With Joe Biden the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for the White House, we felt it timely to review his record on animal protection for the benefit of our friends and supporters. Biden has a long and positive legacy on our concerns, and it is a useful reminder to candidates for office at all levels that we expect stronger and better commitments from them all in the coming election. The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the importance of animal welfare issues in our social, cultural, economic, and political lives, and we should raise the bar for those seeking office even higher in the coming political season.
In the 106th Congress, Biden voted for an amendment to the FY ‘00 Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary Appropriations bill (S. 1217) that would have limited U.S. funding of the international tuna fishing convention, which allows the use of dolphin-deadly nets, until other nations pay their fair share of expenses; it also would have barred imports of tuna from countries not meeting their financial obligations under the treaty.
In the 108th Congress, Biden was the co-author with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on the Truth in Tuna Labeling Act (S. 130) to amend the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act to declare that a tuna product labeled "dolphin safe" violates the Federal Trade Commission Act unless it is accompanied by a certificate stating that no dolphins were intentionally chased or harassed during the particular voyage on which the tuna were caught using purse seine nets.
Canadian Seal Hunt
In the 108th Congress, Biden cosponsored S. Res. 269, urging the Canadian government to end its commercial seal hunt. Canadian quotas allowed the slaughter of almost one million seals over a three-year period, the highest ever. Nearly all of those killed were pups between 12 days and 12 weeks of age.
In the 107th Congress, Biden was the lead author of the Captive Exotic Animal Protection Act (S. 1655) to prohibit trophy hunting of captive exotic mammals in fenced enclosures, and he successfully secured passage of the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Steel Jaw Leghold Traps
In the 106th Congress, Biden voted for an amendment to the FY ‘00 Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 2466) to bar taxpayer funding used to administer or promote the use of two particularly inhumane traps—steel-jaw leghold traps and neck snares—for commercial or recreational trapping on National Wildlife Refuges. Animals trapped by these devices, which often catch “nontarget” animals like family pets or endangered species, suffer crushed bones, gangrene, and starvation and are known to chew off their own limbs in an attempt to escape.
In advance of the International Whaling Commission meeting, Biden cosponsored S.Res. 121, to recommend that the IWC oppose commercial whaling and oppose the trade in whale meat in the 107th Congress. Biden sponsored similar legislation, S. Res. 33, in the 109th Congress.
In the 109th Congress, Biden voted for an amendment to the Farm Bill (H.R. 2744) to stop horse slaughter by prohibiting the use of tax dollars to fund USDA inspection and approval of meat at horse slaughterhouses and approval of horses to be exported for slaughter. But the USDA then undermined this enacted amendment by allowing the industry to privately fund inspections of horsemeat in 2006. In the same session, Biden cosponsored for the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S. 1915) to bar transport, possession, purchase, or sale of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption.
In the 110th Congress, Biden again cosponsored the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (S. 311) to bar transport (including export), possession, purchase, or sale of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption.
Finally, as Vice President, Biden worked to include language in the federal budget to prohibit the USDA from inspecting horse slaughterhouses, effectively ending the practice of horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States.
Animals in Research
Class B Dealers
In the 110th Congress, Biden cosponsored the Pet Safety and Protection Act (S. 714) to prohibit the use in research of dogs and cats obtained by Class B dealers through random sources, which can include theft of family pets and fraudulent response to “free to good home” ads.
Cruelty to Animals as a Social Problem
In the 107th Congress, Biden cosponsored S. 345, which would close the loophole in the federal Animal Welfare Act that allowed interstate shipment of birds for fighting and undermined enforcement of state cockfighting bans. Cockfighters routinely pump their birds full of drugs to make them hyperaggressive; put razor-sharp knives or ice pick-like gaffs on the birds’ legs; and force them to keep fighting despite grievous injuries such as pierced eyes and punctured lungs—all for the “entertainment” of spectators, who often include children, and for illegal gambling. Similar language was signed into law as part of the final farm bill, along with provisions to close the loophole that allowed export of fighting birds and dogs and to triple the federal fines for animal fighting violations.
In the 108th Congress, Biden cosponsored the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (S. 736) to provide felony penalties for violations of the federal law prohibiting interstate and foreign commerce in animals for fighting and to make other strengthening changes. Biden sponsored similar legislation in the 109th Congress (S. 382 / H.R. 817) which passed the Senate unanimously.
In the 110th Congress, Biden again cosponsored the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (S. 261) to establish felony-level penalties for violations of the federal law on dogfighting, cockfighting, and other animal fighting ventures and to ban interstate and foreign commerce in cockfighting implements. The House companion bill, H.R. 137, was signed into law.
Factory Farm Subsidies
In the 107th Congress, Biden voted for an amendment to the farm bill (S.1731) which would have prevented new or expanding large-scale animal factories from receiving EQIP funds for manure disposal. Under prior law, enormous concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) were ineligible for taxpayer subsidies for manure disposal and environmental compliance under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The farm bills crafted by both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees lifted this restriction on EQIP funds. The final farm bill allows new subsidies up to $450,000 per producer under EQIP for manure management, with no eligibility restriction on the size of the operation, though the bill does restrict corporations from receiving multiple subsidies.
In the 108th Congress, Biden cosponsored the Downed Animal Protection Act (S. 1298), to require humane euthanasia of downers—livestock too sick or injured to stand or walk—and prohibit USDA certification of downer meat for human consumption.
Biden again cosponsored the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act (S. 394) in the 110th Congress. An undercover investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States, which revealed horrific abuse of downed cattle at a plant that was one of the largest suppliers to the National School Lunch Program, prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history and two Senate hearings led by Sen. Kohl, D-Wis., on downed animals and food safety. In August 2008, the USDA proposed closing a loophole in its regulations that allowed some downed cattle to be slaughtered for food. Congress included language in the FY ‘09 omnibus appropriations bill urging the USDA to close this loophole, which the Obama-Biden Administration did in 2009.
Fur and Fashion
In the 104th Congress, Biden voted for an amendment to the House Agricultural Appropriations Bill (H.R. 1976) that eliminated a $2 million annual government subsidy to the mink industry. The subsidy had been given to the mink industry for promotional activities to boost U.S. exports of mink pelts overseas.
In the 103rd Congress, Biden voted against an amendment to the California Desert Protection Act (amendment which would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. The Senate rejected this effort on a procedural vote and the amendment was withdrawn.
Again in the 108th Congress, Biden voted for an amendment to S. Con. Res 23 to prevent consideration of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—during debate on a fast-track budget reconciliation bill.
In the 108th Congress, Biden voted for an amendment to S. 1050 to require resource management plans for military bases to effectively protect endangered species. The Senate agreed to the amendment by a vote of 51 to 48, but this favorable language was significantly weakened in conference.
In this and every year, we ask our supporters to make their votes count for animals.
Please remember to update your voter registration, request an absentee ballot, and take other steps to ensure the strength of your voice and the fullest expression of your views in our democracy.
And we promise you this: you'll hear more from the Humane Society Legislative Fund about the presidential race and other races at the federal and state level in the run up to Election Day 2020. Keep checking the blog for updates and more information.