Bad day at the office for animal welfare legislation

Wayne Pacelle
Wayne Pacelle

The head of the Humane Society of the United States has accused the House Republican leadership of disregarding animal welfare, after three amendments were voted down by the Rules Committee.

The society’s president and chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, said the actions of the committee, led by Representative Pete Sessions, denied the full House the opportunity to debate three critical bipartisan amendments: to codify a national agreement to approve the welfare of egg-laying hens in battery cages, to end the shameful slaughter of healthy American horses for human consumption, and to crack down on horse soring.

The Rules Committee approved more than 100 amendments for consideration, but not one animal welfare amendment, Pacelle noted in his blog, A Humane Nation.

“The members chose to include amendments for floor debate on promotion and research on natural stone, Christmas tree taxes, and on the spiny dogfish, but could not find their way to allowing debate on policies to help hundreds of millions of animals suffering right now.

“Mind you, the egg industry reform bill was a compromise measure among all the key stakeholders – producers, animal welfare groups, consumers and scientists. It was not going to require an act of courage to ratify it, but merely a sensible execution of their authority.

“But the beef and pork lobbies, and the Farm Bureau, demanded its demise.

“Maybe we would listen to these people if cows and pigs laid eggs, but they do not,” Pacelle said.

“These special interests simply want to obstruct any progress on animal welfare, and no decent-minded lawmakers should heed their reckless demands.

“Their world view is that that we’ve reached the end-point of animal welfare policy-making, or more honestly, that there should be no policy-making at all for farm animals.”

Pacelle said House Speaker John Boehner had announced prior to the Rules Committee hearing: “The Leader [Representative Eric Cantor] and I will encourage the Rules Committee to provide a fair process that will allow for a vigorous and open debate – the kind of process I pledged we would have more of in the House when I became speaker.”

Pacelle labelled the comments hollow-speak.

“You cannot make such claims and then just allow amendments you agree with. This is an abuse of power and an abuse of the process.

“There’s no reason that all animal welfare amendments should have been denied consideration, especially since they were all authored by respected, mainstream Republican lawmakers with bipartisan cosponsors.”

Pacelle said it was critical that animal advocates contact their lawmakers and urge them to defeat the Farm Bill, H.R. 1947.

His concerns center on the so-called King amendment, introduced by Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), that would require states with tougher animal welfare laws to lower their standards for agricultural trade across state borders.

“The House Agriculture Committee, which impedes animal welfare at nearly every turn and has fought positive actions to help animals in many ways, had previously allowed the King amendment to be inserted into the Farm Bill, even though there was no underlying bill to examine, no hearings, and no assessment of its sweeping impact on state law.

“This reckless measure seeks to nullify state laws and rules that impose any standard of condition on agricultural products.

“That could sweep up and nullify a half dozen state anti-horse slaughter laws, 10 state laws to restrict extreme confinement of pigs and laying hens, and more than a half dozen bans on the sale of shark fins for soup. And that’s just the start.

“It’s the lowest common denominator approach to policy-making, and puts all states at the mercy of one or a handful of states”

Under the King amendment,introduced by Representative Steve King (R-Iowa), states with tougher animal welfare laws would have to lower their standards for agricultural trade across state borders.

US executive director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Anne Lieberman, blogging on the website, argued the King amendment should be defeated.

“Animal welfare is no longer a niche market. It is one of the top three most important issues for restaurant patrons – outranking organics and buying local by wide margins.

“Increasingly, states are introducing ballot initiatives and passing regulations that require higher animal welfare in food production.

“Some states have also passed laws requiring all producers selling in the state to meet the same requirements. King’s amendment, packaged as the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA), would protect out-of-state producers from having to meet the regulations of the state in which they are selling their products.

“The possible effect of PICA is clear. Consider California’s Prop 2, which provides farm animals the freedom to move around, lie down, stand up and extend their limbs. Follow-up legislation requires all eggs sold in the state to meet that same production standard. Under King’s amendment, California, as well as the nine other states with similar laws, would have to reduce their own standards as a requirement for agricultural trade across state borders.”

The King amendment ignored the rising trends that encourage producers to increase welfare standards, she said.

“With consumer interest and purchasing on the rise, why is King attempting to legislate a setback for animals and consumers?

“The King amendment not only turns back the clock on animal protection, but jeopardizes food safety, environmental protection and more – all issues that consumers care about.

In the absence of King’s amendment, states are sure to continue to introduce more protective legislation. Let’s move forward with laws that help animals and people.”

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