With the current economic downturn and competing national priorities for federal spending, it's a tough time to request money for animal protection. But we've seen time and time again that the animals' fate is intertwined with our own, and that addressing animal welfare policies helps to safeguard all of us.
Ensuring the humane handling and slaughter of farm animals helps to improve food safety. Combating dogfighting and cockfighting helps to reduce crime in our communities. Having adequate disaster planning and veterinary training helps to promote the health and safety of our pets and families.
That's why I'm so pleased that the humane treatment of animals and the adequate enforcement of animal protection laws were again deemed important policy issues in the omnibus spending bill for 2009. Most animal welfare programs are funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and we're particularly grateful for the leadership of Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee leaders--Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)--who championed the cause while balancing many other needs and priorities. After a House and Senate conference committee presented a final bill to fund the federal agencies, the House passed it yesterday and the Senate is scheduled to act next week.
Last year, The HSUS and HSLF rallied the support of a strong bipartisan group of 46 Senators and 143 Representatives--nearly half the Senate and a third of the House--to request funds needed to improve enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the federal law to combat dogfighting and cockfighting, and other important programs. Here is how the animals fared in the 2009 spending bill:
Humane Methods of Slaughter Act: Congress granted a $2 million increase for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to strengthen its enforcement of humane slaughter laws. This means at least 120 "full time equivalent" inspectors monitoring animal welfare at slaughter plants, up from 83 in 2008. Another $3 million was allocated to maintain the Humane Animal Tracking System as part of the Public Health Data Communication Infrastructure System.
Downed Animals: Importantly, the committee also encouraged the USDA to act quickly to close the loophole that facilitated the abuse of sick and injured cattle at the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant in Chino, Calif., and led to last year's beef recall: "The Department is commended for the announcement that it intends to move forward with closing the loophole in the current rule governing non-ambulatory cattle and is strongly urged to expedite the rules process and close this loophole immediately."
Animal Welfare Act: Congress granted the USDA's Animal Care Division a total of $21,522,000, which is a $1,024,000 increase above the 2008 levels. Additionally, the agency's Investigative and Enforcement Services received $13,694,000, an increase of $1,342,000 above 2008. These allocations will allow better enforcement of the animal welfare standards at puppy mills, research laboratories, exotic animal exhibitors, and other facilities that use animals, as well as the new ban on imports from foreign puppy mills.
Animal Fighting: The USDA's Office of Inspector General received $85,766,000, and it's a $6,274,000 increase above 2008. This enforcement arm of USDA investigates federal dogfighting and cockfighting crimes, and works with the Justice Department to prosecute the offenders. OIG also plays an important role in auditing and investigating humane slaughter rules and implementation of the ban on processing downed cattle.
Veterinary Student Loan Forgiveness: The USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service received $2,950,000 to help veterinarians locating in underserved areas to pay their student loan debt. It's a $2,081,000 increase above 2008, and this incentive will help to recruit veterinarians and address the shortage of veterinary services in rural and inner-city areas and public health practice.
Disaster Planning for Animals: The USDA's Animal Care Division received $1 million for emergency management programs to help prepare for the needs of animals in disasters. It's the same level as 2008, and will help implement disaster and evacuation plans for animals and keep people and pets together in a time of crisis.
Horse Protection Act: The USDA's Animal Care Division also received $499,000 to enforce the prohibition on "soring" of Tennessee walking horses--the intentional infliction of pain to a horse's feet, using caustic chemicals and metal chains, which produces an exaggerated, high stepping gait. It's only a $5,000 increase above the 2008 level, and much more is needed to adequately enforce this federal law at horse shows around the country.
Agricultural Overuse of Antibiotics: The committee included language expressing concern over the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in factory farms, which allow animals to be overcrowded in inhumane, stressful, and unsanitary conditions and contribute to the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria: "Serious concerns have been raised about illnesses and deaths from Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Estimates suggest that tens of thousands of persons develop serious MRSA infections in the United States each year and thousands die. While both FDA and USDA fund research on this issue, more may need to be done; FDA is encouraged to work with USDA and CDC, through the National Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring System and/or the Antibiotic Resistance Interagency Task Force, to address the issue of the prevalence of MRSA in domestic farm animals."
Toxicity Testing: The Environmental Protection Agency received $14,863,000 for computational toxicity programs, an increase of more than $2 million from 2008. With these cutting-edge, non-animal methods, literally tens of thousands of chemicals can be reviewed in weeks, instead of years, and animals are spared being forcibly exposed to pesticides, drugs, and other chemicals--sometimes to the point of death.
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