Trump Wants to Cut Wasteful Government Spending: He Can Start by Eliminating Federal Programs That Abuse Animals
In March, President Trump signed an executive order instructing the director of the Office of Management and Budget to prepare a plan to reorganize the executive branch of the government. The White House website is currently accepting “ideas and suggestions on how the government can be better organized to work for the American people.”
A number of federal programs, including several under the USDA, should be eliminated or reformed. The programs operate in a way that facilitates mistreatment of animals and, in some cases, monetarily compensate practices that abuse or neglect animals.
Compensating practices that promote disease
During the bird flu outbreak of 2015–2016, the USDA’s indemnity program paid out $190 million to poultry producers that lost birds. The USDA spent another $500 million on clean-up after the birds either died or were killed. The government reimbursed producers for their losses despite the fact that poor biosecurity may have led to introduction or spread of the disease. Most of the indemnity payments were made to large commercial producers that confine birds by the tens (or even hundreds) of thousands under crowded, unsanitary conditions known to contribute to the mutation of bird flu strains.
American taxpayers should not be expected to compensate poultry producers that engage in these irresponsible practices. Last year, the USDA published an interim regulationdisallowing compensation claims unless the producer provides a statement that at the time of detection of bird flu a biosecurity plan was in place. But a mere statement that a plan exists is grossly inadequate. A better move would be to modify the current indemnity program by requiring 1) regular third-party audits for compliance with biosecurity protocols; 2) emergency plans for humane euthanasia of birds exposed to bird flu; and 3) a sliding scale of compensation based on the level of crowding in poultry houses.
Underwriting animal neglect
The Livestock Indemnity Program compensates producers for animal deaths caused by adverse weather—regardless of whether producers made any attempts to protect their animals from exposure to the elements. The Humane Farming Association found that the USDA issued payments of over $134 million for rancher- and farmer-reported animal losses in 2013-2015. This covered the deaths of 202,445 mammals and 2,461,443 birds. Many farm animals in the United States—even some housed indoors—are routinely left with inadequate protection from severe weather. The current compensation program provides little incentive for producers to care properly for their animals.
The USDA should only compensate producers that have put protections in place to shelter animals, and have developed emergency plans for animals raised both indoors and outdoors.
Experimenting on animals without proper oversight
In 2015, the New York Times published an investigation into the US Meat Animal Research Center, where the USDA and academic institutions run experiments on farm animals to identify ways to boost production and increase profits. The Times article raised grave concerns about the treatment of animals at the center and oversight of the research studies conducted there.
According to the Times, many animals have died of preventable causes at the center, including 6,500 who starved to death. Although the USDA conducted an investigation into the center, it did not directly address the nature of the experiments themselves or the high death rates in several experiments.
The USDA should not be using taxpayer money to fund experiments on how industrial agriculture can increase its profits, particularly in light of evidence showing that American consumers are seeking out higher-welfare, more sustainable food options. This type of research should be halted. So long as it is conducted, however, the USDA must ensure that the center and similar farm animal research centers adhere to minimum standards of humane care.
Stifling fair competition
Many segments of the agriculture industry are required to pay into a fund to be used to promote agricultural products. Referred to as “checkoff programs,” these marketing schemes cover many U.S. agricultural commodities, including eggs, beef, and pork. At first blush, these programs appear to help all farmers, but in reality, they benefit the largest corporate producers to the detriment of higher-welfare, sustainable farmers. Checkoff funds are being used to lobby for policy changes that reduce the ability of non-corporate farmers to compete in the marketplace. Hijacked by corporate interests, the checkoff programs have created a situation where many smaller farmers are paying into a system that could eventually help put them out of business.
While legislation is required to make participation in these programs voluntary, there is much that could be done to repair the USDA’s lax oversight. The department should crackdown on political activities being conducted under the programs by requiring a clear separation between “policy-neutral” commodity promotion programs and agricultural lobbying organizations. And checkoff programs should be required to release their budgets and an accounting of their expenditures to show that they are not participating in illegal lobbying or anti-competitive activities.
The need for reform
Countless public opinion surveys show that Americans want farm animals to be treated humanely. Most would consider the government money spent on the programs above to be wasteful and unnecessary. Let's all urge the White House to reform these programs to make them less costly and more equitable, sustainable and humane.