A Burst of Federal Rulemaking May Help Millions of Animals

The recent months have been big for animal protection. Walmart announced it would go cage-free for its egg purchases, and a number of other retailers did the same. “In a virtual tidal wave of announcements, nearly 100 retailers, restaurants, food manufacturers and food service companies have revealed cage-free plans in the last year,” writes Meat & Poultry magazine about The HSUS’s efforts,


In April, our Humane Society International team helped to pass an anti-cruelty statute in El Salvador – this is the third country in Central America that we’ve persuaded to establish a legal standard against the practice. These are big gains in our campaign to start filling in the map of the world with anti-cruelty statutes, as we’ve done in the United States with every state.

Also in April, it was a signature time for the Obama Administration in pushing animal welfare ahead through a remarkable slew of rulemaking actions and policies – a burst of activity that offers the prospect of helping all sorts of animals now at risk.

Captive Tigers – Two different agencies tackled the animal welfare and conservation problems associated with the mistreatment of captive tigers.

  • Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final regulation closing a regulatory loophole that exempted generic (mixed-bred) tigers from oversight. Generic tigers are no longer exempt from permitting requirements and as a result, it will be much harder for roadside zoos and breeders to engage in commercial activities with captive tigers. This additional federal oversight will also help ensure that captive tigers are not used to supply the illegal international trade in tiger parts.
  • Under the Animal Welfare Act, and in response to a legal petition drafted by The HSUS, the USDA issued guidance to inspectors to start cracking down on roadside and traveling zoos, like the G.W. Exotic Animal Park, Tiger Safari, and Natural Bridge Zoo that we investigated. These menageries allow the public to handle infant tiger cubs and other exotic cats who have been prematurely removed from their mother’s care. This is a good first step because the infant cats suffer tremendously as part of these activities. We will continue to urge the agency to issue a regulation banning all public contact with dangerous animals of any age.

Organic Animal Products – The USDA issued a long-awaited proposed rule toupgrade animal welfare standards for farm animals under the organic label. The rule covers a whole array of baseline standards for housing, husbandry, and management under the National Organic Program, including the prohibition of certain painful practices, like tail docking of pigs and cattle and debeaking of birds. Importantly, the rule sets minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for egg-laying chickens, and requires that producers provide a sufficient number of exits and outdoor enrichment to entice birds to go outside on a daily basis. This proposed rule is currently open for public comment and it’s important that you weigh in with your support for increased animal welfare standards for farm animals.

African Elephant Ivory – The Fish and Wildlife Service sent a final rule governing the sale of African elephant ivory to the Office of Management and Budget for White House clearance (a key step before a proposed or final rule is released to the public).  FWS is seeking to curtail the commercial ivory trade in the United States with limited exceptions on interstate sales. The United States is the world’s second largest market for ivory product sales, behind China. However, there have been many efforts in Congress to derail the rule from being finalized and implemented.  Please let your legislator knowhow important this rule is to protect African elephants from being slaughtered for their ivory.

Horse Soring – The USDA is moving toward ending the cruel practice of “soring” by updating its regulations under the Horse Protection Act. Soring has been illegal since 1970 but it persists, which is why stronger regulatory oversight is critical and overdue. The USDA’s Office of Inspector General found in 2010 that the agency’s current program is inadequate to prevent abuse, and in February 2015, The HSUS filed a rulemaking petition with the USDA. The USDA has now sent a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget for White House clearance. At this stage of the review process, the text of the proposed rule is not yet public, but to be effective, it should mirror key reforms proposed by the HSUS rulemaking petition and in the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, including banning the stacked shoes and action devices associated with soring, and ending the industry self-policing system by replacing it with USDA trained and licensed inspectors.  It’s critical that the White House quickly clear this proposed rule and open it up to public comment.

These final or proposed reforms will help relieve pain, abuse, and suffering for countless animals. We are excited about every one of them, and we are thankful to leaders within the Administration and to all of the lawmakers in Congress who’ve helped push these ahead. There’s more work to be done to get all of these reforms over the finish line, in intact form, but it’s hugely promising and exciting.

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