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19 posts from April 2014

April 14, 2014

Even More Winds of Change Blowing for Whales

The latest pulse of good news for whales comes from an unlikely source – the tiny eastern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the site of whaling since 1875, when the immigrant Scotsman William Wallace launched a whale hunt there.  But recently, a number of whalers led by Orson 'Balaam' Ollivierre have decided to lay down their harpoons and join the whale watching industry as an alternative.

Whale tail
Whalers now realize there’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This sort of personal transformation is driven by the forces of economic progress and opportunity.  There’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This is the latest in a cascade of decisions and actions that are bringing us considerably closer to the end of whaling on our planet.

On March 31, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling program in the Southern ocean was in violation of the global commercial whaling moratorium which has resulted in a suspension of Japanese whaling there and created great uncertainty about Japan’s future whaling.  On April 2, President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment for trading in whale meat, just as eight Icelandic members of parliament proposed a resolution asking the finance and economic minister to assess whaling from the perspectives of Iceland’s fishing and tourism industries, as well as its impact on Iceland's global position and stature with other nations.

And when it comes to the plight of whales in captivity, we’re seeing dramatic progress too.  On Friday, by a vote of 2-1, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected SeaWorld’s appeal of the 2012 OSHA regulatory safety finding that resulted in a prohibition on contact with whales in the water at SeaWorld.  The panel ruled that SeaWorld had violated its obligations as an employer by exposing its trainers to the "recognized hazards" of working with killer whales, and rejected the claim of a SeaWorld attorney that physical contact with killer whales was critical to his client’s core business.

Orca 1
As people begin to appreciate the opportunity to see whales in their natural environments, an enterprise like SeaWorld that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market. 

While SeaWorld is going to fend off California legislation, at least for some time, to ban the use of orcas in entertainment displays, the federal court ruling is a blow to the mega-entertainment company which must decide whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  But before SeaWorld officials look to the nation’s highest court for a bailout, they might take a good hard look at the sweep of events concerning the protection of whales in the wild.  Whales, majestic creatures of the nation’s oceans, are meant to swim free, wild and unmolested. As more and more people throughout the world begin to appreciate and value the opportunity to see whales and to protect them in their natural environments, an enterprise that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market, just as the commercial whalers realize that there’s almost nobody who wants to eat whale meat.  Courts, parliamentarians and onetime whalers are all building a new consensus that ensures a square deal for whales in the coming decades. 

April 11, 2014

One More Big Whack Against Gestation Crates, With Progress Throughout Latin America

Today, Arcos Dorados--the largest operator of McDonald’s restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the world’s largest McDonald’s franchisee—demonstrated its commitment to improving animal welfare by introducing a new requirement for its pork suppliers to document plans to limit gestation crate use and promote group housing for sows within the next two years. The result applies to 20 Latin American countries, including Brazil and Mexico (two of the company’s largest markets).

Gestation Crate
Pigs confined in gestation crates have no room to turn around or take a step forward or backward.

Gestation crates –cages that are so small that pigs confined in them cannot even turn around or take a step forward or backward—are already banned in the European Union and in nine U.S. states, and they are being phased out in Australia, Canada, India and South Africa. However, millions of mother pigs in Latin America spend their lives confined to these inhumane crates.  Today’s announcement comes after more than a year of dialogue between Humane Society International (HSI) and Arcos Dorados, and follows McDonald’s commitment to end the use of gestation crates in its U.S. supply chain. 


We’ve seen that when a few major corporations lead on animal welfare, others often follow.  After McDonald’s made its anti-crate pledge in the United States, dozens of other food retailers throughout the country got on the bandwagon in the succeeding months to eliminate gestation crates from their pork supply chains.  Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, has also pledged a complete phase-out of crates globally.  Arcos Dorados’ decision is important and promising, and an important step forward in our efforts to end the use of gestation crates in Latin America.

