Congress has been in gridlock most of the year, with the Republicans and Democrats quarreling over the Iraq war, judicial nominations, spending bills, and just about everything else. But one issue that they can often agree upon is animal welfare.
On Friday, the Senate approved its version of the Farm Bill—a massive bill that the Congress typically takes up in five-year intervals to authorize agriculture-related programs. Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces the Animal Welfare Act and some other animal protection laws, the Farm Bill often provides us with an opportunity to strengthen animal protection policies through an amendment process. The Senate bill contained four major animal welfare reforms backed by The HSUS. The adoption of these amendments marks a major victory for animal protection and provides further evidence that our stepped up investment in lobbying is paying major dividends for animals.
Puppy Mill Imports—The Senate accepted a provision to stem the import of puppies for commercial sale from foreign puppy mills. A growing number of breeders in China, former Soviet bloc countries, Mexico and other foreign countries see the United States as a potential market, even though there is a large domestic dog and cat breeding industry here and there are millions of pets available from U.S. breeders and animal shelters. This amendment, pushed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), will require that any dog imported into the U.S. for commercial sale be at least 6 months old, to ensure that young, unweaned puppies are not forced to suffer from harsh, long-distance transport.
Dogfighting—This provision, advocated by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), will strengthen federal law by allowing prosecution of dogfighting cases without requiring proof of interstate or foreign movement of the particular dogs in each case, enhancing the penalty for dogfighting offenses from a potential three-year prison sentence to a maximum five-year prison sentence, and making it a crime to knowingly possess, breed, or train dogs for fighting. Earlier this year, the Congress passed a comprehensive upgrade to the federal animal fighting law that we had advocated for years, but we saw in the publicity that surrounded the Michael Vick case an opportunity to take several additional steps. We are now that much closer to helping to enact to an even stronger federal statute against dogfighting.
Class B Dealers—This provision, championed by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawai), will prevent stolen pets and other fraudulently acquired dogs and cats from being kept in horrible conditions and then sold for laboratory experiments by Class B dealers. These dealers—and the “bunchers” who round up animals for them—have a long history of trafficking in stolen pets, misrepresenting themselves in responding to “free to good home ads,” and violating basic Animal Welfare Act requirements for food, water, shelter, and veterinary care while they hold animals before selling them for experiments. The amendment will phase out the practice within five years. Parallel language championed by Reps. Michael Doyle (D-Pa.) and Steve Israel (D- N.Y.) in the House version of the Farm Bill (approved in July) has already been unanimously approved by the House, but with a shorter time frame (would phase out the practice within 90 days of enactment).
Food Products from Cloned Animals—This provision, pushed by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), requires that the Food and Drug Administration wait to issue its final risk assessment on food products from cloned animals until further studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the USDA can be completed. The FDA had indicated intentions to wrap up its risk assessment by the end of this year and give the green light to use of food from cloned animals, despite serious gaps in the agency’s analysis and the fact that more than 150,000 public comments were received by the FDA overwhelmingly opposing the approval of such food, out of concern for human health, animal welfare and economic impacts.
We are particularly grateful to Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) for agreeing to these amendments, as well as to the sponsors of each.
The House and Senate have now approved their respective versions of the Farm Bill, and now a conference committee—a select group of lawmakers from both chambers, led by Harkin and Chambliss in the Senate and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)—will work to reconcile differences in the legislation and agree to a single measure that can be sent to the President. The HSUS urges conferees on the Farm Bill to fight to retain all four of the provisions mentioned above, and we’ll be calling upon you to urge lawmakers to do the right thing on these critical reforms.