Washington, DC—The $1.5 trillion federal spending bill, signed by President Biden today, includes vital wins for animals, such as right whales and horses, but also provides insufficient funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.
Among the highlights of the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2022:
Animal Welfare Act
Using stern language, Congress expressed concerns about “the ongoing mismanagement” of the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Care Program, which is supposed to ensure the humane treatment of animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Citing media reports about the USDA’s “inexplicable delays … in acting against blatant violations of the Animal Welfare Act,” lawmakers said they intend to monitor the program’s “fulfillment of its statutory and regulatory responsibilities with respect to animals.”
Endangered Species Act
Congress provided only minimal funding increases for the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), an unacceptable outcome given the global extinction crisis. A United Nations report warns that 1 million species are now threatened with extinction—many within decades—yet Congress continues to deprioritize funding for this critical conservation law. There is a backlog of approximately 400 species awaiting protection under the ESA. In total, at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection. Turning a blind eye to these catastrophic biodiversity declines by starving the ESA of funding is dangerous and irresponsible.
Congress extended 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 horsemeat products.
The spending package includes more than $3 million—a $1 million increase from fiscal year 2021—for the USDA to enforce the Horse Protection Act and curb the cruel practice of soring 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 the USDA to finalize a long-awaited rule that would clamp down on the abusive practices associated with soring and end the failed system of industry self-policing.
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 through sales to foreign slaughterhouses. In a historic movie, Congress directed the BLM to use $11 million for the robust expansion of safe, proven, and humane fertility control methods to manage our nation’s herds.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is required to brief Congress on the agency’s current policy for allowing trophy hunting imports, and to analyze exporting countries’ conservation programs. Congress has mandated this report for several years, but the agency has failed to comply. A prohibition on importing elephant and lion trophies from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania was included in the House version of the appropriations package, but, unfortunately, did not make it into the final law.
The USFWS must brief Congress on trapping practices on lands overseen by the agency, and outline nonlethal methods that could replace trapping for wildlife management purposes. This evaluation could be the first step toward the agency implementing a program replacing body-gripping traps with nonlethal alternatives.
Research and conservation efforts protecting critically endangered North Atlantic right whales received $21 million in funding—an increase of $16 million from fiscal year 2021. This includes at least $4 million for measures such as enforcement and monitoring, and at least $2 million to support an existing pilot program to develop, refine, and test innovative fishing gear aimed at reducing entanglements—a major cause of death among North Atlantic right whales. A large majority of the funding ($14 million) will be allocated to states to cover costs for the fishing industry to comply with a 2021 federal rule that aims to reduce mortalities and serious injuries from fishing gear to North Atlantic right whales. The rule itself, unfortunately, insufficiently reduces the risks to right whales and should be strengthened.
Aside from right whales, Congress increased funding for the federal Marine Mammal Commission to continue its essential oversight functions. Both the USFWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service also received funding to continue coordinating a nationwide emergency response program—the Prescott Grant Program—for stranded, sick, injured, distressed, or dead marine mammals. Additionally, the USFWS was directed to help manatees with conservation and restoration funds. This species has faced unprecedented challenges, with more 1,100 dying last year due to habitat degradation and declining seagrass, their food source.
Livestock Indemnity Program:
Noting that millions of farm animals die each year in adverse weather events, Congress directed the USDA to work with producers who wish to develop disaster plans in order to prevent livestock deaths and injuries.
The omnibus package provides for greater transparency regarding the handling of birds at slaughter by directing the USDA to report to Congress on instances where slaughter facilities were not operating in accordance with directives meant to reduce the risks of mistreatment.
Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforcement:
Congress directed the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that all inspection personnel receive training in the agency’s humane handling regulations. The FSIS must also ensure that quarterly reports of humane handling activities, including the number of administrative enforcement actions taken against slaughter plants, continue to be made publicly available.
Domestic Violence Survivors and Their Pets:
Congress increased from $2.5 million to $3 million the funding available for grants to enable domestic violence service providers to create or expand programs to assist survivors with companion animals.
Prohibition on Certain Class B Dealers:
Congress continued its long-standing prohibition on the licensing under the AWA of Class B dealers who sell random source dogs and cats for use in experimentation and teaching.
State Department Explosives Detection Canine Program:
In 2019, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report documenting the unconscionable mistreatment of dogs sent overseas under the Explosive Detection Canine Program. This situation came to light only after a whistleblower—a veterinarian who had worked for the private contractor that trained the dogs—raised serious concerns about their health and welfare. Frustrated with the lack of transparency and accountability in this program since the report came out, Congress told the State Department, as part of the spending package, to submit a report detailing how it has met, or plans to meet, the OIG’s recommendations. The department must also provide “an update on the status of dogs currently in, and retired from, the program since June 2019.”
Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
email@example.com, (202) 446-2128
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.