Thursday, August 5, 2021

Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced its version of the Fiscal Year 2022 Agriculture Appropriations bill following the House passage of its version last week. The Senate bill and accompanying committee report contain some important highlights for animals, notably for enforcement of laws including the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. They also contain measures or language designed to sustain vital protection for horses from slaughter, prevent dogs and cats from being stolen and sold into research, increase veterinary loan repayment support, along with funds to provide shelter options for domestic violence survivors and their pets, and to combat zoonotic diseases. Many of these provisions were requested by a bipartisan group of 43 Senators led by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and John Kennedy, R-La.

The Senate committee bill preserves the de facto ban on horse slaughter in the United States by renewing the annual provision that bars the U.S. Department of Agriculture from inspecting such plants. It provides an increase of $300,000 to clamp down on horse soring, not as much as the $1 million boost in the House bill but valuable nonetheless. The committee notes the need for USDA to invest more in technologies such as swabbing and radiology to detect soring. The bill also retains the prohibition on use of USDA funds to license “Class B random source” dealers, a category associated over the years with pet theft.

The Senate calls attention to the steep decline in Animal Welfare Act enforcement by the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service in recent years. The committee report directs USDA to institute inspection-related reforms, specifically calling for consistent, thorough, unannounced inspections and documentation of each failure to comply or to allow access for inspection. The report highlights that online dog dealers are continuing to sell animals without the required USDA license and encourages the agency to prioritize robust enforcement on that. The committee also encourages USDA to support plant-based protein research projects for their use in food products. In another positive move, Senate report language directs the Agricultural Research Service to coordinate with academic partners to develop technology-driven systems that will study humane poultry stunning practices.

In addition, the Senate bill provides an increase of $1.5 million for the veterinary student loan repayment program that helps bring needed veterinary care to underserved areas. It also provides a slight increase over FY2021 levels to $19.7 million for USDA to address zoonotic disease spread in animals, although we will continue to push for the full $24.2 million proposed by the House.

We appreciate the Senate’s inclusion of a number of positive animal welfare provisions. While the Appropriations Committee didn’t include all the pro-animal provisions approved by the House, we will be pressing hard for the best of both versions to make it into the final appropriations package. 

“The enforcement of animal welfare laws not only reflects on our collective humanity, it’s in our self-interest as people to better enforce everything from ensuring the highest food safety standards to prohibiting the sale of unhealthy pets,” Sen. Wyden said. “I’m proud that the agriculture appropriations package making its way through the Senate right now contains key animal welfare provisions. I look forward to casting my vote in support of this bill when it comes to the Senate floor.”