By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris head to the White House, they bring with them a proven track record of protecting animals.
In past years, we have worked with both the president- and vice-president-elect to strengthen laws on wildlife, marine mammals, farm animals, and so much more, and we look forward to continue working with them in coming years.
During his time as a U.S. Senator, Biden supported dozens of animal welfare reforms, including dolphin-safe labeling on cans of tuna and legislation asking Canada to end its bloody seal hunt. He authored legislation to end canned hunting—the practice of trophy hunting wild animals in enclosures with nowhere to run—and voted to stop horse slaughter in the United States by prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to fund U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection and approval of meat at horse slaughterhouses. As Senator, Biden also worked to prohibit the use in research of dogs and cats obtained by Class B dealers through random sources and to end animal fighting and federal subsidies for fur.
Harris, too, has a strong record on animal issues. When she was attorney general of California, we teamed up with her on at least a dozen animal protection cases, including beating back an NRA-backed lawsuit that sought to overturn a new California state law banning intrastate trade of ivory and rhino horn in 2016. Harris’ office also successfully defended California’s Prop 2, a law ending the cruel cage confinement of egg laying hens, multiple times, and successfully defended California’s groundbreaking law banning force-fed foie gras sales.
As U.S. Senator, Harris has continued to help animals as evidenced by her score of 86/100 on the HSLF 2020 Humane Scorecard Preview. In addition to our priority bills, Harris was one of the cosponsors of the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, that would require the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to suspend all waivers for increased line speeds it has issued to chicken and cattle slaughterhouses during the pandemic, and stop issuing any new waivers.
These past four years under the Trump administration have been a mixed bag for animals. We saw some groundbreaking progress, most notably the signing of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, a groundbreaking law that the HSUS and HSLF pushed for all the way. It authorizes the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to prosecute malicious animal cruelty, including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating and impaling live animals, and other abuses such as sexually exploiting them.
But we also saw a trend of reversing a great deal of the progress that had already been made for animals. Just last week, the Trump administration ended federal protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states, putting these animals, already vulnerable and still recovering, in the crosshairs of trophy hunters. In 2018, the administration finalized rules to weaken the Endangered Species Act and make it harder to secure federal protections for endangered and threatened species. There have since been more assaults aimed at further weakening this bedrock law that protects American and global wildlife. We and our allies, along with the attorneys general of 19 states, are fighting these changes in court. In June this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule to appease trophy hunters by allowing some of the cruelest of killing methods on 20 million acres of Alaska’s national preserves. The Department of the Interior also reopened imports of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, banned by the Obama administration, and allowed the imports of lion trophies from South Africa.
Since 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has also cut back drastically on the number of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act citations and enforcement actions—actions with the potential to negatively impact animals trapped in enterprises like puppy mills, roadside zoos and cruel walking horse competitions, and finalized a federal rule to do away with line speed limits at pig slaughter facilities, creating an animal welfare, worker and food safety nightmare.
We hope that in coming years we can work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Biden-Harris administration to reverse these bad changes, and to implement many more reforms for animals. It is said that the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. By that standard, our nation has a great deal of lost ground to recover. We also hope the new administration will support states’ rights to protect farm, companion, and wild animals above and beyond federal standards, including California’s landmark 2018 ballot measure banning the sale of products from cruelty confined farm animals. This is a time of change for the nation, and we remain steadfast in our willingness to work in a nonpartisan manner to make progress for protecting animals.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.