The AVMA Governmental Relations Division (GRD) has begun 2012 by identifying funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year (which will start to be discussed when the President releases his budget in February) and by continuing efforts on many issues, including several animal welfare-related bills. The AVMA is currently supporting H.R. 2492/S. 1947 The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act and S. 1281 The Horse Transportation Safety Act, and opposing H.R. 2966/S. 1176 The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Congress has also recently introduced several pieces of new legislation related to Animal Welfare.
On November 2, 2011 celebrity animal activists Bob Barker (formerly of the Price is Right) and Jorja Fox (actress from CSI) joined Congressman Jim Moran on Capitol Hill to introduce the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (H.R. 3359). The goal, according to Rep. Moran, is to "comprehensively tackle the use of all exotic animals in circuses." The bill would amend the Animal Welfare Act to restrict the exhibition of any exotic or wild animal that had traveled in a mobile housing facility within the previous 15 days. The law does include exemptions for zoos, aquaria, rodeos, and research facilities, and animals used in film, television, or advertising. Feld Entertainment, parent company of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was quick to come out in opposition, saying the legislation is baseless, and that Ringling provides exemplary care for the animals used in their shows. The Performing Animal Welfare Society has come out in support saying, "based upon the publicly-available research, and video and photographic evidence, it is clear that traveling circuses cannot provide the proper living conditions for these exotic animals." The legislation was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, but no further action has been taken.
On December 16, 2011 Congressman Gary Ackerman reintroduced a bill, H.R. 3704, the Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, which would amend the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to require that all nonambulatory livestock in interstate and foreign commerce be immediately and humanely euthanized when such livestock become nonambulatory. The bill also provides labeling requirements and penalties for violations. The AVMA has opposed this legislation in the past, due to its conflict with the AVMA policy on Disabled Livestock, which states, "Animals that are down should be euthanatized immediately and not taken to slaughter. However, if swine are down, and are not in extreme distress or do not have an obviously irreversible condition, they may be allowed up to 2 hours to recover." H.R. 3704 does not currently include an exemption that allows rest for nonambulatory swine. The FSIS has released multiple directives on nonambulatory livestock and humane handling; recent directives can be viewed here.
After the surprising and historic agreement reached between the United Egg Producers (UEP) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in July of last year, many groups have been anticipating the introduction of related legislation in Congress. On January 23, Congressman Kurt Schrader introduced H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012. Congressman Schrader, also a veterinarian, stated "The agreement between the UEP and HSUS represents an important and necessary step in addressing the patchwork of state laws facing the industry and providing stability for farmers moving forward. I take my hat off to both organizations for putting aside their historical differences and working together to reach a deal that provides certainty for our farmers while providing improved conditions for the hens." Several animal agriculture groups have come out in opposition to the legislation. The National Pork Producers Council President, Doug Wolf, a hog farmer from Lancaster, Wisconsin, stated "This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals. We don't need or want the federal government and HSUS telling us how to do our jobs." Several AVMA Councils and Committees are anticipated to closely review this legislation and make corresponding recommendations to the Executive Board within the next few weeks. Current AVMA policy related to the welfare of laying hens can be viewed here.
Horse slaughter has been back under discussion as well, since Congress passed the annual Agriculture Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2012 without including a rider restricting USDA from using funds to inspect horse processing facilities. That rider had been included in the bill since 2005. The HSUS and other groups have attempted to use this change to again garner support for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 2966/S. 1176), saying "allowing federal funds to be used to inspect horse-slaughter plants is a step backward for America's iconic horses and a waste of tax dollars." Other groups, like United Horsemen, have applauded the change. Despite the revision of language, there are still no slaughter facilities operating in the United States that can accommodate horses. The AVMA is actively opposing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act because it includes no provisions for long-term care of unwanted horses currently being sent for slaughter to Canada and Mexico. The GAO reported in June that the cessation of horse slaughter in the US, coupled with the poor economy and high feed costs, has resulted in a decline in horse well-being. Concerns have been expressed that, if H.R. 2966/S. 1176 were to pass, the plight of the unwanted horse would increase exponentially.
State legislatures are just beginning to reconvene for the New Year. Recently New Jersey signed S. 2923 into law, which makes changes to holding and transfer requirements for shelters, pounds and kennels, and includes requirements for microchip scanning and creation of a registry of animal-rescue organizations. The law also establishes the Pet Sterilization Pilot Program for two years, requiring sterilization before dogs or cats can be adopted in certain counties.
In the regulatory arena, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health issued standards of care for livestock and poultry, including food and water requirements, shelter requirements, treatment and prevention of disease, and handling and transportation requirements. There is no violation of the standards if care is provided or withheld in a manner prescribed by a veterinarian. In Oregon, the Board of Pharmacy amended controlled substance rules related to registration, training and other requirements for nonveterinarians who purchase, possess or administer sodium pentobarbital for euthanizing animals. In addition, the state's Veterinary Medical Examining Board updated its regulations for certified euthanasia technicians.
Shortly after the owner of a wildlife reserve in Ohio freed dozens of wild animals before killing himself last fall, Ohio Gov. John Kasich issued an Executive Order (PDF) instructing state agencies to use underutilized legal powers in innovative, aggressive ways until more specific laws regulating wild animals are enacted. The AVMA policy on Private Ownership of Wild Animals has been in place since 2006. This policy urges limiting or prohibiting private ownership of wild animals that pose a substantial risk to public health, domestic animal health or the ecosystem (including the health of indigenous wild species), as well private ownership of wild species whose welfare is unacceptably compromised by being kept under such conditions. In October 2011, the AVMA wrote letters to governors in seven states identified as having somewhat lax regulations related to the keeping of wild animals, urging stricter control and offering assistance with crafting effective regulations.
The 2011 year-end state legislative report has been posted on the AVMA website. The 88-page report covers bills and regulations impacting veterinary medicine as well as several bills prefiled for consideration by state legislatures in 2012. In addition, the AVMA participated in the State Agricultural and Rural Leaders annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on January 5-8. Much of the discussion revolved around the 2012 Farm Bill and the need to pass legislation before nearly 30 programs expire under the current law. Related topics included meat-inspection programs, food-safety and animal-welfare issues. Animal-welfare discussions addressed the use of antimicrobials in pig production; gestation stalls; companion animal breeder and retailer laws; and livestock care standards, including cages for egg-laying hens.
The AVMA's Legislative Advisory Committee and State Advocacy Committee work closely with its Animal Welfare Committee to review proposals addressing animal welfare. For more information on the latest bills and regulations pending around the country, view resources compiled by our Governmental Relations Division and Department of State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs or contact Dr. Whitney Miller, Assistant Director, Governmental Relations Division (for federal issues) or Mr. Adrian Hochstadt, Assistant Director, Communications Division, State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs (for state issues).
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