Humane Society International is working on the ground in Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico and many other countries to end the lifelong confinement of breeding sows in gestation crates. We’re urging multinational food retailers that are already phasing out gestation crates in the United States to extend their crate-free policies to Latin America and beyond, and petitioning local restaurants, food companies and producers to also adopt more humane practices.

We are working on public and corporate policies to end extreme confinement of farm animals, and we are also making our case directly to consumers.  A week ago, we released this video, thanks to Allen and Jill Johnson, in which we asked people on the street to try out what it’s like to be crammed into a gestation crate for four minutes, and already nearly a million people have viewed it. As you will see in the video, most people could not last in the crate for four minutes, but the pigs who are confined each spend four years on an average in the crates. This is not what any decent person wants to see an animal endure.

As this dramatic news about Arcos Dorados makes clear, HSI’s multi-faceted campaign to globalize animal welfare principles is gaining ground, and we hope you’ll continue to support the full range of our efforts to eliminate the worst elements of factory farming worldwide.

April 10, 2014

This Isn’t ‘Chicken Little’ Talk About USDA’s Poultry Slaughter Rules

Now would be the right time for leaders at the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step back and nix their dazzlingly reckless rush to proceed with a rule that provides for stepped-up poultry industry self-regulation - dubbed "Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection" - at chicken slaughter plants, which are concentrated in states in the South.

Sad Hen
Photo: Compassion Over Killing
Birds are not covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, even though chickens and turkeys represent 95 percent of all animals sent to slaughter.

The latest indicator that the USDA plan is a major step backward is that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has offered a rare public rebuke of a sister agency for misinterpreting its research findings on poultry slaughter line speeds.  Yesterday, NIOSH issued a letter criticizing the administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service for claiming that the health agency's study of slaughter operations in South Carolina did not recommend a slowing of line speeds.  "This statement is misleading," the NIOSH letter says. "Line speed affects the periodicity of repetitive and forceful movements, which are key causes of musculoskeletal disorders. Many of the NIOSH recommendations address the design of job tasks to minimize these factors."  The USDA, said NIOSH, had cherry-picked details from the study and was wrong to say that NIOSH's research showed that increasing line speed "was not a significant factor in worker safety."

It's sad but evident that the USDA intentionally misread NIOSH's study in its zeal to create additional political momentum for a rule that few people outside the poultry industry want or support.  In fact, consumer, worker safety and animal welfare advocates have all raised concerns about the proposal, submitting nearly 200,000 signatures in protest. And 68 members of Congress, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., have co-signed a letter to the USDA urging the administration to withdraw its proposed rule until all stakeholder concerns are fully addressed.

Photo: Compassion Over Killing
Line speeds at poultry slaughter plants are already too fast. Speeding them up even more will compound the birds’ misery and produce more food safety problems.

The Washington Post has reported that line speeds are already too fast and that at least 1 million chickens are not properly stunned or slaughtered and drown to death when they are dumped into the scalding tank. This also jeopardizes the food supply, as the drowning birds may inhale the water contaminated with fecal material into their bodies. Speeding up the line even more would compound inhumane slaughter and food safety risks at poultry plants.

It's particularly troubling that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and his colleagues would put their energies into fast-tracking this proposal when there are other rules waiting for action that would demonstrably improve food safety and animal protection.  It's time to put this rule on the shelf and start focusing on standards that actually further food safety and animal protection.  One rule that's long overdue is to close the downer calf loophole by requiring immediate humane euthanasia for downer calves, just as the agency requires now for adult downer cows.  We've been waiting for over four years for the agency to issue this new policy, and we've conducted two undercover operations that reveal the worst sort of animal cruelty at calf slaughter plants.

