It seems there’s not a day that goes by without major news for animals – whether it is tangible progress in ensuring their protection and well-being, or examples of fierce resistance to continuing abuse. The last 24 hours have been no exception.
Yesterday, Pope Francis released a 200-page encyclical that associated Catholicism with animal protection and called on all people of the world to protect animals and all of God’s creation.
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a major ivory crush in New York as a symbolic act to deter poaching and stop the trade in elephant tusks – in order to stem the killing of these magnificent creatures.
And right now, as I write, our teams are on the ground in China fighting to expose and stop the slaughter of dogs at the infamous Yulin dog meat “festival.”
Yesterday, too, we had some good news on our campaign to stop the abuse of animals at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (U.S. MARC), an obscure government-run laboratory in Nebraska that made headlines in January after New York Times reporter Michael Moss exposed appalling cruelty to farm animals there. A key congressional spending committee has proposed language to withhold funding from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service unless it improves its animal care policy, not just at the U.S. MARC, but at its other 50 or so federal laboratories too. Specifically, the legislation would prevent the Service from receiving more than $55 million until it certifies in writing to Congress that it has updated its animal care policies. Former U.S. Senators Bob Dole, R-Kan. and Bob Kerrey, D-Neb. – both now special advisors to The HSUS – weighed in on the issue and called on Congress to act.
Among the hideous experiments that Moss documented at the U.S. MARC were pigs locked in steam chambers until they died, calves born with “deformed vaginas” and tangled legs, and sheep bred to produce lambs without any human assistance, with the newborns left to starve, freeze, or, as Moss revealed, get battered to death by hail. If starvation or weather didn’t kill the lambs, then coyotes did, since there were few guard animals to watch over the helpless creatures. The lamb body count chronicled by Moss was sickening, and a former veterinarian with the center blew the whistle on the daily cruelties perpetrated against farm animals, excluded as they are from even the minimal protections of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Agriculture Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, highlighted the U.S. MARC issue first in his opening statement, emphasizing the time spent and significant action taken to correct the issues brought to light in the “disturbing article in the paper about poor animal welfare practices and research at this USDA facility.” He suggested that a separate division at the USDA enforce the Animal Welfare Act at Agricultural Research Service facilities. We hope the Senate committee will also include language in its agriculture appropriations bill to reflect requests by almost 200 bipartisan members of Congress that Animal Welfare Act standards be applied to farm animals used in agricultural research at federal facilities. In addition, we hope the USDA will overhaul its oversight system and take a look at the types of pointless experiments it has allowed to be conducted at the U.S. MARC.
This is an important first step toward ensuring the abuses seen at the U.S. MARC are never repeated at another federal facility, but appropriations language is only a temporary solution. In order to guarantee long-term safeguards for animals at these facilities, we urge Congress to pass the Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act (S. 388 and H.R. 746) sponsored by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. The legislation would permanently require federal facilities that conduct agricultural research on animals to follow the standards of the Animal Welfare Act.
The momentum for change keeps building, and it’s inspiring to see. So much more work remains, but our collective work for animals is making a difference on so many fronts.