d previously submitted for Tyson’s 2014 proxy.

January 07, 2014

Smithfield Continues to Change Playing Field – for Pigs

For more than a decade, The Humane Society of the United States has been focused on ending the use of small, restrictive cages used to confine breeding sows (known as gestation crates) within the pig industry. In 2007, Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork company, broke new ground by announcing that by 2017, 100 percent of its company-owned breeding operations would be free of these iron maidens. But while a majority of the breeding pigs in Smithfield’s supply system are in company-owned facilities, a very large portion still come from contractors. This gap meant that a very substantial population of “Smithfield” pigs would be left to linger in gestation crates indefinitely. Today, Smithfield announced that it will correct that deficiency.

Pig in gestation crate

Following recent announcements from more than 60 of the world’s largest food retailers – McDonald’s, Burger King, Safeway, Costco, Oscar Mayer and dozens more – that they will eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains, Smithfield has decided to extend its gestation crate phase-out plan to the independent contractors in its breeding system. Specifically, Smithfield is telling its contractors that if they make plans to get rid of their gestation crates, they’ll have their contracts extended; if they refuse to convert, their contracts are unlikely to be renewed. They’ll have eight years to make the conversion – a long time, to be certain, but a welcome path forward, with earlier conversion meaning better contracts.

Smithfield’s continued progress toward ending the lifelong confinement of sows means that other big players in the industry have little room to maneuver. The top producer is telling the world that a transition away from gestation crates is not just an aspiration, but is in the works, is economically viable, and is likely to be achieved in the near term. And we continue to help major food retailers commit to switching their purchasing to crate-free producers. We expect that cascade of announcements to continue. Meanwhile, nine states have banned gestation crate confinement, and a number of states will consider similar legislation this year.

The fact is, Tyson Foods, Seaboard, and other major pork producers are increasingly out of step not only with the American public, but with their own industry and their customers.

One day, in the not too distant future, all people will regard the era of immobilizing sows in crates barely larger than their bodies as a sad chapter in the history of American agriculture. Many people, once the transition is complete, will wonder how industry leaders for so long defended this form of animal privation and daily misery and how lawmakers and others in positions of power didn’t do something about it sooner.

January 06, 2014

Time to Move Away from Horse and Buggy in NYC and Into Safer, More Humane World

One of the lead organizations trying to make sure that cars, trucks, and horse-drawn carriages have to dodge and weave in New York City streets around Central Park is a Missouri-based public-relations outfit called “The Alliance for Truth” that defends puppy mills and opposes efforts to upgrade anti-cruelty laws. This is the same extremist organization that orchestrated fights to block Prop B in Missouri in 2010 and Measure 5 in North Dakota – the first of which sought to impose standards in the largest puppy mill state in the nation and the second sought to make the Peace Garden State the 49th to make malicious cruelty a felony.

The Humane Society of the United States supports Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to ban horse-drawn carriages and calls on the New York City Council to support his effort and to reject the obstructionist tactics and phony arguments of the so-called Alliance for Truth.

During the recent campaign, just about all of New York’s major mayoral candidates – both Republicans and Democrats, including former New York Comptroller William Thompson, Jr., who conducted a high-profile audit of the industry in 2007 – pledged to end the continued use of carriage horses in and around Central Park.

Carriage horse
The HSUS fully supports Int. 86a, legislation which would
phase out horse carriages in New York City and replace
them with eco-friendly antique replica cars.

“The agencies entrusted with oversight here have dropped the ball,” said the comptroller after the release of that report, noting that horses were not provided with enough water, risked overheating on hot asphalt, and lacked proper veterinary care. The idea of banning the horse-drawn carriages, which are not used for point-to-point travel, but for sight-seeing in and around Central Park, has long been backed by the major animal welfare groups, including The HSUS and the ASPCA, which have voluntarily spent considerable resources in an attempt to oversee street and stable conditions for the horses.

In December, authorities arrested a carriage horse driver and charged him with animal cruelty after police observed him working an injured horse named Blondie, who had been in pain for days. There have been dozens of documented accidents resulting in injuries and deaths of New York City’s carriage horses through the years. Horses may be easily spooked by vehicles or other loud noises and put themselves and others at risk by dashing into traffic.

