By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech marks a midway point in his term, and for us, an opportunity to assess the administration’s animal protection priorities.
Like many animal advocates, we were buoyed by the legislative successes we helped to secure as 2022 closed. At year’s end, a handful of measures for which we’d long advocated passed into law, including the Big Cat Public Safety Act, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act and the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act. And President Biden, who had signaled his support, signed them all into law.
Now that the 118th Congress has opened, we’re working to get priority bills reintroduced and developing new ideas and approaches for federal legislation to advance animal protection. However, our focus is not solely on legislation. We’re also working to ensure that the executive branch does its best to protect animals through the release of regulations, policies and guidance documents. In this vein, we’re pressing the administration to implement a set of six positive regulatory rules that currently rest within the discretion of key federal agencies. These rules are not dependent on congressional approval or action and they’re ready for release.
The measures awaiting final approval include:
- the U.S. Department of Agriculture Horse Protection Act rule to protect horses in the Tennessee walking and racking horse breeds from soring by replacing industry self-inspection programs and prohibiting use of “stacks” (heavy platform shoes), chains and other painful devices and practices to produce the showring gait called the “Big Lick”
- the USDA “bird” rule outlining the handling, care and treatment of birds in captivity, applying to breeders, distributors and exhibitors, as well as to carriers and intermediate handlers, and addressing treatment of wild-caught birds in research facilities
- the USDA rule to enhance regulations and standards for animals covered under the Animal Welfare Act, specifically for public handling at licensed exhibitors, and expand requirements for environmental enrichment to promote psychological well-being of all species covered under the Animal Welfare Act, which, for example, would include animals in roadside zoos, dogs in puppy mills and animals in laboratories.
- the USDA “organic livestock and poultry standards rule” to align animal welfare standards on organic farms with consumer expectations and improve life for an estimated 60 million farm animals every year
- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule to enhance protection for African elephants under the Endangered Species Act through tighter and more rigorous permitting oversight
- the National Park Service rule to prohibit cruel methods of trophy hunting and trapping on Alaska’s national preserves.
We continue to push for action on other concerns, as well. With partner organizations, we’ve petitioned the federal government to list the common hippo under the Endangered Species Act, as U.S. trade in hippo ivory and other parts contributes to ongoing threats faced by this species. We’re also pressing on multiple fronts to maintain or reestablish protections for wolves, who face continued threats throughout their range. Finally, we hope to see the administration issue appropriate rules relating to the bills passed in December 2022, specifically the Big Cat Public Safety Act and the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.
Americans often joke about bureaucratic red tape, and the federal government has its share. But we pursue regulatory work because it presents significant opportunities to help animals of all species. Most of these agency rules have been under review for a year or more, some for almost a decade. We understand that this process can take a while and requires input from many interest holders. But there’s been plenty of that and we think it’s time for the administration to finalize these rules. They promise to improve the nation’s animal welfare regulatory framework. More importantly, they will immediately strengthen protections for millions of animals across a host of species and concerns.
President Biden took office with an excellent career record of support for humane concerns, and in 2022, he put his signature on some of the most consequential animal protection laws in recent memory. By acting quickly on these six rules he can solidify his administration’s reputation and legacy as a strong one for animal protection. There’s no reason for countless millions of animals to bear the costs of further delay, and the case in their favor is simple. We strongly urge President Biden and his key advisers to instruct the federal agencies involved to issue these regulations in final form, and soon.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.