President Obama’s second term in office has been a fruitful one for animals, but a number of key reforms await final approval and deep problems remain when it comes to animal welfare. Today’s front page news story in the New York Times concerning a house of horrors at a USDA research laboratory is a grim reminder of the degree to which our government is itself responsible for cruelty and disregard when it comes to animals.
Tonight, as the President addresses Congress and the American people with his annual State of the Union address, our government’s work with animals and its policies that govern private actions concerning animal welfare remain fraught. Here’s a look back at the state of animal protection issues under the Obama administration.
Budget – The President’s 2015 (FY15) budget included several HSUS-backed provisions, including defunding horse slaughter inspections and increasing funding for more humane wild horse management. Consistent with our request, the Bureau of Land Management specified that this additional funding would go towards research on population control methods. It was heartening that in a budget full of funding cuts, there was no proposal to cut funding for the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act enforcement.
Puppy Mill Imports – Though it took longer than it should have, the USDA issued a vitally important final rule prohibiting the import of puppies from foreign puppy mills into the United States for resale. This means that other nations will not be able to raise tens of thousands of dogs in puppy mills and flood the U.S. market with them.
Wildlife Trafficking – The Obama Administration has made combatting wildlife trafficking a priority and has taken several steps to implement a stronger policy:
- Enforcement: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a Director’s Order instructing FWS personnel to strictly enforce existing restrictions on the commercial trade of elephant ivory and the import, export, and sale of items made from other protected species under the “antiques exception” of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
- Suspension of Sport-Hunted Trophies: The FWS suspended imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. After Zimbabwe challenged the suspension, the FWS upheld its decision, finding that sport hunting elephants and importing the trophies into the United States would not enhance the survival of the species in the wild.
- Listing Southern White Rhinoceros: The FWS took steps to curb the rampant poaching of wild populations of Southern White Rhinoceros by listing them as threatened under the ESA.
- African Lion: The FWS released a proposed rule to list African lions as threatened under the ESA and create a special rule governing the import of sport-hunted lion trophies. We hope the final rule will dramatically restrict the flow of these trophies into the United States and will help prevent the trade in lion parts.
Animal Cruelty –The Federal Bureau of Investigations announced that it will start tracking incidents of animal abuse in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which is the starting place for law enforcement officials, researchers, members of the media, and the public at large seeking information on crime in the nation and deciding how agency resources should be allocated.
Class B Random Source Dealers – The USDA revoked the license of one of the last remaining random source dealers after discovering multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including obtaining dogs from illegal sources. This dealer was supplying animals to Georgia Regents University, where The HSUS carried out an undercover investigation. Also, as of October 1, 2014, the National Institutes of Health will no longer fund research that involves dogs from random source Class B dealers (a similar policy regarding cats was adopted in 2012).
Live Animal Use in Medical Training – The U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to halt the use of live animals in a variety of medical training programs. The military will use realistic human models instead of live animals.
Downer Calves – The USDA suspended inspections from a veal calf slaughterhouse after an HSUS undercover investigation exposed egregious violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) there. We are awaiting a proposed rule on this issue that will close the loophole allowing the slaughter and mistreatment of downer calves, and end inhumane practices that extend well beyond a single slaughter plant. It has been five years since we filed our petition, so we anxiously await final action.
Animal Travel – The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule that expands its current requirement that air carriers report incidents involving the loss, injury, or death of an animal during air transport to include animals not yet “owned” as pets, such as animals en route from breeders. More airlines will be covered by this rule.
Animal Welfare Provisions in the USDA’s Meat-Purchasing Contracts – The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service sent a notice to beef, pork, and lamb slaughter facilities indicating its intent to update its animal handling and welfare purchase specifications to impose a zero-tolerance standard for missed stuns or animals regaining sensibility following stunning. This standard is in line with the HMSA.
Expanding Protection/Sanctuary for Marine Mammals –
- Expansion of Pacific Ocean Sanctuary: Through an Executive Order the President expanded the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 490,000 square miles – six times its previous size – making it the largest marine monument in the world. The sanctuary is expected to protect nearly two dozen types of living marine mammals, along with threatened species of sea turtles.
- Right Whale Protection: The National Marine Fisheries Services finalized a rule to restrict fishing gear harmful to endangered right whales.
There were adverse actions by federal agencies, too, including:
Continued efforts by the FWS to delist wolves and to vest management authority in states that conduct ruthless trophy hunting, trapping, and even hounding programs in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions.
- Continuing billions in subsidies to animal agribusiness, in the form of buy-ups of surplus commodities such as pork or spent hens from laying operations; poor enforcement of check-off dollars coming from pork and beef sales and their use for blatantly political purposes; and ruthless research designed to reinforce the system of factory farming that treats animals like commodities, as documented in today’s Times story.
- Stubborn actions by the National Park Service to avoid using humane fertility control methods, such as in Rock Creek Park for deer, that have been proven to reduce population numbers without requiring cruel sharp shooting.
- Mismanagement of wild horses through a treadmill of round-ups and removals that are draining the agency’s resources, rather than using more cost effective fertility control methods.
Looking forward, The HSUS has a large number of regulatory requests that we are discussing with over a dozen federal agencies. Top priorities include:
- A rule to strengthen Horse Protection Act regulations to finally end the illegal soring of horses.
- A rule to list five large constrictor snake species as injurious under the Lacey Act, including the boa constrictor and reticulated python, which will prohibit the importation and interstate transport of these dangerous snakes as pets.
- A final rule to list the African Lion as threatened under the ESA and curbing the import of sport hunted trophies.
- A rule to list all chimpanzees as endangered under the ESA, regardless of whether they are captive or wild.
- A final rule to tighten oversight of trade in elephant ivory.
The President will also have a range of opportunities to thwart adverse actions by Congress in 2015-16, and we hope he will not hesitate to use his veto pen when federal legislative actions threaten animals, whether it’s efforts to do away with protections for wolves, prevent science-based restrictions on toxic lead ammunition, undermine positive regulatory reforms advanced by agencies, or subvert state actions to help animals used in agriculture. We’ll need your actions and support, directed toward Congress and the White House and executive agencies, as we press ahead with reforms and play defense as necessary. The federal government remains a powerful force that can do good or bad for animals. Together, we’ll make sure it’s a force for good.