Friday, July 17, 2020

At the HSLF, we’ve consistently pressed presidential contenders and others running for office to present their ideas and their records to us up front, so that we can evaluate their commitments and actions in support of animal protection, and if warranted, endorse their candidacies.

We hope to see such a declaration of future commitments from President Donald Trump before long, but it must be said that there is a lot to account for based on his first term. In too many respects, this has been a dark period for animal protection at the federal level, and in too many instances, President Trump’s agency appointments and policies have been damaging to our cause. To win us over, he’ll need to commit to the dramatic reversal of a number of policies, especially within the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior. 

The USDA got an early start out in the race to the bottom involving these two agencies. First, it hired a Protect the Harvest flack as a senior advisor to Secretary Sonny Perdue. Then, just one month into the administration, the agency instituted a website data purge involving all of its enforcement records related to horse soring under the Horse Protection Act and to animal welfare concerns at dog breeding operations and other facilities under the Animal Welfare Act. HSLF and other groups spent several years fighting for the restoration of these records, which finally began to occur in February 2020 as a result of express direction by Congress, three years after the purge began. This was a conspicuous failure of transparency and good faith on the part of the agency charged to uphold our most important federal animal welfare law. And the administration made things still worse by dramatically scaling back on AWA citations and enforcement actions; news reports confirm that warnings and fines have plummeted dramatically over the last three years.

There were other low points. The agency withdrew a final regulation, years in the making and blessed with strong bipartisan support, that would have brought an end to horse soring. It also withdrew a final organics rule, also long in preparation, that would have improved the welfare of millions of animals raised for food. The USDA has also taken multiple steps to relax speed line standards in meat processing and slaughtering plants, allowing them to operate at dangerously high speeds that compromise animal welfare and pose higher risk to human workers, as a handout to chicken, cattle and pork producers.

President Trump’s USDA did finalize a positive licensing rule, which includes a number of good regulatory reforms, including requirements that licensees demonstrate compliance with the AWA regulations before being issued a license. With respect to dog breeders and others in the regulated community, they must ensure that dogs have continuous access to water and annual veterinary checkups and immunizations for diseases.

Decisions at the Department of the Interior may have caused still greater concern to animal protection advocates. The agency has made many accommodations to energy exploration interests at the expense of natural habitat and environmentally sensitive areas and provided gifts to trophy hunters. It overturned the previous administration’s rule prohibiting controversial killing methods of hunting on 20 million acres of National Preserve lands in Alaska. In addition, the agency has moved to delist or downlist gray wolves, grizzly bears, and several other species from the Endangered Species Act and shifted the focus of ESA enforcement from species recovery to the delisting of species. And if that weren’t bad enough, it weakened commitments to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and to National Monument designations and repealed an Obama administration directive on phasing out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on more than 150 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges and other agency lands and waterways which would have greatly benefited wildlife. 

The DOI under Trump has also declared open season on wildlife at the global level. Among other moves, the agency established an International Wildlife Conservation Council chock full of trophy hunters which was only dissolved due to a lawsuit filed by Humane Society of the United States with its coalition’s partners. In addition, its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency has opened the door to issuing import permits to trophy hunters to bring home black rhino, elephant, lion and other trophies gained through the slaughter of charismatic endangered species in their range nations. 

Taking further account of the positive, we were grateful for the president’s prompt signing of the PACT Act, which moved quickly through the Congress with unanimous support, and for a handful of other positive measures undertaken by agencies under his administration. President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, which included provisions to ban the slaughter or trade in dog and cat meat, protections for the pets of individuals experiencing domestic violence, and extending federal dogfighting and cockfighting provisions to U.S. territories. Another truly bright spot came in the form of announcements by the Environmental Protection Agency, beginning in 2018 with the release of its strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of alternative test methods. In 2019, it announced its plans to end all animal testing on mammals for chemicals and pesticides by 2035, and instead to focus on investing in non-animal alternative technologies. This active commitment has set a tremendous precedent for other federal agencies engaging in or regulating animal testing for safety or efficacy of chemicals and compounds used in consumer products, drugs, food and more. 

On the other hand, the same agency denied a petition to list Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) as sources of pollution under the Clean Air Act, and issued a final rule exempting massive factory farms from reporting their toxic air emissions to state and local authorities. With respect to this agency, the administration’s record is decidedly mixed.

We know that President Trump has family, friends and many supporters who have worked to encourage him to step forward and adopt animal protection measures, and we’d like to see that happen. But he’s running out of time.