Thursday, June 23, 2022

Success in the federal animal protection arena demands advocacy that is determined, purposeful and realistic. At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, those are our bywords. We are not just tenacious in the pursuit of our goals. We are disciplined in our public outreach and in our negotiations with legislators and key stakeholders. We understand how to make sure Washington politics works for animals, and we pursue a holistic strategy for securing strong and lasting animal protection gains.

For the latest proof, you need look no further than the House Appropriations Committee’s approval of the FY23 bill that funds programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The committee produced a banner harvest of animal welfare gains, many involving HSLF priorities that took months to advance through extended outreach to legislators and others, and that we will be working hard to sustain in the final package.

Perhaps the most striking result is a permanent ban on horse slaughter operations in the United States, an elusive goal in the past. Other welcome outcomes stemming from our work with congressional allies and other animal organizations include increased funding and clear expressions of support for stronger enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and Animal Welfare Act, and report language encouraging the USDA to help fund producer transitions toward cage-free eggs—and, for the first time, crate-free pork. Legislators also called upon the agency to prepare a report on its program to monitor and minimize COVID-19 infection on mink farms.

On horse soring, a significant focus of our work, the bill provides $4.1 million for HPA enforcement, $1 million more over FY22. Report language reminds USDA that Congress assigned the agency primary responsibility to enforce this law, including the training of all inspectors. The report also presses the USDA to publish its new proposed HPA soring rule expeditiously and to finalize it as soon as possible.

On AWA enforcement, the committee approved report language directing the agency to ensure that any interference with or failure to allow access for inspection, as well as each failure to comply with animal welfare standards, is documented on an inspection report. The Committee also directed that there be no more use of “teachable moments” or any similar program that obscures findings during inspections. Troubling signs of lax enforcement have tarnished the agency’s reputation in recent years.

With regard to USDA-operated laboratories, the bill permanently requires APHIS inspections of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities for compliance with AWA regulations and standards. The bill’s report language also directs ARS facilities to explore and pursue the post-research placement of dogs, cats and other domesticated animals, something the FDA has already begun to support.

The bill permanently bars the use of funds to license “Class B” dealers (notorious for acquiring dogs and cats by shady means to sell for research). In addition, language in the report directs USDA to prioritize enforcement of licensing requirements for online dog dealers, to reopen an audit of the agency’s dog dealer oversight to complete in-person visits, and to strengthen its collaboration with the Department of Justice on AWA enforcement to ensure access to evidence needed to initiate cases.

In another encouraging development, the bill provides $3 million in support of the PAWS grants program to expand shelter options for domestic violence survivors with pets.

Now, as this package heads to a full Committee vote, we will put all we’ve got into ensuring that every one of these measures makes it to final passage. With the support of animal advocates around the country, we can deliver again on the promise of a comprehensive animal welfare agenda in Congress.

In this case, we’ve worked closely with congressional champions, particularly Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., as well as Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Chris Smith, R.-N.J., and we thank  them for their leadership. Together, we successfully integrated a host of animal protection concerns into one of the most important funding packages there is. It takes months to advance these individual measures on their respective pathways through Congress. This week, we have witnessed the outstanding results of our efforts to push them forward as part of a comprehensive and well-integrated animal welfare package.

The members of the HSLF team come to work every day with a single goal in mind: tangible gains for animals. We are fighters. We are battlers. And we are grateful to you for all you do in support of our efforts to raise the profile of animal protection on the federal policy agenda.