Washington, DC—Thanks to the hard work of the many members of Congress who support animal welfare, the $1.4 trillion omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2021, which was signed by the president on Sunday, includes some important benefits for animals.
Animal Welfare Act enforcement:
The fiscal year 2021 omnibus appropriations bill, which covers spending for multiple departments and agencies through September 30, 2021, directs the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure that inspectors document each instance of noncompliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in their reports. Moreover, with Congress having directed the USDA to restore AWA and Horse Protection Act (HPA) records that were purged from the department’s website in 2017, the USDA must now ensure that these public databases are at least as searchable as they were prior to the records being removed.
In another move to strengthen AWA compliance, Congress focuses on the online sales of dogs by unlicensed people. Lawmakers have added language that “encourages [the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] to continue to conduct robust oversight and enforcement” of the AWA and to ensure that “online dealers who are selling animals to consumers sight-unseen…have the necessary license.”
Animals in research:
As it has done for several years, Congress continues to ban the USDA from using funds to license Class B dealers who sell random-source dogs and cats for use in experiments. These dealers were notorious for obtaining animals though fraud and deceit. Congress also directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to submit a plan by the end of 2021 detailing how it will reduce or eliminate within the next five years the use of dogs, cats, and non-human primates in the department’s research. Additionally, Congress encourages the Food and Drug Administration to use non-animal testing methods on new drugs.
Domestic violence shelters:
The bill provides $2.5 million — up from $2 million in fiscal year 2020 — to expand a program that helps fund shelter and transitional housing services for survivors of domestic violence and their companion animals.
The USDA must start the process of lifting the stay on a rule requiring facilities regulated by the AWA, such as puppy mills and roadside zoos, to have plans for the care of their animals in the event of an emergency.
The omnibus includes the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which aims to reduce the fatalities and injuries that have plagued thoroughbred racing in the United States by ending the dangerous reliance on performance-enhancing drugs. Such drugs can mask pain, inflammation, and other warning signs that often precede catastrophic breakdowns.
Congress extends the ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States by blocking the use of taxpayer funds to inspect domestic horse slaughter plants and horse meat products.
The spending package doubles the funding to more than $2 million for the USDA to enforce the Horse Protection Act and curb the cruel practice of soring among Tennessee Walking Horses, which involves deliberately inflicting pain on a horse’s hooves and legs to create a higher-stepping gait for competition. The omnibus also calls on USDA's Office of Inspector General to audit HPA enforcement, and urges the USDA to end its failed system of industry self-policing and finalize a rule that would ban the use of devices to sore horses.
Wild horses and burros:
The bill protects horses and burros under the authority of the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service from being destroyed for commercial purposes, such as sales to foreign slaughterhouses. It also calls for the robust expansion of safe, proven, and humane fertility control methods to manage our nation’s herds. Lastly, it includes language aimed at preserving the genetic diversity of the historic Corolla herd on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Endangered Species Act listing decisions:
Congress recognizes the need for listing decisions to be “based on science, not politics,” and expressed concern about proposals to delist “iconic species” without adequate protections in place for their survival. The bill directs the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to make sure there are adequate state management plans in place before delisting any species, and to establish a system for the strict enforcement of those plans.
In addition to providing more than $86 million for law enforcement activities to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, Congress notes “the dramatic and disconcerting increase of criminal activity” involving the poaching and trafficking of wildlife parts, and the link between these activities and other forms of organized crime. Lawmakers direct the attorney general to continue to submit annual reports on how the department is addressing wildlife trafficking and the illegal natural resources trade. The department also must provide adequate resources for combating these crimes.
Recognizing the clear link between the exploitation of wildlife and the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases, Congress appropriates additional funds to increase port inspections and intelligence efforts. Moreover, the FWS receives additional resources to start a dialogue and work collaboratively with international partners “to stop dangerous wildlife practices that threaten global public health.” The US Agency for International Development receives funds to implement “programs to prevent, prepare for, and respond to, unanticipated and emerging global health threats, including zoonotic diseases.”
The FWS is required to brief Congress on its current policy for allowing imports of sport-hunted trophies, and to provide its “analysis [of] exporting countries’ conservation programs and species survival.” Congress mandated this briefing last year, but the agency failed to comply.
The FWS is also required to brief Congress on the logistics involved with conducting “a pilot program to replace the use of body-gripping traps with non-lethal methods and equipment” on national wildlife refuges
Marine mammals and right whales:
Research and conservation efforts protecting critically endangered North Atlantic right whales receive $5 million in funding — an increase of $2 million from fiscal year 2020. This includes at least $1 million to support an existing pilot program to develop, refine, and test innovative lobster gear aimed at reducing entanglements — a major cause of death among North Atlantic right whales. Funding is also provided to allow the federal Marine Mammal Commission to continue its essential oversight functions, and to maintain a program coordinating a nationwide emergency response for stranded, sick, injured, distressed, or dead marine mammals.
Livestock Indemnity Program:
Noting that millions of farm animals die each year in adverse weather events, Congress directs the USDA to work with producers who wish to voluntarily develop disaster plans in order to prevent livestock deaths and injuries.
Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) enforcement:
Congress directs the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to ensure that all inspection personnel receive training in the agency’s humane handling regulations. FSIS also must resume preparing and posting online quarterly reports of humane handling activities, including the number of administrative enforcement actions taken against slaughter plants.
Congress encourages the USDA’s Office of Inspector General to audit and investigate the department’s enforcement of the AWA, the HMSA, and the HPA, “to help improve compliance.”
Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, firstname.lastname@example.org