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May 16, 2013

Congressional Votes on Farm Bill Bring Good News, Bad News for Animals

Animal Fighting Law Set To Be Strengthened, But State Farm Animal Protection Laws Threatened by King Amendment

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The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, in taking up the Farm Bill yesterday, approved an amendment to crack down on spectators at animal fighting ventures, but also approved a destructive, constitutionally questionable amendment to strip states of their right to protect farm animals and other animals from exploitation and abuse. That amendment threatens to wipe out important state laws banning the cruelest factory farming practices and leave a raft of other state laws and rules regulating agriculture hanging in the balance.

The anti-animal fighting amendment, led by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., passed with a vote of 28-17, building on the existing federal law against animal fighting by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an animal fight. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, which took up its version of the Farm Bill on Tuesday, included a similar provision in its bill, thanks to the leadership of committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss. With both versions of the Farm Bill including the same core provisions on animal fighting, it almost certainly will be included in any final bill approved by the Congress.

An amendment from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to wipe out numerous state animal protection laws, including those regarding factory farm confinement, horse slaughter and shark finning, along with other laws related to food safety, environmental protection, worker safety and more, passed in the committee, after a contentious debate.

The King amendment was approved by voice vote, despite forceful arguments raised against it by Reps. Jim Costa, D-Calif., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.  

“We should have a zero-tolerance policy in our nation for staged animal fights, and the passage of anti-cruelty amendments to the House and Senate Farm Bills this week affirms that view,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “On the other hand, we are deeply distressed by the House committee’s support for the amendment to eviscerate the powers of the States to establish and maintain laws governing food safety, animal welfare, environmental and worker protections. This is a threat to every consumer and to every animal in American agriculture, and it is an attack on the 10th Amendment to the Constitution and an almost unheard-of power grab by the Congress.”

If passed, King’s amendment could allow the overturning of every voter-approved animal welfare ballot measure relating to agriculture, including Proposition 2 in California (banning extreme confinement crates for pigs, veal calves and laying hens), Proposition 6 in California (forbidding the sale of horses for slaughter for human consumption), Proposition 204 in Arizona (banning veal and pig gestation crates) and Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing pig gestation crates).

The amendment could also nullify six other state bans on gestation crates, horse slaughter bans in six states, comprehensive animal welfare standards adopted by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, and a raft of anti-downer laws and other animal protection laws designed to shield farm animals from abuse and extreme confinement.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill does not contain any language similar to the King amendment.  HSUS and other groups will work to strip the King amendment from the House Farm Bill on the floor, and also push for adoption of the landmark agreement between animal welfare groups and the egg industry in phasing out the use of conventional battery cages and creating minimum care standards for the welfare of laying hens.

Facts:

  • Rep. King has a history of attempting to block animal welfare laws. He has voted in favor of killing horses for human consumption, killing American bison in Yellowstone National Park and trophy killing of polar bears, even though they are an endangered species. He also voted against disaster response legislation to address the needs of people with pets, passed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and consistent with his entire voting record, he opposed the McGovern amendment offered yesterday to crack down on illegal dogfighting and cockfighting.
  • Spectators finance animal fights with admission fees and gambling wagers, and they provide cover to animal fighters who blend into the crowd during law enforcement raids.
  • It is illegal in 49 states to be a knowing spectator at an animal fight. A majority of states impose felony-level penalties on spectators. The Farm Bill amendment will give federal agencies similar tools to what local agencies have at their disposal.
  • Last year, the House Agriculture Committee passed this animal fighting amendment offered by Rep. McGovern, and a parallel amendment offered by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was approved by a vote of 88-11 in the Senate, but Congress did not complete action on the Farm Bill in 2012.

Media Contact: Anna West, awest@humanesociety.org, 301-258-1518

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