More than half a century since The HSUS and other groups successfully made the case for a humane slaughter law, the USDA's failure to include birds under its protective aegis remains a true scandal, and one of the greatest sources of animal suffering and food safety risk in our nation. Moreover, if the USDA wishes to take on the issue of poultry slaughter and food safety in a serious way, it should be advocating that birds be protected under the terms of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act which requires that animals be rendered insensible to pain before slaughter.  The USDA does not consider birds to be covered by the Act, even though chickens and turkeys represent 95 percent of all animals sent to slaughter.  Speeding up line speeds will only compound the birds’ misery, and produce more food safety problems and occupational injuries for workers engaged in extraordinarily demanding, repetitive motions as they handle and dismember birds by the billions on the slaughter lines.

April 08, 2014

U.S. Move Offers Reprieve to Elephants in Tanzania, Zimbabwe

This picture of three men providing a protective shield around one white rhino in Kenya shocked me.  Is this what we’ve come to, with the last few rhinos having armed guards that resemble a Secret Service detail around a head of state?  Is the trade in wild animal parts this ruthless, this voracious that this is what it takes to keep some of the most majestic animals alive?

African elephant
The governments of Tanzania and Zimbabwe allow trophy hunters to legally kill elephants, adding to the many threats that plague these great beasts.

Yes, in some cases, it is.  But we need more than armed guards defending animals against poachers.  We need good policies on trade in their parts, to deter people from killing these animals not just for trinkets but also for trophies.

That’s why the announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week to temporarily stop imports of sport-hunted trophies of African elephants from Tanzania and Zimbabwe is a much-needed reprieve for these animals. Elephants in these countries have been hit hard by poaching for the illegal ivory trade, yet the governments of Tanzania and Zimbabwe have continued to allow trophy hunters to legally kill elephants, contributing to the threats that plague these great beasts. Last year alone, poachers killed perhaps as many as 50,000 elephants for their ivory tusks, with most of the ivory on its way to China for carving and re-sale.

Both Botswana and Zambia, and now the United States as it pertains to Tanzania and Zimbabwe, have recognized that trophy hunting is harming wild populations and must be shut down. Between the U.S. import bans and Botswana’s and Zambia’s export bans, more than 500 elephants will be saved from American hunters’ bullets this year.

In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, the parts of 594 African elephants were imported to the U.S. as trophies: 204 were from Zimbabwe and 36 from Tanzania.

Of these 594 elephants, 44 percent or 261 came from Botswana, but the good news is the president of that nation banned trophy hunting beginning in 2014. Zambia, from which the trophies of seven elephants were imported to the United States in 2012, has since banned trophy hunting.   Their economies are much more dependent on wildlife tourism than trophy hunting, and they are increasingly seeing the issue in terms of both economics and ethics.

Hunters can still import African elephant trophies to the United States from Namibia and South Africa. The parts of 18 African elephants from Namibia and 68 from South Africa were imported to the U.S. as hunting trophies in 2012.

At a time when we ask poor Africans to stop killing elephants to trade in ivory trinkets, is it too much to ask rich Americans to stop killing elephants for trade in trophies for display in their homes?

April 07, 2014

See World From Orca’s Eyes

It’s been just a little over four years since the captive orca whale Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando. But largely due to a powerful documentary, “Blackfish,” so many Americans now see the issue of cetaceans in captivity from a different perspective, and there are serious questions about whether a business model built around captive display of orcas is either economically sustainable or morally acceptable.

Orcas are noted for their striking appearance, their intelligence, and their very strong social bonds

The HSUS has long opposed the display of captive whales and other marine mammals for entertainment, and in the early 1990s we created a program to make our case to the public. Orcas, in particular, are noted for their striking appearance, their intelligence, and their very strong social bonds, which rival those of elephants and higher primates.

Yet we could not have imagined the sequence of events that has unfolded since Brancheau’s tragic death in February 2010. In May 2012, a federal judge affirmed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determination that SeaWorld had exposed its trainers to a hazardous environment, violating federal law, and affirmed OSHA’s recommendation that trainers never again be allowed in close contact with the animals unless protected by a physical barrier.

