By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
The 116th Congress began work today on rooting out some of the worst forms of animal cruelty in the world, with House members reintroducing two important bipartisan bills. One would ban malicious acts of animal cruelty and bestiality, and the other would prohibit the destructive trade in shark fins within our borders.
These are issues most Americans can agree on, and both bills are long-running priorities for our Humane Society Legislative Fund staff. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., would make the most malicious acts of animal cruelty -- including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating and impaling animals and sexually exploiting them -- felony crimes under federal law. And the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, introduced by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, would ban the shark fin trade across the United States, strengthening the moral claims of our nation as a leader in ending the worldwide trade in shark fins.
The Humane Society of the United States has successfully pushed for all 50 states to declare malicious acts of animal cruelty as felonies and in 2010, we helped pass a federal law, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, banning the trade in so-called “crush videos” -- obscene videos that show animals being subjected to terrible cruelty and suffering for the titillation of perverted viewers. But there’s a gap in the law that needs to be addressed. While those who engage in such extreme cruelty can be prosecuted by the states where they are caught, there is no recourse for federal prosecutors unless an obscene video has been produced. The PACT Act will criminalize malicious acts of animal cruelty whenever they occur on federal property or affect interstate commerce, such as when animals are moved across state lines.
The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed the PACT Act twice before, and it earned 284 bipartisan House cosponsors and over 200 law enforcement endorsements in the 115th Congress. The only reason this legislation has not passed the full House in past years is because it was repeatedly blocked from coming to the floor by former House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who is no longer in Congress. With a new Judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chances that the bill will finally become law this year are much brighter.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act will prohibit the import, export, possession, trade and distribution of shark fins and products containing shark fins. If it passes, it would reinforce U.S. leadership in global shark conservation, strengthen the existing U.S. ban on shark finning, and take our nation out of the destructive global shark fin trade once and for all.
Although most of the demand for shark fins is in Asia, the United States is an active participant in the trade. Government records show that in 2017 we imported shark products worth more than $1.6 million, with the majority of that value coming from fins. The United States also is an end market as well as a transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced.
Shark finning is an extremely cruel practice: fishermen slice the fins off the sharks and dump them back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death or be eaten alive by other fish. To meet the demand for shark fin soup, fins from as many as 73 million sharks are traded throughout the world every year. This commerce is unsustainable -- some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that up to one-quarter of shark and ray species are at risk of extinction.
We are excited to see these bills move through Congress and finally pass into law this year, but we cannot do it without you. Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act and the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. There is no place for animal cruelty in a civilized society, and it is time our laws catch up with the times.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.