We had a powerful showing today in the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee – with two key HSUS allies, Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M. and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., securing enough votes to pass their amendments dealing with horse slaughter for human consumption and the keeping of orcas in captivity.
Senator Tom Udall, who is also carrying free-standing bills to end doping of horses in racing and legislation to reduce and replace the use of animals in painful and often lethal testing programs for toxic chemicals, came through again for our cause. He offered an amendment to defund any USDA inspections of horse slaughter plants, as a way of keeping such slaughter plants from operating. There was a kill plant gearing up to open in the southern part of his state, and he’s been determined to prevent that from happening in his state or any other. The committee members recognized that Senator Udall had a posse of other supporters on the committee, with five other lawmakers joining him as cosponsors — Senators Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, Dianne Feinstein, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Coons, D-DE . The committee accepted his amendment in a voice vote, with the “ayes” drowning out the “nays.”
The horse slaughter industry is a predatory one, getting a hold of healthy horses – whether racing animals, working animals, or others – and re-directing them into the slaughter pipeline. Long-distance transport, rough handling, and inhumane killing are standards fare for the poor horses caught up in this grisly trade. No Americans eat horses, and it’s purely for export to some European and Asian countries. In the House, a similar amendment, led by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., came up short in a tie vote, by a count of 24 to 24. We’re gearing up to sustain the Senate position in the final legislation that goes to President Obama, who is also an opponent of horse slaughter, to assure that these plants never again reopen in the United States.
Also this morning, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who like Senator Udall is an incredible leader on animal welfare issues, succeeded in passing an amendment directing the USDA to issue its long-delayed proposed rule to establish more humane standards of care for captive marine mammals. Like so many millions of other Americans, Senator Feinstein was deeply troubled by SeaWorld’s mistreatment of orcas, which highlighted the need for standards in the care of large marine mammals in captivity. We know that SeaWorld’s orcas languish in deficient environments, and there are other facilities that are even worse. This proposed rule has been hung up for almost two decades, and Senator Feinstein had enough with the inexplicable delays and the denial of proper care for marine mammals. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., also a huge advocate of our cause, joined her in cosponsoring the amendment.
There were questions from some Republicans about the amendment, but in the end, the committee favored it by a vote of 18 to 12, with all Democrats backing Senator Feinstein’s measure and Republican Senators Mark Kirk, Bill Cassidy, R-La., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. giving us the votes we needed to win.
On the House side, Representatives Jared Huffman and Adam Schiff, both Democrats from Calif., have also been pressing for USDA and the Office of Management Budget to push out the rule and get standards in place. So this issue, too, has a growing number of advocates who want to see action.
The appropriations bill is also accompanied by a report that provides further direction to USDA on how to apply funds to specific programs. We were delighted to see that Senate Chairman Moran included language in that report directing the agency to make significant animal welfare reforms at Agricultural Research Service facilities like the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, where a January New York Times expose found horrific ongoing abuse, neglect and mistreatment of thousands of farm animals. The language, championed by Sens. Merkley, Udall, Feinstein, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, directs the agency to apply the standards of the Animal Welfare Act at all its research labs, and also directs another division of USDA to inspect ARS facilities. Former Senators Bob Dole, R-Ks., and Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who volunteer as special advisors to The HSUS, were very active in advocating for reform on this issue and were instrumental in the outcome.
In all, it was a big day in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and today’s important gains are thanks to the great leadership of Senators fighting on many fronts for animal welfare. There are more battles ahead, but these are exciting outcomes for us.
P.S. The Committee bill also sustains funding – despite budget cuts in other areas – for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act dealing with the cruel “soring” of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds. There were 36 Senators, led by Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., who wrote to the committee and asked for these strong levels of funding.