By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Update 12/29/22: President Biden has signed the fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations package into law—a big win for animals!
We’ve had remarkable success in our end-of-session push for critical legislation in the U.S. Congress, with the Big Cat Public Safety Act, Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, and the END Wildlife Trafficking Act passing into law. The enactment of such animal-friendly legislation is vital, of course, but another component of our animal protection agenda, shaping the federal government’s spending commitments, is just as important and just now, dramatic in its impact. After extensive debate, the federal government’s fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations package now heads to a vote in the House and Senate, and it includes lots of good news for animals.
Horses fared especially well. The omnibus boosts funding for Horse Protection Act enforcement to $4.1 million (a $1 million increase) in order to curb the soring of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds. The ban on funding horse slaughter plant inspections will hold for another year, preventing these facilities from operating on American soil, and once again, wild horses and burros on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands will be protected from slaughter. Finally, there is renewed commitment to the establishment of a central authority to prevent the doping and mistreatment of American racehorses.
In addition, the bill includes three provisions establishing protections for animals that will last far beyond fiscal year 2023. It permanently prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture from issuing licenses for Class B random source dealers (notorious for acquiring dogs and cats by shady means to sell into research); permanently requires inspections of USDA-operated laboratories for Animal Welfare Act compliance; and permanently requires reporting of any observed violations of the AWA on official USDA inspection reports.
We are delighted that the House report language, deemed adopted by this bill, urges the USDA to reform its licensing and enforcement regimes for puppy mills, laboratories, zoos and other facilities regulated under the AWA. The package also contains much-needed grant money to expand sheltering options for survivors of domestic violence and their pets, resources to help ensure emergency preparedness at AWA-regulated facilities, and a boost in funds for student loan repayment to veterinarians working in underserved areas.
Our determination to see wildlife protected worldwide is also reflected in this bill, which allocates increased funding to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking. The Congress also directs the Fish and Wildlife Service to generate a report on its wildlife trafficking enforcement challenges.
We’re encouraged to see House report language was incorporated that encourages the USDA to help fund producer transitions toward cage-free eggs and crate-free pork. Likewise for report language encouraging USDA to better monitor the threat of COVID-19 on mink fur farms, to prevent the spread of infection to humans and nearby wildlife.
The news is mixed when it comes to the protection of animals used in testing and research. The report increases oversight over chimpanzees who were once used for research. In another recent development, last week, a federal judge agreed with us that the government cannot refuse to retire federally owned chimpanzees formerly used for research to Chimp Haven, the federal chimpanzee sanctuary. Chimp Haven can provide a better standard of care than the labs in which they are languishing. Finally, the omnibus includes the full President’s budget request of $5 million for the Food and Drug Administration to develop and implement new approach methodologies to replace animal testing.
Sweeping, large-scale legislative packages contain many varied pieces of legislation, and this 4,155-page omnibus bill is no different. One provision in this bill addresses the federal government’s authority over cosmetics testing. While we appreciate efforts to enhance the FDA’s oversight in this area, we are disappointed it does not include provisions to end the use of animals in cosmetics testing or address states that already have laws on the books prohibiting the sale and manufacture of cosmetics that use new animal testing. We will continue to work to clarify this language and signal the importance of state efforts to end the use of animals in cosmetics testing.
We are deeply grateful to all the appropriators and other legislators who championed pro-animal measures, as we strive to elevate the protection of animals through the budget process, and in so doing, to make this a more humane nation.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.