As a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus and a proud recipient of the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane Champion Award for my leadership on animal protection legislation, I have been working in Congress to prevent animal cruelty and abuse and protect rare wildlife species from extinction.
Protecting Primates and Great Apes
In the wild, great apes such as the chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla and orangutan establish lifelong friendships, hold strong family devotion, display emotional and social expression and travel miles every day. They are highly intelligent animals with complex social and psychological needs. I have been moved by the sophisticated social and emotional capacity chimpanzees exhibit and believe we have an obligation to do all we can to protect their welfare. Unfortunately, great apes used in research are deprived of the interactions they require for their psychological well-being. This is particularly heart-wrenching because experts agree that chimps and their relatives are not needed for the development of human therapies. I was delighted that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) agreed to retire most of their research chimps and greatly strengthen the criteria it will use in funding future investigations. I look forward to working with NIH to facilitate the transfer of chimps into the sanctuary system, and I will continue to explore the impact these new public regulations have on the private sector throughout the 114th Congress (2015-16).
Ending Horse Slaughter
I have long championed legislation that would bar transport, possession, purchase or sale of horses that are slaughtered each year for human food. These horses can endure pain, fear and suffering before being slaughtered, often unbeknownst to their owners. Although for many years, Congress had forbidden the Agriculture Department from inspecting U.S. horse slaughterhouses, effectively banning domestic horse slaughter, FY2013 and FY2014 Agriculture Appropriations bills did not include this provision. Fortunately, the omnibus appropriations legislation passed at the close of last Congress restored the ban on federal funding for inspections. I have long supported a permanent statutory ban on horse slaughter and the export of horses for slaughter, and I look forward to continuing the effort this session.
I am a firm supporter of Rhode Island’s burgeoning organic farming community. I believe that a move towards sustainable, environmentally friendly farming benefits both Americans and farm animals. For instance, traditional factory farming practice sees egg-laying hens confined in battery cages, which afford each hen on average 67 square inches – less than the size of a piece of paper – of floor space. Last Congress, I cosponsored Rep. Kurt Schrader’s Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013, which would have set a standard for the minimum amount of space that must be afforded chickens, allowing them to better engage in their natural behaviors. The amendments would also have benefited consumers by standardizing labeling so that Rhode Islanders know exactly what kind of environment the chickens that laid their eggs lived in.
I also have supported Rep. Louise Slaughter’s Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). Currently, many farms use antibiotics prophylactically to speed growth and prevent farm animals from being infected. Unfortunately, this has the potential to cause major public health problems. First, over-prescription can perpetuate unsanitary and unsafe living environments for farm animals by masking disease. Even more disturbingly, scientists have shown that unfettered antibiotic use greatly increases the prevalence of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria in farm animals. And in 2012, for the first time, a study conclusively linked the spread of human-borne Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to resistant strains in food animals. PAMTA would phase out the practice of feeding massive quantities of antibiotics to food animals within two years of enactment.
During debate on the Farm Bill last year, Rep. Steve King offered an amendment that would prevent states from placing production standards on agricultural products sold intrastate. While offered under the guise of “leveling the playing field” for producers trying to enter another state’s markets, it would in actuality lead to a race to the bottom where the state with the lowest welfare standards dominated. While the House-passed bill contained the language, the provision was stripped in conference, thanks in part to a letter I joined, and was not included in the final legislation that President Obama signed into law.
Stopping Animal Fighting
Animal fighting is a despicable practice in which people urge two or more animals to fight for the purpose of human entertainment. Animal fights are not only cruel to the baited or losing animals; the training that the animals go through is exceedingly traumatic. Losing animals are often killed on the spot. Animal fighting has also been tied to other serious crimes including drug trafficking, gambling, weapons offenses, and money laundering.
All fifty states have banned dogfighting and cockfighting. In Rhode Island, it is a felony to possess an animal for fighting purposes and to attend either a cockfight or dogfight. In an effort to further curb animal fighting, I was proud to cosponsor the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, which made it a federal crime to fight animals that had been involved in interstate commerce. President Bush signed this bill into law in 2007. Unfortunately, these inhumane activities still take place. Thankfully, a bill that I cosponsored to make it a federal misdemeanor to knowingly attend an animal fight was included in the 2014 farm bill, marking major progress on this important issue.
I support legislation that would crack down on abusive “puppy mills,” restrict the use of “Class B” pet dealers selling animals for research, strengthen federal laws against horrific horse “soring,” and crack down on the often abusive use of great cats as pets. In addition, I joined my colleagues in sending a letter to the House Appropriations Committee seeking full funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and other important federal animal rights legislation.