Monday, December 21, 2020

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The appropriations bill and accompanying coronavirus relief/stimulus package for fiscal year 2021 now advancing through Congress will bring critical and much-needed support to millions of Americans. We are also pleased to report that the package, which funds federal agencies, includes a number of wins for animals, including horses, wildlife, companion animals and animals in research.

We’ve advocated for these and other items throughout 2020. Here, in brief, are key measures in the package that benefit animals:

Horse racing: The package includes the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (S. 4547/H.R. 1754) introduced by Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y. and Andy Barr, R-Ky., to address the widespread doping of racehorses and unsafe track conditions that have been key contributing factors in frequent equine fatalities on American racetracks.

Horse slaughter: It renews the annual provision that “defunds” USDA inspections at domestic horse slaughter plants, effectively preventing those plants from reopening in the United States.

Wild horses and burros: It provides an increase of more than $14 million for the Bureau of Land Management to implement non-lethal management of wild horses and burros, featuring PZP, a humane, reversible fertility control vaccine. It also renews language preventing horses under the care of the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service from being sent to slaughter for human consumption.

Horse soring: It doubles the FY 2020 funding level for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the Horse Protection Act to $2.09 million to better curb cruel “soring” of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, and it calls for the agency’s Inspector General to audit the HPA enforcement program. The package makes it clear that the authority of USDA inspectors supersedes that of industry inspectors and urges the agency to reinstate the HPA rule that was finalized but shelved in January 2017. The rule would end the failed system of industry self-policing and use of devices integral to soring.

Wildlife trafficking and Endangered Species Act: It increases investment in key Department of Interior law enforcement and wildlife and biodiversity conservation programs and continues investment in international conservation efforts to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking and to protect imperiled species.

Live wildlife markets and disease spread: It includes a study on the impacts of wildlife markets on the emergence of new diseases, as well as increased funding to prevent the transmission of diseases from animals to humans (known as zoonotic diseases), through key global health security programs to build the capacity of public health institutions and organizations in developing countries for the prevention, treatment and control of zoonotic diseases.

Trophy hunting: It requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide Congress with the briefing mandated in the FY 2020 appropriations package, which the agency failed to complete, on its current policy for allowing imports of sport-hunted trophies of species like lions and elephants into the United States and to explain how these imports benefit the survival of these imperiled species after Congress expressed doubt due to continuing population declines.

Marine mammals and right whales: It increases funding to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, to sustain the Marine Mammal Commission, a key, independent oversight agency, and to fund a program that coordinates nationwide emergency response for stranded, sick, injured, distressed or dead marine mammals.

Disaster plans: It directs the USDA to start the rulemaking process on lifting the stay on the rule requiring facilities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, such as puppy mills and roadside zoos, to have emergency response plans for the animals in their care.

Animals in research: It directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to submit a plan to Congress by the end of 2021 on how it plans to reduce or eliminate the use of dogs, cats and non-human primates in its research within five years; encourages the use of non-animal testing methods by the Food and Drug Administration for new drugs; directs that USDA-run laboratories housing animals be inspected for compliance with the Animal Welfare Act; and renews the bar on licensing “Class B random source” dealers, who were notorious for obtaining cats and dogs through fraudulent means such as pet theft to sell them into research.

Domestic violence shelters: It provides $2.5 million—up from $2 million in FY 2020—to expand the PAWS grant program that provides funding for shelter and transitional housing services for survivors of domestic violence and their companion animals.

Slaughter plant line speed: It directs the USDA to review the impacts of waivers granted for increasing line speeds—the speeds at which animals are killed—at slaughter plants and report back to Congress within 90 days. It also requires that the USDA consult with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on any future line speed increases.

Plant-based protein research: It promotes USDA-funded research into innovations in plant-based protein.

Animal fighting: It provides an additional $500,000 for USDA’s Inspector General to better enforce federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting.

Dog and cat meat: It urges USDA to move forward with an international agreement to ban the trade of dog and cat meat worldwide.

Equine therapy: It provides no less than $1.5 million in the National Veterans Sports Program for equine therapy to support veterans’ mental health and help reduce PTSD-related anxiety.

Animal Welfare Act enforcement: It directs USDA to ensure that each AWA noncompliance observed by an inspector is documented on an inspection report, and to make sure, as it restores AWA and HPA records purged from the agency’s website in 2017, that databases are at least as searchable—in function and content—as they were before the purge It also encourages USDA to conduct robust enforcement to ensure that online dealers selling dogs have the necessary license under the Animal Welfare Act.

These provisions are a sign of genuine progress in our work to push the frontiers of animal protection, and we are grateful to the members of Congress and our partners who worked with us to ensure they were included in the appropriations package. However, some provisions included in the bill, like one that urges the National Institutes of Health and the Air Force to seek  “alternative arrangements for housing” of retired research chimpanzees currently residing on Alamogordo Air Force Base, but does not explicitly require those chimpanzees be transported to sanctuary, highlight that Congressional oversight will be needed to ensure that the right steps are taken for animals as the new administration steps into place. We hope the Biden administration will move more expeditiously to transfer these chimpanzees to sanctuary. And we will work hard to ensure that all these measures are approved this week.

P.S. The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund are committed to ending the cruel practice of horse soring. Fortunately, the omnibus/coronavirus package did not include a retrogressive measure on soring that was ill-conceived, ill-timed and ineffectual. Virtually all other stakeholders working to end soring agree with us that this proposal would have seriously set back anti-soring efforts, including the American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Horse Council and its 30 groups, American Veterinary Medical Association, Animal Welfare Institute, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Friends of Sound Horses and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. We and these groups will instead push for the Biden administration to swiftly reinstate the final rule on soring that was put on hold at the beginning of 2017 and which will end the use of devices integral to soring and the conflict-ridden industry self-policing scheme. We will also continue to press Congress to codify those essential reforms and add stronger penalties and even more robust enforcement funding to finally end this scourge. 

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.