Federal action for animals mixed in 2017, as additional threats and opportunities loom
The HSUS pursues multi-channel reform efforts, and in 2017 we made extraordinary progress by pushing forward on a hundred fronts – in the federal courts, in protecting wolves, farm animals, and other creatures at risk of suffering or under threat; in legislatures throughout the world in passing anti-cruelty laws; in corporate board rooms, whether in pushing fur-free fashions or a cage-free future for farming; and in investigations and rescue where we spotlight cruelty as a way of turning the tide against it.
With Republicans in control of the legislative and executive branches at the federal level, we’ve faced some particular challenges in 2017, given the deregulatory orientation that so many in the party have on wildlife and farm animal protection issues. However, even within the party, there are strong cross-currents to that thinking, and we’ve worked to amplify those voices and remind politicians of every stripe that opposition to animal cruelty is part of the fabric of American society. No government or business or individual should ever default to acts of routine or random animal cruelty, since human innovation and creativity can always be put to work to find different, better ways to do business, to recreate, conduct science, to clothe ourselves, and to meet life’s other necessities and good standards of living.
When it comes to the federal government, we see broad bipartisan support for many federal efforts to protect animals. That is not to say there have not been struggles, created mostly by a handful of lawmakers and agency leaders who’ve wielded their power to benefit special interests. But for today, as we wind down the year, I want to review our biggest gains in federal policymaking for 2017, while noting the challenges we’ve faced.
Congress and the Trump administration
We did see some terrible setbacks at the federal level – with Congress and the Interior Department attacking rules adopted between 2015 and early 2017 to protect bears and wolves on national wildlife refuges and national preserves in Alaska from ruthless predator control activities, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture delaying or disassembling rules on horse soring and farm animal protection (the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule). In February, we saw the USDA take down thousands of inspection records from its searchable website that provide essential transparency in case of violations of federal rules related to the care of dogs in puppy mills, exotic animals in roadside zoos, animals used in research, and horses at inspected shows. We haven’t heard the final word on any of these issues, and we’ll be working hard to complete or restore animal protections standards for all of these federal rules, and to see that government-funded inspection reports are readily available to the public. While we work on restoring these important policies and practices in the years ahead, we also have seen some tangible progress on other fronts.
- Executive order included wildlife trafficking – On February 9, the president issued an executive order stating that it shall be the policy of the executive branch to strengthen enforcement of international trafficking. This includes the illegal smuggling and trafficking of wildlife.
- Operation Crash – The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Office of Law Enforcement continues to conduct a nationwide criminal investigation, and bring prosecutions, on illegal trade in rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory in response to international poaching and smuggling syndicates. As of October 1, thanks to this initiative, prison sentences were handed out totaling 36.5 years, fines to date are $2,128,000, and total forfeiture and restitution to date are $5.7 million.
- Elephant and lion trophies – In October and November, the FWS approved the import of lion and elephant sport-hunted trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. After public outcry over the decision, President Trump in a tweet described trophy hunting as “a horror show” and called for putting these decisions on hold. A bipartisan group of 68 Representatives wrote to the President urging that he make the trophy import ban final and 23 Senators wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pressing the case. Meanwhile, last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the conservation mandate of the Endangered Species Act, invalidating the decisions to permit imports of elephants and lions from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
- Pets and veterans – On December 6, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and The HSUS announced a partnership to encourage veterans to consider pet ownership and volunteer opportunities with community organizations, including animal shelters and humane societies, in an effort to support veterans’ health and pair them with rescued animals.
- Law enforcement training for animal fighting – On June 21 and 22, The HSUS partnered with the Department of Justice on the first-ever federal law enforcement training conference on animal fighting investigations. More than 100 federal and state regulators, criminal investigators, and prosecutors from across the country participated in the conference.
- Dolphin-safe tuna label – On October 26, after the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Office of Trade Representatives vigorously defended our dolphin-safe label before the World Trade Organization (WTO), the WTO upheld the label requiring that all tuna sold in the United States come from fishing fleets that do not chase down and set nets on dolphins as a way of catching the schools of tuna that swim beneath the dolphins.
