Eye on Capitol Hill: Help for Farmed Animals

Posted on September 15, 2008

Laws reflect a society’s principles. But the few existing laws meant to protect farmed animals are out of step with mainstream American values. To help redress this, the Animal Legal Defense Fund pushes the U.S. legal system to end the suffering of animals and frequently supports bills aimed at eliminating abuse. So when Pam Hart, director of ALDF’s Animal Law Program, was invited to address a groundbreaking meeting on Capitol Hill in support of a new anti-cruelty bill, she arrived well prepared with some examples of appalling cruelty to farmed animals to illustrate exactly what kinds of reforms are needed.

A distinguished panel at the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus hearing.The purpose of the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus briefing, held in Washington, DC, in July, was to discuss HR 6202, the federal Farm Animals Anti-Cruelty Act. “All animals, whether it is one sleeping next to your bed at night or one outside in a barn, are deserving of humane treatment, and this is what HR 6202 is all about,” Hart told a packed hearing room, which included the bill’s co-authors, Representatives Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Jim Moran (D-VA), as well as representatives from 17 Congressional offices, government agencies, committees and media representatives.

HR 6202 would promote the well-being of animals held for commercial use by providing them with protection from cruelty and abuse. It would make it a federal offense to – without justification – kill, mutilate, disfigure, torture or intentionally inflict pain or suffering upon an animal raised for food, or to fail to provide food, water and shelter. The Farm Animals Anti-Cruelty Act would be a powerful tool in the many states that exempt farmed animals from coverage under their anti-cruelty statutes. The bill, which has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, comes in response to numerous documented and publicized instances of cruelty on factory farms, in transport and during the slaughter process.

Hart described a number of these cases, including nearly one million starving hens who had to be euthanized at egg plants operated by the same farmer (20,000 more hens actually did starve to death); 12 cows who died of dehydration at a ranch; and 150 pigs who died of heat exhaustion and dehydration in a trailer because drivers refused to remove them. She also reminded everyone about the notorious 2004 investigation of Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouse workers who were seen kicking, stomping and throwing chickens against a wall, ripping birds’ beaks off, spray-painting their faces, twisting their heads off, spitting tobacco into their mouths and eyes and breaking them in half, all while the birds were still alive. In not a single one of these cases did authorities press animal-cruelty charges, Hart said, adding that HR 6202 “will provide a crucial layer of federal oversight into a minimally-regulated industry.”

On the panel with Hart were David Favre, professor of law at Michigan State University and former chair of ALDF’s board of directors; Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, executive vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; Dena Jones, program manager at the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Brother David Andrews, a commissioner with the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.

“Our societal attitudes toward the treatment of animals are changing,” Hart told the caucus attendees. “Our body of laws needs to change as well to reflect this shift.”

What You Can Do:

Please ask your U.S. Representative to join the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus. Let him or her know you care about animal protection, and that his or her support of animal issues is of paramount importance. To look up the names of and contact information for your U.S. Representative, visit www.house.gov, or call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask them to help connect you to your Rep’s office.