The HSUS will continue to work with New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) to pass Int. 86a, legislation which would phase out horse carriages and replace them with eco-friendly antique replica cars. Passage of the law would also bolster the local tourist economy by giving current carriage drivers the opportunity to drive electric antique replica "Horseless Carriages" — a win-win solution that protects both jobs and the safety and welfare of horses and people in New York City. Other great global cities do without horse-drawn carriages, including Beijing, London, and Paris.

Currently, there are no laws protecting horses from being sent to slaughter after they are “spent” by the industry, so it is significant that Int. 86a also calls for the immediate humane retirement of more than 200 carriage horses. The HSUS enthusiastically supports this provision and offers to provide life-long, direct care for some of the carriage horses at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, in Murchison, Texas. The world-famous animal sanctuary – the largest and most diverse in the country – is operated by HSUS affiliate, The Fund for Animals, which has had its headquarters located around the corner from Central Park since its founding in 1967 by the late Cleveland Amory. Cleveland loved the last lines of the novel Black Beauty, “I have nothing to fear; and here my story ends. My troubles are all over, and I am at home.” And that’s the kind of life we can offer these animals once the political fight over their future has ended.

There’s no need for horse-drawn carriages in New York City and there’s a plan to provide an alternative for tourists seeking tours of Central Park. There are inherent risks to the safety of horses and humans that cannot be solved with additional regulations. We enthusiastically back Mayor de Blasio’s effort.

January 02, 2014

Horse Slaughter In the U.S.: The Dumbest Business Idea Since New Coke

Tomorrow, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King will be back in court seeking to block the opening of a horse slaughter plant in his state because of unresolved questions about waste disposal and unsafe chemicals in the meat. We hope he prevails. Attorney General King—joined by The HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue—made similar arguments in the federal courts, which have produced a series of red and green lights for horse slaughter plant proponents over the last five months. Both King, as the state’s top law enforcement official, and the state’s Republican governor, Susanna Martinez, oppose the opening of a horse slaughter plant, so the state has hardly rolled out the welcome mat for the would-be horse butcherers and traders.

Horse transport to slaughter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Taking a step back from the legal wrangles in the state and federal courts, I am amazed that the people behind horse slaughter continue to proceed with their thoroughly unpopular gambit, given the impossibly difficult regulatory and social environment they find themselves in. The only explanation for their perseverance must be that they have some financiers willing to bear the costs in their attempt to march healthy horses onto slaughterhouse floors. There’s just no way to view horse slaughtering as a viable business in the current environment, and its future, from a strictly economic perspective, is bleak as bleak can be.  
You don’t find too many people seeking to open up whale processing facilities, or cockfighting arenas, on American soil, because any sane investor knows it’s a fool’s errand. There are just too many practical obstacles—legal, political, and social—in the way, even if the proponents had unfailing enthusiasm about the idea of killing whales or fighting roosters. The enterprise depends not only on the enthusiasm of the handful of boosters, but on society’s broader acceptance of the enterprise.
First, as the operators of proposed slaughter plants in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico have learned, there is major local opposition to their enterprises. They will have to contend with a battery of regulatory challenges, protests, and public criticism if they wish to operate.
Second, Congress is likely to shut the door on the industry, at least for the coming year. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have language in their 2014 spending bills that forbids USDA from spending any money to inspect the plants, and that means the plants won’t be able to operate. Now that a budget agreement has been reached, Congress is expected to act on that legislation by January 15th. All along, this prospect has been looming, and it defies easy explanation that these slaughter plant operators would go to the expense of setting up plants and hiring staff even as Congress acts to put a stop to it all.
Third, there is a highly uncertain market for their product. While there’s never been any demand in the U.S. for horse meat, the industry has relied on markets overseas, principally in Europe. But demand there has been in decline, and according to Animal People, per capita consumption is more than a pound per year in just four of 28 EU nations. Since the scandal that saw horsemeat mislabeled and sold as beef in several countries, per capita consumption rates has declined further still, due to concerns about food safety and the changing tastes of consumers.

Some big money player is probably backing the horse slaughter plants, and allowing them to make totally irrational business decisions. But it’s an economic dead end. One way or another, Americans won’t let these plants operate, just like we wouldn’t allow dog and cat slaughter plants, whale processing, or cockfighting arenas to operate. We have a great entrepreneurial spirit in America, but we also have core values. Horse slaughter just doesn’t make the cut as a legitimate business in our great country.