- Managing deer populations – On July 6, the EPA approved an application to register ZonaStat-H, a fertility control vaccine that will provide a humane management tool for managers of deer populations.
Puppy Mills and Roadside Zoos
- Animal Welfare Act licensing procedures – On August 24, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a notice that it will be considering a number of significant changes to Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations, including requiring licensees to demonstrate compliance with the law in order to have their licenses re-issued, and to disclose animal cruelty convictions under state, federal, and local laws. Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., introduced legislation to codify that standard just last week.
Progress in Congress:
Our biggest gain of the year related to spending levels and defensive maneuvers on the massive spending bill that has funded the government since May. In the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) spending package, we staved off several anti-animal “riders” and held the line on enforcement funding for critical animal protection programs:
- Wolves – Congress did the right thing by not opting to legislatively remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lake States of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
- Wild horses and burros – The bill included language to prevent the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and its contractors from sending wild horses to be slaughtered for human consumption. It also directed BLM to create a plan, within 180 days of enactment, to maintain long-term sustainable populations on the range in a humane manner.
- Horse slaughter defund – The bill included language to prohibit wasteful government spending on horse slaughter inspections, which effectively maintains the ban on horse slaughter in the United States for FY17.
- Agricultural animal research – Negotiators included a $400,000 increase for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to provide oversight of animal research at federal Agricultural Research Services facilities, such as the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. In 2014, the New York Times brought to light terrible abuses of farm animals at USMARC. The package also directed the USDA to post these inspection reports online.
- Class B random source dealers – The bill renewed the prohibition on funding for the USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats for use in research. Class B dealers are notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means such as pet theft.
- Animal welfare funding – The bill held the line on enforcement funding for the AWA and the Horse Protection Act (dealing with horse soring). It provided a $2.5 million increase for the department’s Office of Inspector General, whose responsibilities include animal fighting enforcement and vital auditing and investigative work to improve compliance with the AWA, HPA, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and downed animal rules. The bill also provided a $1.5 million increase for a loan repayment program that encourages veterinarians to work in underserved rural areas and USDA inspection positions, and $2.5 million for a new grant program to help address gaps in veterinary shortage situations.
- Environmental Protection Agency – The bill maintained most of the FY16 budget levels for EPA. This is critical not only for the environment but also to implement provisions in last year’s reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act calling for research and development of alternative methods and strategies to supplant traditional animal tests.
As Congress works on finalizing the FY18 spending package, we are again pressing to keep out some odious anti-animal riders, while also securing critical provisions and funding for programs that protect animals. More representatives than ever before lent their support on the annual letter requesting funds for the USDA to enforce and implement key animal welfare laws – a bipartisan group of 184 Representatives and 38 Senators joined on the letters this year, and the House and Senate committees were responsive to these appeals in the FY18 bills that are pending final resolution.
In mid-December, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, S. 654, getting us dramatically closer to the day when the nation has a federal anti-cruelty statute that allows the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to crack down on malicious cruelty and also the sexual exploitation of innocent creatures. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., led that effort, and action now shifts to the House, where an identical companion bill introduced by Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., has an eye-popping 268 cosponsors and broad bipartisan support, and is primed for final action.
Several pro-animal welfare bills have overwhelming majority support in the House of Representatives and are poised for floor action. Four of the five bills mentioned below have more than 218 cosponsors (that’s a majority in the House), and the fifth measure is nearly there:
- The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1847, has 277 cosponsors
- The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, H.R. 909, has 246 cosponsors; S. 322 has 36 cosponsors
- The Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, H.R. 1406, has 224 cosponsors
- The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 113, has 204 cosponsors; S. 1706 has 30 cosponsors
- The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act/Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, H.R. 1456, has 229 cosponsors; S. 793 has 31 cosponsors
Other critical bills, including the Humane Cosmetics Act (H.R. 2790), the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818), the Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R. 2651), and the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act (H.R. 4202) have hundreds of cosponsors between them, and all would pass the House and Senate overwhelmingly if allowed a vote. With your help, we will continue to demonstrate in the coming year that animal protection transcends partisan divides and deserves attention by the administration and by Congress. Much work remains to be done, but we are poised for big gains, while also having to play essential defense on a wide range of fronts.