In 2012, St. Martin’s Press published the riveting book “Death at Sea World” by David Kirby, who spoke around the nation about the hazards for trainers and orcas at SeaWorld. “Blackfish” added the visual details to the narrative, and when it aired on CNN a number of times during 2013, it drew huge audiences, especially among young people. When I spoke just a month ago at the University of Oklahoma’s business school, it seemed as if all the students had seen the film.  The film had become a cultural phenomenon, and we recognized its director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, at our Los Angeles 60th anniversary gala a little more than a week ago.

We believe the book and the film provided an important backdrop as The HSUS and other groups pushed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2013 to reject a bid by the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia.  And they also set the stage for the introduction of legislation to end the captive display and performance of orca whales in California. 

In fact, on Tuesday, California state lawmakers serving on the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee in Sacramento will conduct a hearing on AB 2140, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, introduced by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, to phase out orcas in captivity in California.  Assemblyman Bloom’s legislation, if approved, would end the captivity of orcas for the purpose of entertainment in California. The HSUS supports AB 2140, and California residents can use our online alert to contact their Assembly members.

Scientific opinion over the last two decades or so has coalesced behind the case against keeping orcas and other marine mammals in captivity. We are too aware now of their intelligence, social needs, longevity, ranging habits and size, and it’s just harder and harder to accept their turning tricks for audiences day after day.

A few days ago, there were news accounts that attendance at SeaWorld facilities is down 13 percent. The company’s owner since 2009, The Blackstone Group, is filing to sell another 15 million of its shares in SeaWorld (SEAS), after selling off 18 million in December 2013.  That would make Blackstone a minority shareholder, which must make its ownership feel better given the run of events.  In the meantime SeaWorld is acquiring some of those shares, in effect trying to buy itself.  At this point, that may be the only option, since I cannot imagine many companies investing in an enterprise built around the controversial practice of captive display of orcas.  I don’t expect the public will want much to do with such an industry in the years ahead, and the sooner SeaWorld embraces a new model for doing business, the better.

April 04, 2014

Protecting All Animals Around the World

We live in the era of globalization, with international transport, communications and finance expanding the way we think about business, government, society and culture. All of this requires us to expand the way we think about animal protection. That’s my message today in my video blog about the vital role of Humane Society International, which is working across the globe to protect all animals, including animals in laboratories, farm animals, companion animals and wildlife.

April 03, 2014

Happy Birthday to our Leading Lady, Doris Day

Has there ever been a stronger individual champion of companion animals, or of the need for spaying and neutering pets, or of advocating compassion for all animals, than the remarkable Doris Day?  I can’t think of one, and today, as Doris celebrates her 90th birthday, I want to celebrate her magnificent generosity, spirit and resolve. 

Doris-Today (2)
At 90, Doris Day continues to be a relentless advocate for all animals

Doris is a national treasure, and it was a proud moment in the history of The HSUS when we forged an incredible new partnership with her and her organization.  Since 2006, when the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) affiliated with The HSUS, Doris has continued to advocate for animals, strongly supported direct care work by The HSUS and other organizations, and pursued an active agenda to make animal welfare a national priority.  She’s been a giant in our field and added immensely to our cause.

Doris and her son Terry Melcher founded DDAL in 1987, but she had been standing up for animals for many years already.  She’s been rescuing dogs since her childhood in Ohio, and she’s still doing it. She’s been providing funds, for decades, to local societies doing vital work for animals, and she’s still doing it.  She’s been speaking out in a public way about cruelty to animals throughout her life, and she’s still doing it.  She’s going strong, and she’s made animal protection in the United States all the more strong by the consistency, tenacity and sincerity of her efforts.  Much of that work continues through DDAL and through the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

There are only a few entertainers who have established themselves as star performers in four separate mediums -- in her case, big band, radio, film and television -- and countless authorities in all of those fields have sung her praises.  But from our vantage point, former president George W. Bush truly said it best in 2004 when he recognized Doris with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of our nation’s highest civilian honors.  “It was a good day for our fellow creatures,” President Bush noted, “when she gave her good heart to the cause of animal welfare.”

