This year, we helped secure an extraordinary series of gains in the federal policy-making realm — gains ushered in by Congress and federal executive agencies. More broadly, the government banned the use of chimps in experiments, saw new rules to protect elephants against the ivory trade, established new protections for African lions from American trophy hunters, prevented the slaughter of American horses on U.S. soil, blocked efforts to remove critical federal protections for wolves, spurred the transition from live animal testing, and so much more. I captured a few of these big gains in reporting recently on the provisions contained in a massive end-of-year spending bill, generally known as the omnibus.
Remarkable gains on animal testing and research
- Ending Invasive Experiments on Chimps – This year, through a multi-pronged effort involving two federal agencies and Congress, we worked to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments, and practically shut the door on future use. In June, in response to a petition by The HSUS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a final rule that eliminated the split listing of chimpanzees. Now all chimpanzees – whether captive or wild – are listed as endangered, ending a decades-long loophole that allowed their exploitation for biomedical research and in the pet and entertainment trades. Additionally, in November, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it will no longer use chimpanzees in research, reversing a decision to keep 50 animals for future needs.
- Securing Dollars for Alternatives to Animal Experiments — Congress approved a major increase of almost $53 million for a program at NIH that develops alternatives to animal testing that are more humane, faster to perform, less costly, and more reliable.
- Driving the Elimination of Class B Dealers – The omnibus bill includes a provision to end U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) licensing of Class B dealers – notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means, including pet theft, to sell them into research.
- Decreasing Unnecessary Primate Research – The omnibus package also incorporates a call for review of NIH policies on nonhuman primate research. Language inserted during House committee action helped spur the agency to announce plans to shut down a facility conducting maternal deprivation studies on infant monkeys.
- Reducing Chemical Testing on Animals – Topping things off, the Senate approved landmark provisions, as part of its reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), to reduce – if not eliminate – the use of live animals for testing tens of thousands of chemicals in the marketplace. The House already passed its version of TSCA, so we urge House-Senate conferees to hammer out their differences quickly in 2016 and retain this vital language on animal testing.
Protecting horses from slaughter
- Preventing horse slaughter on U.S. soil – The omnibus continues the “defund” language that’s kept horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil. This outcome was far from preordained – on a tie vote, the House Appropriations Committee for the first time in years rejected an amendment to add the language. But the Senate committee approved a parallel amendment and we held onto the Senate provision in the final House/Senate negotiations.
- Stopping the slaughter of wild horses and burros – The omnibus restates the long-standing ban on killing healthy wild horses and burros and the sale of any wild equines for slaughter, and directs the Bureau of Land Management to continue implementing reforms recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for more humane wild horse and burro population management. These reforms include reducing the number of animals rounded up and transferred to long-term holding pens and increasing the use of available humane fertility control methods.
New protections for lions, maintaining protections for wolves
- Protecting African Lions from Trophy Hunters – In December, the FWS issued a final rule providing stronger protections for African lions across their range. Anyone seeking to import a lion trophy will have to obtain an import permit from FWS, and no such permits will be granted unless the hunt is proven to enhance lion conservation. Most exporting countries will not meet this standard and so the rule will drastically reduce the number of lion trophy imports — from more than 700 a year to a trickle. The agency also signaled it will not allow trophies from canned hunts in South Africa.
- Maintaining Federal Protections for Wolves and Preventing Trophy Hunting in Four States – We helped block a slew of riders under consideration in the omnibus spending bill to remove federal protections for endangered species, including wolves in the Great Lakes states and Wyoming. The blocking maneuver on the wolf rider may spare 1,000 wolves from dying at the hands of trophy hunters and commercial trappers.
Combatting the ivory trade and other forms of wildlife trafficking
- Combatting the Ivory Trade – In July, the President announced the issuance of an FWS proposed rule that will protect African elephants by curtailing the commercial ivory trade in the United States with few exceptions, and we protected that rule-making by blocking a rider to defund final action on it. In addition, for the second year in a row, the FWS suspended imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The United States is the second largest market for ivory products after China, and the U.S. and Chinese presidents committed publicly in September to take action in both countries to crack down on the ivory trade.
- Halting the Trade in Large Constricting Snakes – In March, the FWS listed four more constrictor snake species (in addition to four that were listed in 2012) — the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, and Beni anaconda — as injurious under the Lacey Act. This rule prohibits the importation and interstate transport of these snakes, protecting human safety and the ecosystem from these invasive predators.
- Fighting Poaching in Africa – The omnibus provides no less than $80 million (a $25 million increase) under the U.S. Agency for International Development to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking, and bars any expenditures to train or assist military units or personnel credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking. The House passed the Global Anti-Poaching Act by voice vote to make wildlife trafficking punishable under federal laws used against organized crime, designate major wildlife trafficking countries, and authorize the U.S. Department of Defense to provide training and equipment to fight poaching on the front lines.
A host of new protections for marine mammals
The Administration has taken great strides to protect marine mammals, including:
- Expansion of Marine Sanctuaries –The President expanded, through an Executive Order, the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, making it the largest marine monument in the world. The sanctuary is expected to protect nearly two dozen types of marine mammals, along with threatened species of sea turtles. Also, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed to expand the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
- Marine Mammals in International Fisheries – The NOAA proposed a rule to protect marine mammals in international waters by requiring many foreign nations who export seafood to the United States to improve their fishing practices, consistent with U.S. standards
- Captive Orcas – The NOAA issued a final rule that eliminated the split listing of Southern Resident Orcas to include both wild and captive animals as endangered. This means that Lolita, the only Southern Resident orca in captivity, who resides at the Miami Seaquarium, is now afforded protection under the ESA.
- Right Whales – The NOAA proposed an expansion of critical habitat for endangered North Atlantic right whales in areas in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean that support calving and nursing.
Taking Steps for Farm Animals
- USMARC and Farm Animal Experiments – In the wake of the damning New York Times exposé that uncovered terrible abuse and neglect of farm animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (U.S. MARC) in Nebraska, the omnibus directs USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to ensure that its 50 or so facilities, including U.S. MARC, comply with Animal Welfare Act standards, provides $400,000 for inspections, and withholds tens of millions of dollars for research until specific animal protections are in place.
- Downer Calves – In May, the USDA released a proposed rule that would require that calves who are brought to slaughter but cannot rise and walk be promptly and humanely euthanized and prohibited from entering the food supply. This rule stemmed from HSUS undercover investigations and a legal petition.
Pet transport and pet health get a boost
- Pets on Trains – A transportation package signed into law includes an amendment directing Amtrak to develop a program that allows passengers to carry their pet cats and dogs on board certain trains. This will create more opportunities for pets to remain with their families when they have no one to care for a pet during travel or need to permanently relocate.
- Pet Food Safety – In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a rule that requires protective measures for the safety of the food we give our pets. The standards apply to all domestic manufacturers and importers. Additionally, in November, the FDA issued a final rule requiring foreign suppliers of animal food and treats to meet stringent U.S. standards on food safety.
This has a remarkable year, and a measure of the investments that The HSUS and its sister organization, the HSLF, along with HSI, have made in policy making. While we must celebrate these gains, federal agencies and the Congress can secure additional major advances for animals in 2016. The Congress can enact PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture), PAWS (Pet and Women Safety), PAST (Prevent All Soring Tactics), and Humane Cosmetics Acts, for example, which each enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support and truly impressive cosponsor counts. And the Administration can come out with important rulemaking actions for animals in a wide variety of realms, as it did in 2015 and years prior. In this final year of the Obama administration, we hope the President will take further steps to cement his legacy as a true friend of animals.