As 2018 draws to a close, so too does the 115th Congress. Each year, the federal team at our affiliate Humane Society Legislative Fund pushes hard to advance legislation that protects animals, and this year, we saw strong progress. Notably, in the Farm Bill signed last week by President Trump, we not only kept out the reckless and anti-animal King amendment, we helped push through three important pro-animal measures.
We also saw a number of successes for animals in the appropriations bill that passed in March, including preventing horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption and stopping the slaughter of healthy wild horses and burros.
Here are some of the notable achievements of the second session of the 115th Congress:
Positive outcomes for animals in the Farm Bill:
- Defeat of the King amendment: Championed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, this provision could have nullified, and prohibited the creation of, many state laws pertaining to agricultural production, broadly defined, with wide-ranging harmful impacts for animals.
- Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition: This provision outlaws the domestic slaughter and commerce of dogs and cats for human consumption, to prevent this trade from ever taking hold in the United States and to strengthen our country’s standing to help end it worldwide.
- Pet and Women Safety (PAWS): This measure expands domestic violence protections to include protections for pets, horses, service and emotional support animals, and establishes a grant program to help survivors of domestic violence find shelter for their animals.
- Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE): This clarifies that the federal animal fighting law is to be enforced in U.S. territories just as it is in the 50 states.
Positive outcomes for animals in the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bill:
- Horse slaughter: Prohibited government inspections of horse slaughter facilities, effectively preventing horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption.
- Wild horses and burros: Prevented the Bureau of Land Management from sending wild horses and burros to slaughter for human consumption, and from killing excess healthy horses and burros.
- Animal testing alternatives: Provided enhanced funding for 21st century science with replacements for animal tests, as required by the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
- Extreme hunting on Alaska lands: Excluded a provision that was included in the House version of the bill and would have allowed unsporting, inhumane hunting methods on national preserves—a category of National Park Service lands—in Alaska.
- Gray wolves: Maintained Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves, omitting language from a preliminary version of the bill that would have delisted them in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
- Online data purge: An explanatory statement accompanying the omnibus directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reinstate its online search tool for data on Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act compliance at animal facilities.
- Wounded warriors: Doubled funding of a Department of Defense (DoD) grant program that provides therapeutic service dogs for veterans and active duty personnel suffering from physical injuries and emotional scars, and boosted funding for Veterans Affairs program providing equine therapy for veterans facing mental health issues.
- Chimpanzee sanctuary: Encouraged the National Institutes of Health to expedite retirement of chimpanzees and expand the national chimpanzee sanctuary system.
- Class B dealers: Reinstated prohibition on the U.S. Department of Agriculture licensing of “random source” dealers, notorious for acquiring dogs and cats through fraudulent means, including pet theft, keeping them in inhumane conditions and selling them for research.
Although Fiscal Year 2019 started on October 1, Congress and the administration have yet to finalize appropriations for all the federal agencies. As of this writing, the status of several provisions of interest is:
- USDA animal welfare: Both the House and Senate bills hold the line against cuts to key animal welfare programs at the USDA. A report accompanying the House bill also includes language urging the USDA to promptly restore online searchable animal inspection reports and other enforcement documents.
- Horse slaughter: The Senate bill blocks inspections of horse slaughter facilities.
- Wildlife: The House bill removes ESA protections for gray wolves and blocks the reintroduction of grizzly bears in Washington’s North Cascades Ecosystem — terrible provisions not in the Senate bill.
- Wild horses and burros: The House bill recommends a surgical sterilization program for wild horses and burros despite a lack of evidence that the method can be performed humanely or effectively. The House and Senate bills do maintain language prohibiting slaughter of healthy wild horses and burros for human consumption.
- Animal testing: As part of the finalized budget for the National Institutes of Health, Congress enacted a $105 million increase for the agency’s work developing non-animal replacements for animal tests.
- Wounded warriors: Congress maintained funding for service dogs provided to veterans and active duty personnel to help address physical and emotional issues, and approved a modest increase for equine therapy for veterans.
On June 22, I joined stakeholders from the horseracing industry to testify on the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R. 2651, at a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection. This bill would better protect horses by replacing outdated state-by-state drug and medication rules, banning race-day drugs, and establishing federal oversight of this aspect of the racing industry. We have worked closely with the HSUS National Horse Racing Advisory Council on the legislation.
In September, the House passed the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act, H.R. 6197, which would authorize the State Department to use its successful cash rewards program to obtain information on wildlife traffickers, thereby providing law enforcement an additional tool to combat this transnational crime. We hope the bill will be reintroduced in the 116th Congress, once again clear the House, and be taken up quickly by the Senate.
Also in September, the House passed a global resolution, H. Res. 401, urging all nations to prohibit and enforce laws to end their cruel dog and cat meat trade.
In October, the Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act was enacted as part of a large aviation reauthorization bill, P.L. 115-254. Introduced after a family tragically lost their beloved French bulldog when an airline attendant forced them to place him in the overhead bin during a long flight, the WOOFF Act prohibits the storage of live animals in overhead compartments of airplanes and authorizes civil penalties for each violation.
Although this has been a challenging regulatory environment to advance animal protections, there were a few bright spots:
Battling the USDA’s industry self-regulation proposal: On May 25, the USDA announced that it would abandon a disastrous proposal to allow third-party inspections of Animal Welfare Act licensed facilities. This proposal would have potentially allowed industry-linked groups to inspect puppy mills, roadside zoos, and research laboratories and severely undermined protections for millions of animals. A bipartisan group of 77 lawmakers spoke out against this flawed plan, and a Washington Post article credited more than 35,000 public comments as a factor in killing the proposal.
Saving the Isle Royale wolves: On March 16, the National Park Service announced its decision to augment the Isle Royale, Michigan, gray wolf population with 20-30 animals over the next three years. The National Park Service and partners began introducing wolves to Isle Royale on September 24.
Fighting wildlife trafficking: In October, the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood announced that since January 2017, the agency had convicted more than 30 defendants and charged another 25 defendants for wildlife trafficking crimes. Thanks to a multi-year operation targeting smuggled ivory, at least 50 defendants have been arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced.
Ending animal testing: We are encouraged at the progress agencies made this year in prioritizing the reduction and replacement of animals in safety or risk testing. In January, the USDA revised requirements for vaccine safety that remove or waive a scientifically unnecessary animal test. The FDA pledged to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of its animal research programs and establish an Animal Welfare Council. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency released a strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of alternative, non-animal test methods. Finally, in November, the FDA proposed a study that could provide a way for animal drug developers to conduct certain research without using dogs.
The 116th Congress will present new challenges in our work to protect animals. But with your support, we’re going to take full advantage of opportunities to advance animal protection laws. We thank you for all of your outreach to federal lawmakers this year, it made the difference. In the new year we look forward to continuing our collaboration with supporters, members of Congress and federal agencies in the pursuit of our federal animal protection agenda.