115th Congress: Opening Salvos

AWI welcomes Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL) as the new co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus in the 115th Congress, replacing Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who retired at the end of the last term. Rep. Buchanan will join co-chair Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who is serving his second term in the role. The first positive animal welfare bill put forward this session is HR 113, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act of 2017, introduced by Reps. Buchanan and Blumenauer along with Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Ed Royce (R-CA), and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM). This bill would prohibit the slaughter of horses in the United States for human consumption, as well as the export of live horses for slaughter abroad. Please contact your representative today and ask him or her to cosponsor the SAFE Act. You can write to your representative via AWI’s website at https://awionline.org/compassion-index#/262.

On a far more discordant note, congressional leadership has taken steps to dismantle a number of Obama administration regulations—including those put in place to improve animal welfare. The 1996 Congressional Review Act allows Congress to reverse a “major” rule (one with an annual economic effect of $100 million or more) within 60 legislative days of its submission to Congress or publication in the Federal Register. (For other rules, the timeline is 30 days.) On January 4, the House upped the ante by passing the Midnight Rule Relief Act, a bill that would allow Congress to overturn multiple rules finalized in the last 60 legislative days of a presidential administration in a single vote, rather than take each up individually. As this issue goes to press, the Senate has not yet taken up the bill. Among measures that could be affected: the USDA’s recently published rule to establish animal welfare standards for organically raised animals. (See page 19.)

One positive rule did not make it to the finish line before the clock struck midnight. New Horse Protection Act regulations, intended to do a better job of preventing abuse of gaited show horses, were not published before January 20 and got caught in the regulatory freeze the new administration imposed on its first day in office. These new regulations would replace the failed system of industry self-policing with veterinarians and veterinary technicians trained, licensed, and supervised by the USDA to serve as inspectors at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. The regulations would also ban the use of painful devices and caustic chemicals associated with “soring” show horses to produce a high-stepping gait. It is hard to say at this point when or if this new rule will see the light of day.