Expect Animal Welfare Issues to Stay a Focal Point in New Congress

Animal welfare issues were a topic of debate throughout the 112th Congress.  While many were issues that have been heavily debated for years, including horse slaughter, humane treatment of non-ambulatory livestock, chimpanzee use in research, and horse transportation safety, Congress also began to take legislative interest in many new issues.

In September we saw the introduction of H.R. 6388, a bill that would amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to provide additional protection to prohibit the soring of horses.  Soring is the unethical and illegal practice of deliberately inflicting pain to exaggerate the leg motion of high-gaited horses, such as Tennessee Walking Horses, in order to gain an unfair advantage in the show ring.  Despite being illegal for over 40 years, we are still seeing walking horses being sored at an alarming rate.  H.R. 6388 would make several changes to the HPA with the goal of eliminating soring once and for all.  The AVMA has come out in strong support of H.R. 6388 and is urging its members to contact their Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor the bill.  See the AVMA’s resources on soring here.

The past year has also brought increased attention to the housing conditions of several species of livestock.  In January, we saw the introduction of a landmark bill that would create a national standard for the housing and treatment of layer hens.  H.R. 3798, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, was introduced by Congressman Kurt Schrader, currently the only veterinarian serving in Congress, and was the result of an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers.  The AVMA has a position in support of the legislation and expects it will be reintroduced the next Congress, pending passage of the Farm Bill.  Gestation housing of sows also garnered much national attention over the past year, despite no formal legislation on the subject.  Since McDonald’s announced in February it will be requiring its suppliers to phase out gestation stalls, we have seen dozens of other retailers follow suit.  The AVMA’s policy on pregnant sow housing can be viewed here.

The current Congress also saw the introduction of the first piece of legislation aimed at controlling medication use in the horse racing industry.  H.R. 1733/S. 886, the Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act of 2011 would amend the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs on race day.  The AVMA is opposed to this legislation for several reasons, including the extremely broad definition of “performance-enhancing drugs,” a lack of authorization for appropriations and the concern that the Federal Trade Commission does not have the expertise to enforce the provisions included in the legislation.

This increase in action in the animal welfare arena is likely to continue when the 113th Congress convenes in January.  Members of Congress are hearing more and more from their constituents on issues involving the welfare of animals, which, in turn, is drawing Members to take action.  You can view summaries of all of AVMA’s position on animal welfare legislation here.

For more information please contact Dr. Whitney Miller, assistant director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division.


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