Grassroots groups are vital to our movement, something I’ve known since my earliest days of on-the-ground activism during college. But even then, while hosting educational events and organizing demonstrations, I held the view that the most important element needed for the success of the animal protection cause was to have a large, powerful organization that could help unite the disparate strands within our field and drive results from lawmakers, the courts, and business leaders. The HSUS is that group, and there’s never been an organization quite like it, getting results and engaging millions of members and other supporters who are working collectively to secure tangible gains for animals.
Our movement is rich with devoted, self-sacrificing advocates doing remarkable work in their communities. But it is critical that our movement, while never forgetting the individual animal in need, also attack the root causes of problems, so that animals are not put into a situation of distress in the first place. In today’s blog, I provide a rundown of the issues that captured the most public and press attention in 2014 – propelled by an organization with the muscle and knowhow to turn ideas into practical reforms.
Treatment of laying hens in battery cages: Two major multinational corporations, Nestlé and Starbucks, announced decisions to modify their purchasing practices and to use only cage-free production. Unilever pledged to conduct research to eliminate the universal practice within the industry of macerating or suffocating the male chicks. A federal court rejected a challenge to California’s laying-hen-welfare laws, which are set to take effect in 2015. Congress chose not to act on a national agreement between The HSUS and United Egg Producers, even though the accord showed that traditional adversaries can find common ground – an outcome that editorial boards and so many other opinion leaders throughout the country celebrated.
- Treatment of sows in gestation crates: In my view, this was the biggest story of the year, with the largest names in pig production, Smithfield, Tyson, Cargill, and Clemens Food Group, making announcements that the crates must go. Starbucks and Nestlé joined dozens of other major retailers in saying they’d phase out their purchase of pork from operations that severely confine the sows. We garnered national media attention for the subject, including multiple segments on the Daily Show, CNN, the New York Times and more, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill banning the crates. He was widely criticized in New Jersey and throughout the nation for serving his presidential aspirations and pandering to Iowa pork producers. We conducted national investigations, including at a hog facility in Kentucky. The issue also attracted international attention, with Brazil, Canada, and India taking action to rid their nations of these crates.
Unfair bear hunting methods in Maine: The fight over bear baiting, hounding, and trapping drew extensive media coverage, with the national press shocked that trophy hunters use these unfair and inhumane methods to kill 3,000 bears in the state. Although voters narrowly rejected the measure, there was growing consensus in Maine that bear trapping and hounding have to go. Maine is the only state that allows bears to be trapped.
- Trophy hunting of wolves: It’s been an uphill fight, but we’ve been clawing our way to win protections for wolves in the Great Lakes states and also in Wyoming. We won two critical ballot measures in November in Michigan, where the battle has been engaged most meaningfully. And we won two federal lawsuits, one to restore endangered or threatened status for wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and the other to restore protections in Wyoming. We are hoping to indefinitely turn around the killing of these animals with cruel and indiscriminate steel-jawed traps and snares, baiting, hounding, and electric calls.
Tennessee walking horses and soring: We built enormous support for this issue in Congress – with 60 Senators and 308 House members signing on to the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act. There have been continuing exposés and legal proceedings against trainers continuing to injure horses. Attendance at this year’s Celebration was down again, with just three entrants in competition for World Grand Champion. The industry created a phony veterinary committee to do its bidding, and The HSUS helped expose it. A powerful coalition has been assembled to get this legislation over the finish line in 2015.
- King amendment: The fight over the provision offered by U.S. Representative Steve King as an amendment to the Farm Bill was one of the highest profile debates on this massive agricultural package. Papers throughout the country urged lawmakers to reject King’s proposal, and in the end, that view prevailed, to the delight of The HSUS and other animal protection, environmental, food safety, worker rights, and states’ rights groups. The National Conference of State Legislators, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the County Executives of America all opposed the King amendment.
- Ag-gag and right to farm measures: With the increasing resonance of our anti-farm-animal-confinement campaigns targeting gestation crates and battery cages, there’s been a resulting backlash from agribusiness interests. For the second year in a row, they mounted major efforts in a dozen states to criminalize investigations at factory farms. We were able to defeat all but one of the measures, and united with law enforcement and civil liberties groups in fighting them. Some states also tried to pass “right to farm” measures, with the hot-button state being Missouri. There, Amendment 1 appeared on the ballot, and despite innocuous-sounding language, it passed by less than one percent of the vote – in fact, by a .2 percent margin that triggered a recount. Almost every newspaper in Missouri opposed the measure as bad policy, and the ballot question had the opposite effect its framers intended – it showed the weakness and vulnerability of the farm lobby in Missouri.
Animal fighting: The HSUS worked with law enforcement throughout the country on a wide variety of raids of fighting operations, including one last week in eastern Tennessee. In a case that came to light last year in Alabama and Georgia where we played a central role, a federal judge imposed harsh sentences – some of the toughest penalties ever in a dogfighting case. We also got attention from the enactment of a provision in the Farm Bill to make it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.
- Horse slaughter plants prevented from opening: It felt all year that horses were living on a knife’s edge. Three horse slaughter plants were set to open – in Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico — and The HSUS and Front Range Equine Rescue held them off in the courts, until we were able to work with our allies to get language in the annual spending bills for fiscal year 2014 and then 2015 to prevent slaughter plants from opening. Toward the end of the year, we got a huge boost when the European Union halted imports of horsemeat from Mexico, which kills tens of thousands of horses for that market.
Charla Nash and exotics: The woman who was so tragically disfigured and brought within an inch of her life by a captive chimp came to Congress at our urging to speak out for comprehensive policies to restrict the private ownership of dangerous wild animals, including chimpanzees and other primates. West Virginia passed a law to end the keeping of exotic pets, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service readied final action to ban imports and interstate trade in four species of large constricting snakes.
- Curbing Elephant and Rhino Poaching: It is estimated that every 15 minutes, an elephant in Africa is killed for ivory. With the United States providing the second largest ivory retail market in the world after China, major changes are needed not only internationally, but domestically. This year, the issue garnered headlines everywhere, and The HSUS leveraged some of that attention to pass state ivory trade bans in New York and New Jersey, shutting down the largest markets for ivory on the East Coast. Internationally, we are working with local groups in China to reduce demand for ivory and raise awareness of the elephant poaching crisis, and in Vietnam, to drive down demand there for rhino horn.
Certainly, there were other big stories for animals this year, with the critically acclaimed documentary Blackfish continuing to weaken the standing and popularity and stock price of SeaWorld. Films like Noah and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes not only highlighted important issues for millions of moviegoers, but showed off computer-generated imagery (CGI) technology, obviating the need for live animals in movies. There’s also been considerable attention on the effort to ban carriage horses in New York City, stellar work by the New York Times to expose death and drugging in the horse racing industry, and major attention to puppy mills and to gas chambers and euthanasia of animals in shelters. Taken together, all of these stories and all of this robust discussion, generally with a favorable spin, are the necessary antecedents to lasting reform.
Here's how you can become a Humane Hero for animals.