$1.4-Trillion Congressional Spending Bill Has Major Implications For Animal Welfare

Key provisions build on our progress and hold the line on past gains, but it has a dangerous provision that may hurt wild horses and burros

Some agencies have a particularly big effect on the well-being of animals — particularly the Department of the Interior, which controls our public lands and oversees wildlife policy issues and resource extraction, and the Department of Agriculture, which enforces a number of key animal welfare laws and touches almost every aspect of the food and agriculture industry

Since partisanship badly gripped D.C. years ago, the appropriations process has badly broken down. Rather than debate each of the agency spending bills, the new Washington way is to bundle all the bills together and pass big clusters of these bills together at the end of the year under the threat of a government shutdown.

This modified process starves debate, restricts amendments, and places more power in the hands of a small number of lawmakers in leadership and as top dogs on key committees. The process is about as transparent as muddy water.

Starting early in the year, Animal Wellness Action and Animal Wellness Foundation pushed our spending-related priorities, especially in seeking enhanced enforcement and funding for anti-cruelty laws, a halt to trophy imports of endangered animals, a ban on horse slaughter, and many other issues. We moved the needle on so many of these fronts, but there is potential peril ahead for wild horses and burros who may be the subject of the biggest round-ups in 50 years thanks to an ugly deal hatched by the Humane Society of the United States, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and some other groups who’ve weighed in on horse issues.

Here’s the breakdown and our measure of the progress:

Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act Funding  (Big gain) — Congress provided $2 million dollars to fund the grant program authorized in the Pet and Women Safety Act, which became law last year. The grant program would help more domestic violence shelters accommodate pets. It addresses a significant barrier: Far too many people who try to escape a domestic violence situation end up staying because they can’t take their pet with them. The House Appropriations Committee had included $2 million, and the Senate included $3 million — the full amount authorized by the PAWS Act. While we are glad to see funding for the program, Congress should fully fund this program to ensure that no one is forced to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pet. Many thanks to U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-AZ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) for leading the charge on this effort.

Horse Slaughter Defacto Ban  (Maintaining a critical policy) — Congress included language in Agriculture Appropriations to defund horse slaughter inspections, effectively ensuring that these plants can’t operate in the U.S. The provision was included in both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and the language has been included for most years since 2005. A standalone bill, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, has 218 cosponsors in the House and would permanently ban horse slaughter in the U.S. and stop the export of horses for slaughter for human consumption. We’re grateful for the terrific work of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) for leading ensuring the ban was maintained.

Enforcement of Animal Welfare Laws (Modest progress) — Congress included significant language stating that the Department of Justice shall “make it a priority to investigate and prosecute violations of animal welfare laws,” and required the agency to provide a report within 120 days regarding the specific steps the DOJ is taking to enforce such laws. We support efforts, however, for Congress to provide dedicated resources to allow USDA OIG and DOJ to combat animal fighting and other animal welfare crimes. Enforcement of these laws is as critical as enacting them in the first place, and failure to enforce leaves animals and communities to suffer. Animal Wellness Foundation and Animal Wellness Action have made enforcement a top priority and has launched a nationwide campaign to enforce the laws on animal fighting. The Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, which extends the federal animal fighting laws to the U.S. Territories, takes effect on December 20th, and our organizations have launched campaigns within the territories and offers a reward for reporting animal fighting. We appreciate U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Fitzpatrick (PA), McAdams (UT), King, Peter (NY), Dean (PA), Buchanan (FL), Axne (IA), and U.S. Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Gary Peters (D-MI) for their leadership on this issue and working to make sure the final package included this language. We also thank the six U.S. Senators who weighed in on the issue and sent a letter to DOJ, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Kennedy (R-LA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Susan Collins (R-ME).