In constituting DDAL as a 501(c)(4) organization, Doris and Terry anticipated the contemporary phase of our movement, one in which animal welfare concentrates considerable attention on lawmaking and other public policy goals. DDAL inspired the formation of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which like DDAL applies its energies to a political agenda that prioritizes many of Doris’s greatest concerns. 

When it comes to The HSUS, Doris’s influence is also substantial.  At the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, the recently built Doris Day Equine Center trains volunteers in horsemanship and rehabilitation. On the last Tuesday of each February, World Spay Day, which DDAL initiated as Spay Day USA, we shine the spotlight on companion animal overpopulation and coordinate hundreds of events and clinics worldwide.  And in our work at every level, we place a special priority on the companion animal issues so dear to her heart.

One of my favorite stories about Doris is how, as a young actress, she had the courage to stand up to the formidable Alfred Hitchcock on the set of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” saying she wouldn’t work unless the emaciated animals on the set received proper care. To this day, she continues to be relentless in her quest to help all animals.  Only a couple of years ago, she released another album, “My Heart,” and whenever I talk with her, she’s full of energy and ideas about our common interests within animal protection.  I can’t wait to learn what she has in store for us over the next decade.  But for now, I just want to say congratulations, best wishes, and many happy returns to the animals’ sweetheart, Doris Day.

April 02, 2014

A Détente in Whale Wars?

Minke whale
A Minke whale photo by iStock

We’ve made more progress in our anti-whaling campaign in the last two days than in the prior two decades. Just 48 hours after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) called for a halt to Japan’s whaling program – declaring it in violation of an International Whaling Commission moratorium – Japan has announced that it will not send a whaling fleet to the Southern Ocean this hunting season. For the Humane Society International (HSI), which incubated the idea of the ICJ challenge 15 years ago, this is cause for glee.

Every year, for more than a century, Japan has been killing whales in the Southern Ocean.  Since 1986 when the IWC moratorium went into effect, Japan has killed 10,500 whales in this region alone, using a loophole that allows countries to kill whales for scientific purposes. The majority of countries around the world, including the majority of parties to the IWC, recognize Japan’s actions as commercial whaling very thinly disguised as a scientific enterprise.

More good news came in late last night when Rakuten, the world’s largest Internet seller of whale and dolphin meat products, agreed to stop all sales of products derived from whales by April 30th this year. Rakuten joins Amazon and Google in refusing to sell whale and dolphin products.  The only remaining major Internet seller of whale and dolphin products in Japan now is Yahoo.  That company should cease sales, too.

Much work remains in making the oceans a safe and healthy environment for whales and other marine creatures. Marine debris, toxic pollutants, ship strikes and climate change are just a few of those threats. But when it comes to whaling, there is a sea change afoot. After the ICJ action on Japan, Iceland and Norway - the two remaining commercial whaling nations - would do well to put their harpoon guns in storage. There is no honor in being the last nation to participate in the intentional slaughter of some of the largest mammals ever to grace the planet.


April 01, 2014

Mountain Lions, Horse Soring, and Politics in America

On Saturday night, at the first of our series of celebratory events commemorating The HSUS’ diamond (60th) anniversary, Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb and I gave the first-ever “Humane Governor” award to California’s Jerry Brown.

Wayne LA gala
Gov. Jerry Brown of California, who received The HSUS' "Humane Governor" award, has signed 24 animal welfare bills in the first three years of his current term.

Gov. Brown, who won his first of three non-consecutive gubernatorial terms 40 years ago, has signed 24 animal welfare bills during the first three years of his current term.  He’s helped cement California’s place as the top humane state, signing bills to ban the shark fin trade, halt the hounding of bears and bobcats, phase out the use of lead ammunition in hunting, and create pathways for non-lethal approaches to human conflicts with mountain lions. In his remarks to the audience, Gov. Brown spoke about the web of life and caring for all of nature, making it clear that this was a big part of his motivation in signing the bills. 

