The U.S. House of Representatives begins debate tomorrow on the annual appropriations bill to fund the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Fiscal Year 2012. We expect several important issues related to animal welfare to come up, with potentially wide-ranging impacts on how taxpayer dollars are used for predator control, horse slaughter, and agriculture subsidies.
The USDA’s Wildlife Services program—initiated 80 years ago with the passage of the Animal Damage Control Act of 1931—is as outdated as they come. This antiquated program has been wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and recklessly killing animals with steel-jawed leghold traps, toxic poisons, aerial gunning, and other inhumane methods. The poisons, particularly Compound 1080 and M-44 sodium cyanide devices, are so deadly and indiscriminate that they have killed family pets like Bea while she was on a hiking trip on public land in northern Utah, and Bella just yards from her family’s doorstep in central Texas.
There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts, providing training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past, exterminating wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill.
Lethal control is often ineffective at protecting livestock, since other predators simply move in to the vacant territory. In some cases the money spent to kill predators is a greater cost than the value of the livestock losses sustained by ranchers. There are much more cost-effective and humane, non-lethal methods available, such as the use of llamas and other guard animals, lighting, penning, and other proven approaches. But ranchers have little incentive to employ these solutions if taxpayers are willing to continue subsidizing lethal removal of wildlife for them. If policymakers are serious about cutting spending and reforming wasteful government programs, here’s a great place to start.
Three champions of animal protection, Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., will offer an amendment to cut $11 million from USDA’s budget and curb the taxpayer subsidy for lethal predator control. The Campbell-DeFazio-Peters amendment leaves funding for legitimate concerns, such as airport safety, but it halts the fleecing of American taxpayers as a subsidy for wealthy ranchers and begins to shift the agency toward a greater balance with cost-effective and non-lethal solutions.
When the agriculture spending bill was previously considered in committee, an amendment by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., was adopted to de-fund USDA inspections at horse slaughter plants. Every year since 2005, the appropriations bill has included such a provision, which ensured the permanent closure of the last remaining equine abattoirs in Illinois and Texas and has prevented other cruel horse slaughter plants from opening around the country.
Remarkably, we expect horse slaughter proponents to offer amendments on the House floor to repeal this important de-funding prohibition, which could cost U.S. taxpayers about $5 million annually to subsidize government inspections of foreign-owned horse slaughter plants. Adding millions of dollars to the federal budget to inspect foreign-owned horse slaughter plants would be a step backwards for America’s iconic horses and a waste of tax dollars.
We also anticipate amendments dealing with the multi-billion-dollar federal subsidies for industrial factory farms and the corn and soy operations they rely on for animal feed. Excessive commodity subsidies keep animal feed artificially cheap and encourage massive factory farm development, while driving out smaller, more humane, sustainable farms. Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., have been leading the charge for caps on farm payments to large-scale producers, and we hope the House will begin to wean big agribusiness off the government trough.
Please contact your U.S. Representative today at (202) 225-3121, and send an email, and urge him or her to: 1) support the Campbell-DeFazio-Peters amendment to cut funding for lethal predator control, 2) support efforts to limit agriculture subsidies, and 3) oppose any amendment to allow horse slaughter plant inspections. At a time when so many lawmakers are focused on deficit reduction, we can save millions of taxpayer dollars and save animals by reforming harmful government programs.