Legally Brief: The Fate of Animal Cruelty in U.S. Agricultural BillsPosted by Stephen Wells, ALDF's Executive Director on June 21, 2013
Farmed animals have shockingly few legal protections from abuse. There are no federal laws protecting farmed animals while they are raised and many state laws have been modified to exempt farmed animals from animal cruelty statutes as well, leaving their treatment entirely “beyond the law.”
To that end, this past week has seen a flurry of activity on U.S. Agricultural bills affecting animal welfare. To recap, on Tuesday the House Rules Committee refused to allow several animal-related amendments to be considered with the U.S. Farm Bill. Two of those amendments addressed horse welfare: one instituting an outright federal ban on the slaughter and transportation of horses for human consumption; the other requiring the USDA to train & license inspectors to identify horse soring, the practice of creating painful sores on a horse’s legs or hooves to cause an artificial, exaggerated gait for show. However, the primary amendment supported by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other animal advocates, was to remove potentially disastrous language from the Farm Bill that could have prevented states from setting their own animal welfare & food safety standards. That bi-partisan amendment proposed by Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) further would have replaced the draconian “King Amendment” language with common-sense standards to improve the treatment and wellbeing of egg-laying hens.
It is hard to overstate the devastating potential of Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) Farm Bill language (you may remember King from his outrageous diatribe defending dogfighters).
The “King Amendment” would have forbidden states from applying safety & welfare regulations to any “agricultural products” from out of state, including animals raised for food, eggs, milk and even puppies and kittens sold to pet stores. This would have nullified many of the hard-fought victories won by animal advocates to protect calves, hens, pregnant sows, and other animals, such as California’s foie gras ban, its passage of the historic Proposition 2, as well as state laws cracking down on puppy mills, banning horsemeat and even dog meat sales . . . all could all have been eliminated by the current U.S. Farm Bill containing the King Amendment. Outside the animal realm, the “King Amendment” also would scale back child nutritional requirements.
Ultimately, however, the House of Representatives was unable to pass its own bill (just like last year) and the Farm Bill died on the House floor today. Although there were some positive elements in the House Farm Bill to increase penalties for spectating at dog fights, and although the King language might not have survived the conference with the Senate, we all now can regroup and prepare to advocate effectively for positive changes to the Farm Bill when Congress starts the process over again next year.
But the Farm Bill wasn’t the only news today…we still made positive progress when the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to restore the ban on federal funding for inspections of horse slaughter plants––a key provision that has kept new slaughterhouses from opening. The previous ban was about to expire and several applications already had been submitted for new horse slaughter facilities. Since the House Ag Appropriations Committee passed a similar amendment last week, this vital protection for American horses most likely will be preserved in the law.
Across the nation, voters are succeeding in demanding stronger animal protection laws––Michigan law now bans veal crates to protect baby cows, California law bans battery cages for hens, gestation crates for pregnant pigs and veal crates, and Florida and Arizona laws likewise ban gestation crates. However, there still is much work to do. More than nine billion animals are slaughtered in the U.S. every year, most having spent their entire lives on factory farms in unimaginably filthy and agonizing conditions. That’s why the work Animal Legal Defense Fund does is so crucial to ensure protections for farmed animals. We know from experience we can’t rely on corporate goodwill. There will always be those who put profit above the cost of suffering––as we find with the dangerous feed additive ractopamine or the catastrophic creation of drug-resistant “superbugs” on factory farms. ALDF will continue to push for laws that protect farmed animals and assure the enforcement of the laws that do exist.