In Many States, Attempts Afoot to Undermine Animal Welfare

The fight to extend or deny protections for animals takes place in state capitals as well as on Capitol Hill. The high-profile confrontation this year is in Missouri—again. Last year, Missouri voters approved Proposition B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, a ballot initiative addressing the most egregious cruelties of that state’s puppy mill industry. This year, the Missouri legislature—at the behest of the powerful breeding industry in the state—is trying to “fix” Proposition B by basically gutting it. As of this writing, the bill to do this is with the governor.

Missouri is not the only state where assaults on animal welfare are being mounted. South Carolina legislators have introduced bills (H 3687/S 643) to again allow the captive display of marine mammals other than whales, porpoises, and dolphins. One Maine bill (LD 101) would allow killing coyotes with wire neck snares; another (LD 1072) would establish a bounty on coyotes in the state.

Some dangerous bills don’t address animal welfare per se; rather, they limit the public’s right to know about animal abuse and do something about it when their elected officials won’t. After gruesome photo/video exposés of the treatment of cows, pigs and chickens at factory farms, the livestock industry has decided it is better to shoot the messenger than heed the message. In at least three states, efforts are underway to criminalize the undercover filming of farm animal cruelty. An Iowa bill (HF 589) to prohibit the recording of such videos has passed the House and awaits action in the Senate. Penalties include fines up to $7,500 and five years in prison. Similar legislation is being considered in Minnesota (HF 1369/SF 1110) and Florida (SB 1246).

Other bills would do an end run around the rights of citizens to pursue animal welfare improvements through ballot initiatives. A Texas bill (HB 334) would create a livestock care standards board that empowers the animal agriculture industry to develop self-serving standards for raising farm animals. An Oregon bill (HB 3006) would create a dairy industry advisory board that could unduly influence the legislature on dairy animal welfare issues. A pair of bills in Washington (SB 5487/HB 1813) would establish a certification program for commercial egg laying operations in the state—not so much to inform consumers as to codify inhumane conditions and undermine a proposed citizen ballot measure to ban confinement of hens to battery cages. The respective versions of the bill have passed both Senate and House, but have not been reconciled as of this writing.

These are only a representative sample of a number of efforts in various states to ward off reform, roll back animal protection measures, or sanction new forms of animal abuse. Anyone concerned about animal welfare should monitor and weigh in on such bills in their own states.