Creating Legal Protections for Animals Is a Year-Round Task
Voting is the renewal of political activity, not its endpoint
Voting is a civic duty in a democratic society. Our political system is grounded on representative government, with senators, representatives, supervisors, councilmembers, and other officeholders gauging the views of voters and then translating those sentiments into policy work in legislative bodies. Mayors, governors, and presidents have a final say on legislative actions, and they also guide the work of executive agencies in implementing and enforcing laws.
Our national election — with ballots cast at the local, state, and federal levels — concludes when the polls close in the early evening on Nov. 8. News organizations will forecast winners for most races within a few hours of the polls closing.
Lawmakers and other officeholders are more attentive to the concerns of citizens if they are focused and organized, with those groups (such as Animal Wellness Action) identifying issues of concern and promoting them day after day and also in the run-up to elections. For instance, Animal Wellness Action has conducted a major advertising campaign raising concerns about Mehmet Oz, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, because he ran an animal testing laboratory that ran through more than 1,000 animals during his time at the Columbia University in New York, including killing more than 300 beagles. That lab was cited for abuses. We want to know that Dr. Oz would not impede work to reduce animal testing were he to ascend to the Senate, and during the campaign, he’s provided us no such assurances.
We’ve asked voters to take that information into account when they decide to vote. I hope you will take into account the views of all candidates on the wide range of animal welfare issues being debated in the public sphere. Indeed, if voters and candidates ignore animal issues during the campaign, the winning candidates are more likely to ignore animal issues once in office. We asked candidates seeking federal office to read through and respond to our legislative questionnaire that details 25 issues of concern at the national level, and we used those responses when we considered endorsements in their races.
Congressional Scorecard Gauges Performance of Lawmakers on Animal Issues
Our Legislative Scorecard tracks the work of lawmakers since January 2021. We underscore that the Animal Wellness Action Scorecard does not give a complete measurement of performance on animal issues, and we urge caution in drawing conclusions about a lawmaker based solely on the numeric score that lawmakers have received. There are dozens of other very important bills that have been introduced that have not yet attracted a critical mass of cosponsors and are not reflected in the scoring. For example, the Animal Cruelty Enforcement (ACE) Act and the Pigs in Gestation Stalls (PIGS) Act are both vital reforms, but they haven’t come up yet for a vote, nor have they been around long enough to gauge whether the lawmakers support them.
This Scorecard also does not measure key funding actions or appropriations riders. In fact, the annual spending bill to fund the government for 2023 is still a work in progress, expected to be completed in December, so it’s premature to measure performance on the set of issues bound up in the massive omnibus spending bill. Finally, we note that lawmakers can exert influence on animal welfare in a range of other ways, including by writing letters to Cabinet officials, the White House, and other executive agency personnel.
Promoting the wellness of animals should never be partisan, just as it should not be a partisan value to protect children, to defend our communities or nation from hostile agents or nations, or to promote freedom or economic opportunity for anyone playing by the rules in society. These are universal values that Republicans, Democrats, and non-affiliated voters share. Opposition to animal cruelty has been part of our culture and political decision-making for nearly 200 years, with humane groups promoting these ideals and values in society for more than a century and a half. No lawmaker can claim any longer that Americans do not have a moral concern for animals. The debate now mainly occurs in application of anti-cruelty principles and logically extending them to all species and settings.
Crucial Federal Legislative Reforms Hang in the Balance in 2022
With the current Congress set to return to work on Nov. 14 — with the newly elected lawmakers taking office in January for the new 118th Congress — there have been no major animal welfare bills that have passed both chambers of Congress and that have been signed into law in 2021 or 2022. Animal Wellness Action, however, is working diligently to secure enactment on a series of priority legislative initiatives before the year ends: the FDA Modernization Act (H.R. 2565, S. 2952, and S. 5002), the Reducing Animal Testing Act (S. 4288), the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 263, S. 1210), and the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 2811, S. 1106), to name just a few.
The FDA Modernization Act 2.0, S. 5002, led by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., and nine other Senators, passed the U.S. Senate on Sept. 29 in a unanimous vote (all Senators rightly get credit for allowing this measure to pass). That bill also includes the Reducing Animal Testing Act, S. 4288, introduced by Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M. House leaders, soon after the election, can take up S. 5002 — which consists of the two animal-testing reduction bills — and send it along to the President for his signature. In fact, the House already passed the original House version of the FDA Modernization Act, H.R. 2565, as a rider to the Food and Drug Amendments Act of 2022, H.R. 7667, and that is a good indicator of the chamber’s receptivity to this reform.
These measures would eliminate federal animal testing mandates at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Public Health Service for new drugs and biosimilars. Animal testing for new drugs accounts for the bulk of animal testing and enactment of this legislation will usher in a new era of safety and efficacy testing and drive the use of alternative methods that would displace animal tests that result in the use, torment, and killing of millions of beagles, primates, and other animals.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act would ban any the sale of shark fins and passed as an amendment to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act in the Senate and as an amendment to the U.S. COMPETES Act in the House. A conference committee is expected to complete work on these legislative packages soon, and it’s our fervent hope that the final measure approved by the Congress includes the ban on the sale of shark fins. Sens. Booker and Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.V., lead the Senate bill, and Reps. Gregorio Sablan, D-CNMI, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, led the House bill.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act, as noted in the Scorecard, passed the House by a vote of 274-137 in the House on July 27. Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., shepherded that bill to passage in the House, with a great assist from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and his staff. The Senate is now considering the measure, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me. We hope final approval happens before the year ends.
The House did take up an amendment, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C., to ban mink farming in the United States. That amendment passed the House with bipartisan support as part of the USA COMPETES Act. The Senate, however, favored a motion by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., urging that body to reject the mink-farming ban. Like the shark-fin sales ban, the mink farming ban may be decided by a conference committee expected to convene after the election.
Animal Wellness Action also worked with Reps. Troy Carter, D-La., Bryan Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and John Katko, R-N.Y., on an amendment to the $1 trillion infrastructure bill to ban the live export of horses to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. The House passed this amendment — the first time the anti-slaughter provision has been approved by the House in 15 years. A House-Senate conference committee on the infrastructure bill, we are disappointed to report, did not include the horse protection measure in its final infrastructure bill. The House may take up a free-standing bill to ban horse slaughter, but its prospects for conclusive action in the U.S. Senate this year are remote.
It is our fervent hope that we can also pass the Bear Poaching Elimination Act and the Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act before the year ends, but those bills have a longer path to travel than the aforementioned items that have already seen definite progress. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act – to halt the barbaric practice of soring of Tennessee Walking horses — also can pass but would require an amendment. The House is set to take up the original version of PAST Act this month, but one major animal welfare group is blocking progress on the bill by insisting on no amendments to the measure. Often, successful legislative action requires compromise, and the PAST Act provides one concrete example of how that principle must be put into action.
Effective Advocacy for Animals Requires Year-Round Work
If you’ve already voted, many thanks to you. If you haven’t, consult the Animal Wellness Action Legislative Scorecard before you cast a final vote. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or want any recommendations.
Remember, too, that voting is the renewing of the political process, not its endpoint. We must fight every day in the political realm to advance animal protection policies.
Animal Wellness Action believes that helping animals helps us all. When we care for animals, we increase the quotient of mercy and kindness and make our society a more civil one. And we also know that mistreating animals often brings with it other adverse effects in our society, from social violence to zoonotic disease to business failures and losses.
Animals have always been at the center of the human experience, and they should be in the forefront of our moral concern as well. One urgent task for engaged citizens is fortifying a body of law, and then enforcing those laws, to protect all animals.