President Obama's bipartisan deficit-reduction commission is making recommendations for reducing the deficit, and here at The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund we are proposing a few cost-cutting measures for lawmakers to consider in getting the country's budget back on track. Millions of animals would be spared needless suffering and the U.S. budget would be moved toward the black with a number of key spending cuts.
The following deficit-reduction proposals would help protect pets, wildlife, farm animals, and animals in research, and help alleviate the burden on American taxpayers. Here are some initial ideas, and we'll be unveiling other cost-saving opportunities in the weeks ahead:
Limit farm subsidies. As recommended by the Administration's deficit-reduction commission, Congress should make substantial cuts in agriculture subsidies that benefit a relatively small number of industrial-scale producers while driving up the deficit and jeopardizing public health, the environment, and animal welfare. To start, Congress should cap the size operation that is eligible for subsidies, so enormous factory farms don't keep getting massive handouts. And Congress should rein in subsidies that keep animal feed artificially cheap and encourage massive factory farm development. According to a study from Tufts University: "Between 1997 and 2005, factory farms saved an estimated $3.9 billion per year because they were able to purchase corn and soybeans -- the main components of most feed mixtures -- at prices below what it cost to produce the crops." The commission recommends cutting $10 billion in farm subsidies from 2012 to 2020, and The HSUS and HSLF see this as a worthy starting point for discussion of farm subsidies that cost taxpayers a quarter of a trillion dollars from 1995 to 2009.
Eliminate U.S. Wildlife Services' lethal predator control program. A branch of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services spent $57 million in fiscal year 2009 to address conflicts with wildlife -- both lethally and non-lethally -- in the name of protecting livestock, crops, private property, natural resources, and human health and safety. While there is a legitimate need to resolve wildlife conflicts, the federal funding spent particularly on lethal predator control -- government agents using poisons, aerial gunning, steel-jawed leghold traps, and other inhumane methods to kill coyotes, mountain lions, wolves, and other predator species -- is a wasteful hand-out to private ranchers, and in some cases the government spends more money than the losses attributed to these creatures. Lethal controls are often ineffective because other predators just move in to the same territory and fill the void. Lethal controls are also dangerous: of the 13,355 animals killed in FY 2009 by M-44 sodium cyanide explosive devices, 500 were non-targeted animals including beloved pet dogs and cats, as well as bobcats, foxes, black bears, turkey vultures, owls, songbirds, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Even threatened and endangered species are killed with the indiscriminate, lethal methods used by this wasteful federal program.
Utilize technologically advanced, humane alternatives to costly round-up and removal of wild horses on federal lands. The Bureau of Land Management would save more than $200 million in the next 12 years by using immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations instead of rounding up the animals and putting them in government holding facilities. Fertility control to manage wild horse populations in the West is not only more humane, and would reduce the stress of round-ups and long-term holding in government pens, but would also help the agency get off the fiscal treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them on the government dole.
Cease invasive research on chimpanzees and send laboratory chimps to sanctuary. The National Institutes of Health annually spends an estimated $63 million on chimpanzee research and maintenance in barren but costly laboratory cages. Few of them are used in active research, since chimpanzees have largely failed as a research model. Another $6 million has gone toward breeding chimps since 2002, despite a prohibition against such breeding. Every federally owned chimp born into the system is a $1 million dollar commitment by the government -- with an average cost of $20,000 per chimp annually, and chimps living up to 60 years -- and it's much less costly to retire the animals to sanctuaries where they live together in natural settings rather than being warehoused individually.
Stop the use of animals for military training. The Department of Defense spent an estimated $26 million during FY 2007 on programs using animals for trauma "training, education, and/or instruction for personnel," according to the Biomedical Research Database. In some cases, these animals are stabbed, shot, burned, and even subjected to chemical agents, as military personnel practice patient-stabilizing procedures. Meanwhile, human-like, high-tech simulators are more realistic and cost-effective, with one program yielding an estimated savings of 74 percent.
Refocus government safety-testing efforts on high-tech, animal-free approaches. Each year federal agencies spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to assess the safety of chemicals, drugs, and even natural plant extracts. Evaluating the cancer-causing potential of a single chemical in a conventional rodent test takes up to 5 years, 800 animals and $4 million. For the same price and without any use of animals, as many as 350 chemicals could be tested in less than one week using ultra-fast robot-automated cellular toxicity and gene-expression tests. These sophisticated, animal-free methods are already used by some companies and federal agencies to determine testing needs and priorities, while others -- such as the Environmental Protection Agency under its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, in a recent decision which could retard the research's benefits to assessing massive numbers of chemicals -- have chosen to dig in their heels and cling needlessly to obsolete animal tests.
Stop NASA's proposed radiation experiment on monkeys. NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has plans to spend $1.75 million on an experiment that will expose monkeys to harmful radiation in an attempt to study the effects of low doses of radiation over time in humans. Extensive radiation research has already been conducted on primates (and other species) and their physical and psychological suffering has been documented, including hair and tooth loss, lethargy and self-mutilation. This experiment will not yield new or relevant information and is unnecessary.
Cut surplus meat purchases. The federal government continues to bail out factory farms by purchasing their surplus pork and spent-hen meat. The practice is not only costly, but it does nothing to encourage such farms to rein in their production or clean up their cruel, unhealthy, and environmentally damaging methods. The government spent about $150 million purchasing excess pork in FY 2009, and in many cases is dumping the worst products on our nation's school children, such as meat from "spent hens" used up by the egg industry, with fragile bones that break easily and splinter into their flesh. A USA Today report last December detailed: "From 2001 through the first half of 2009 ... the government spent more than $145 million on spent-hen meat for schools." Research has shown that as many as 24 percent of hens suffer broken bones following commercial "depopulation," or removal from their cages. Of spent hens transported for slaughter, as many as 98 percent of carcasses have broken bones by the time they reach the end of the evisceration line.
Follow Michael Markarian on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mmarkarian