Reinstating Animal Welfare Records (Promising progress) — In February 2017, USDA abruptly removed animal welfare inspection records from its website, eliminating the public’s ability to view inspection reports related to the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act, including the treatment of animals in commercial dog breeding operations (“puppy mills”), research laboratories, zoos, and horse shows. Since this time, some records have been reinstated, but the records are heavily redacted and difficult to search. For example, the public cannot search a specific dog breeder’s inspection reports. This lack of transparency and accountability has harmed taxpayers, allowed animal abuse to go unchecked, and led to a marked decline in enforcement actions of these statutes. A provision was included in the spending bill to reinstate animal welfare inspection records on the USDA website within 90 days, and for the first time, this was included as bill language instead of report language. We thank the House Appropriations Committee for its continued work on this issue.

Wild Horses  (Setback) — Wild horses face a significant threat as a result of the spending bill, with Congress providing $21 million dollars to execute a wild horse roundup proposal backed by the Humane Society of the U.S., ASPCA, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Farm Bureau, and other pro-slaughter special interest groups. Cleverly disguised, and misrepresented as a “nonlethal” plan, the proposal seeks to roundup 130,000 horses — more than exist on the range today — over a period of 10 years. There is no language prohibiting the use of barbaric surgical sterilization, and while the current bill includes a provision to prevent the slaughter of wild horses (as has been included for many years), there is no guarantee that horses will be spared from slaughter in future years as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) warehouses more horses and Congress grows tired of footing the bill for a program that costs tens of millions of dollars per year. It’s a draconian experiment that will lead to slaughter, plain and simple.

BLM already has 50,000 horses in holding right now and adding to this is simply foolish. Instead, BLM should use PZP immunocontraception. It is proven safe and effective through 30 years of research and use managing herds on the range. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences has stated that PZP is the most promising method for managing the wild horse population, and noted that the strategy of roundups and removals actually causes an increase in growth rates on the range due to compensatory growth (lack of competition for food). The only barrier? BLM needs to actually use it. We also thank Chairman Raul Grijalva of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Reps. Debra Haaland (D-NM), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Ann Kuster (D-NH), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Jerrod Nadler (D-NY) for sending a bipartisan letter to Appropriatorsurging funding limits and clarity to better protect wild horses from the consequences of the mass roundup plan.

Wildlife (Big Progress) — U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Susan Collins (R-ME) led the effort to have the Rescuing Animals with Rewards (RAWR) Act included in the bill. The measure, which passed both the House and Senate earlier this year (but with a slight technical error) establishes a rewards program to crackdown on wildlife trafficking. It’s a great win to have this new legislation signed into law.

Congress also included language on trophy hunting, directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-examine its policy regarding the importation of sport-hunted trophies from elephants and lions. The Endangered Species Act requires that importing these trophies is permissible if the exporting country has demonstrated that hunting improves to the survival of that species, and the FWS’s current policy is to evaluate applications requesting to import these trophies on a case-by-case basis.

Adulterated Pet Food (Progress) — There have been a number of news outlet investigations of pet food and the presence of sodium pentobarbitol in the food. The presence of that drug — a euthanizing agent, mainly used for dogs and cats – suggests that the pet food companies are getting ingredients from renderers, and their haul includes dead animals from shelters. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) has been focused on this issue, and she secured $500,000 for the Food and Drug Administration to examine the issue more carefully. Pet food is a very non-transparent industry, and it’s thought that many health problems faced by dogs relate to the food they consume.

Horse Protection Act and Class B Dealers  (Key progress) — Two other important provisions were included in the spending bill, including a new level of increased funding for the Horse Protection Act to fight against the soring of Tennessee Walking, Racking, and Spotted Saddle Horses led by U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Ted Yoho (R-FL), and Ron Estes (R-KS). The bill also includes a restriction on issuing permits to Class B dealers who sell dogs and cats for use in research, maintaining this long-standing language to protect our dogs and cats from predatory Class B dealers.

Conclusion: We appreciate the Members of Congress who led the charge on animal welfare amendments. And we applaud you — the advocates that have spent countless hours fighting alongside us to help secure this multitude of wins by making phone calls, meeting with legislators in person, sending emails, spreading the word, and working night and day to fight for animals.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the wins for 2019. With your help, we’ll get even greater wins for animals next year, and the war on wild horses will continue — you can bet on it.

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