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 113th Congress (2013-14).
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, the last two Agriculture Appropriations bills did not include this provision. While horse slaughter has not yet returned to our shores, I am a cosponsor of Rep. Patrick Meehan’s Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which would make the practice a federal crime and prevent the export of horses for slaughter.
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. I am a cosponsor of Rep. Kurt Schrader’s Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013, which sets a standard for the minimum amount of space that must be afforded chickens, allowing them to better engage in their natural behaviors. The amendments will also benefit consumers by standardizing labeling so that Rhode Islanders know exactly what kind of environment the chickens that laid their eggs lived in.
I also support 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, 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. Unfortunately, the House-passed bill contains this language, and I joined a letter sent by Rep. Schrader requesting that the provision be stripped in conference.
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. Representative Tom Marino has introduced the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which would make it a federal misdemeanor to knowingly attend an animal fight. I am a proud cosponsor of this bill.
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. I voted last Congress to bar the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada and to cut funding from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to begin to rein in subsidies for lethal predator control. 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.