We don’t take good, caring politicians for granted.  We know that some politicians don’t share a compassionate approach to animal welfare policy, more readily acting as demagogues than as defenders of humane values.  The poster boy for that is Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman. Last week, he vetoed a bill – which passed 28 to 13 in his state’s legislature – to halt the trophy hunting of Nebraska’s small population of mountain lions.  Sadly, Gov. Heineman’s second term has been filled with intemperate, ill-informed, and intentionally misleading comments about The HSUS, and he’s become a political front man for the most regressive interests within industrial agriculture in North America.  He’s an apologist for gestation crates, battery cages, and so many of the worst practices in factory farming.

Among U.S. Senators, we also see a range of rhetoric and voting behavior on animal welfare issues.  For me, one basic test for lawmakers on animal issues is whether he or she stands for or against criminal animal cruelty.  Indeed, in the 113th Congress, perhaps the two most discussed animal issues are directly concerned with making laws against animal cruelty crimes work more efficiently.  One involves cracking down on the attendees at staged dogfights and cockfights, and the other is about strengthening the Horse Protection Act of 1970, which makes it a crime to torment Tennessee Walking horses in a practice known as soring.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, co-sponsored the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act and helped get it attached as an amendment to the Farm Bill.  She’s also the Senate co-author of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 1406, which seeks to strengthen penalties for soring, eliminate a discredited and failed industry self-enforcement program, and ban the use of stacks and chains on the horses’ feet and legs – practices that have become tricks of the trade for unscrupulous horse-soring trainers. Her PAST Act and its House counterpart, H.R. 1518, have garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, with 51 Senators and 269 Representatives joining as cosponsors. 

Sen. Ayotte stands in contrast to Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee.  Sen. Alexander seems like a decent man, but he’s emerging as an apologist for animal cruelty.  When the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act came up in the Senate for a floor vote a couple of years ago, Sen. Alexander was one of just 11 “no” votes on the issue.  Fortunately, we were able to overcome his opposition, with nearly every Democrat and an overwhelming majority of the Republican caucus siding with the pro-animal position. This also enabled our allies to attach the anti-fighting provision to the Farm Bill that passed in February.  There’s a good bit of illegal cockfighting in rural Tennessee, and it’s obvious that Senator Alexander was playing to that crowd with his vote.

But now, Sen. Alexander has taken an adverse position on a second major humane issue by announcing his plans to introduce legislation on behalf of the horse soring criminals who infest the “Big Lick” segment of the industry.  His bill, as reported today in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, would maintain the industry’s discredited self-regulation scheme, would keep in place anemic penalties for illegal soring, and would keep it legal to use stacks and chains on the horses.  Sen. Alexander’s proposal is expected to largely mirror the pro-soring bill introduced by Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

How in this day and age can anyone defend animal fighting and intentionally injuring the feet and legs of horses to win prizes at horse shows?  Well, typically, they don’t, loudly proclaiming that they, too, oppose animal cruelty. 

By doing so, they mask their true intent by speaking of “states’ rights” or “keeping government out of our lives” or even making the Orwellian claim that their pro-cruelty bills are actually aimed against cruelty. 

But we read the bills, and we know the facts, and we’ve thoroughly investigated and documented these forms of cruelty.  These are criminal industries, and it’s shameful for any lawmaker to serve as an impediment to rooting out this type of gratuitous animal cruelty.

When it comes to animal cruelty, you stand for it or against it.  So many politicians – Republicans and Democrats – join with us in our desire to root it out and end it forever, but there are still too many of them who think they can pull a fast one with the voters and confuse their constituents with fast talk and the rhetoric of reform.  We’ll be working hard to tell the full story and to demand real reform, since so many lives hang in the balance.