Yesterday 13 organizations representing food safety, organic consumers, and animal welfare joined the ASPCA in asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve care standards for animals raised under the USDA’s National Organic Program (any animal used to produce products sold with the “USDA Organic” seal).
The Organic Program’s current animal welfare rules are far too lax. A 2014 survey [PDF] commissioned by the ASPCA found big gaps between consumer expectations and USDA requirements when it comes to things like space and outdoor access for the animals it calls organic. The ASPCA has sought better welfare for USDA Organic animals for years, and we now have a unique opportunity: The USDA will be revisiting its rules this year!
With this joint letter to the Secretary of Agriculture [PDF] we’ve made clear that the organic label needs to start meeting its obligations to both animals and consumers. The USDA’s National Organic Program has an obligation to ensure strong animal welfare.
We will continue working on this issue in the coming months and will let you know how you can help with this important effort!
As our recent puppy mill raid in Alabama illustrates, there is a real need for states to step up and regulate commercial dog breeding facilities. These laws not only benefit dogs, but also potential pet owners, taxpayers, animal shelters and the rescue community: states with no laws to oversee these businesses pay a high price when these facilities spiral out of control.
Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. Puppy mill dogs do not get to experience treats, toys, exercise or basic grooming. Breeding dogs at mills often spend their entire lives outdoors, exposed to the elements—or crammed inside filthy, wire-floored structures, stacked on top of one another, where they never get the chance to feel sunlight or breathe fresh air. To maximize profits, female dogs are bred at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters.
Many people think that what we’ve just described is already illegal—but that’s not the case. The federal Animal Welfare Act regulates some breeding facilities, but not all of them. Further, the federal standards are far from what most people consider to be humane and amount to nothing more than mere survival standards for dogs. Most importantly, poor enforcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture means thousands of dogs are left to suffer in inadequate and inhumane conditions year after year, even in federally licensed facilities.
States have the authority to enact and enforce higher standards of humane care for commercially bred animals, yet 21 states still do not have any laws regulating large-scale dog breeders, making them magnets for puppy mills. Alabama is one of these states. Kentucky is another, and so is Michigan (are you seeing a pattern yet?). Please see the chart below to learn how your state stacks up. You’ll see that we have a lot of work left to do.
The ASPCA has a long history of working to pass laws that protect dogs in commercial breeding facilities. You can help us by joining ASPCA Advocacy Brigade. If you live in North Carolina or Montana, you can take action right now by supporting puppy mill legislation that’s pending in those states. And to learn more about puppy mills, please visit nopetstorepuppies.com.
Update, 3/14: Thanks to those of you who pointed out that we had mistakenly identified Wisconsin as a state with no substantive standards of care when in fact, there are some strong standards in place for commercially bred dogs there—our apologies for the mistake! Wisconsin's status has been updated in the version below. We do our best to keep these charts up to date, but sometimes we miss things and we want you to let us know if you see anything inaccurate.
On Monday, the USDA released a report in response to a front-page New York Times story detailing horrific animal abuse at the tax-funded U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC). The report attempts to let USMARC off the hook for the needless pain and suffering imposed on countless animals and demonstrates that the USDA continues to be its own best rubber stamp.
The New York Times piece made clear that there were serious problems at USMARC, and in some ways, the report backs that up. It acknowledges that USMARC’s animal welfare oversight committee was not compliant with certain policies and procedures. Specifically, the animal welfare oversight committee didn’t know what its job was, didn’t adequately review or oversee animal research to ensure it was humane, and didn’t meet regularly to discuss animal welfare.
But while it’s laudable that the report calls out those problems, that’s where the accountability ends. Inexplicably, the report finds that despite widespread systemic flaws, life for the animals at USMARC is just hunky-dory and no suffering results from the complete lack of structure and welfare oversight. This conclusion defies common sense and contradicts what we saw in the New York Times piece.
While USMARC was charging ahead with animal experiments outside of compliance with its own policies, the agency was failing to notice or act. Meanwhile, federal funds were doled out to pay for these projects—including experiments that allowed hundreds of lambs to freeze to death in fields, “twinning studies” that retooled cows to have more twins even while the calves died at higher and higher rates, and “libido studies” where heifers were restrained and mounted by bulls, causing the death of at least one cow from her injuries. If not for courageous whistleblowers, who knows when or if the USDA would have investigated?
This cavalier attitude toward animal well-being simply wouldn’t be tolerated at any respectable research institution. The fact that these deficiencies exist 13 years after the USDA instituted a largely ignored policy on humane animal care and use demonstrates all too clearly where animal welfare lies on the USDA’s priority list.
By Matt Bershadker, President & CEO, ASPCA; and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
In America, one out of four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime, and a woman is abused every nine seconds. Many of these women survive by courageously leaving their homes and finding safety in area shelters. But for some, the decision to save their own lives becomes much more difficult when pets are involved.
M. a domestic violence survivor, chose her life over her home, but says she “would have left much sooner” if she knew she could protect her pets. M.’s abuser killed her dog and cat, and used the act to threaten her daughter’s life and prevent M. from leaving.
K., a 34-year-old mother of two, delayed leaving her abusive husband because none of the domestic violence shelters in her area would allow her to bring her dog, to whom her children had become very attached.
Another survivor, P., said her boyfriend dangled her beloved cat out the window and threatened to kill the cat if she upset him. The abuser set fire to the victim’s apartment and her cat perished from severe smoke inhalation. P. eventually found protection for herself and three new cats in a pet-friendly shelter.
These stories are not unique. As many as 25% of domestic violence survivors have reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. And that fear is often justified. Studies demonstrate that abusers intentionally target pets to exert control over their intimate partners—71% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser threatened, harmed, or killed a family pet.
This point bears repeating: victims ready to escape from abuse are instead risking their lives to protect beloved family pets. No one should have to make the impossible choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring a pet’s safety. Yet despite the urgent need, only 3% of domestic violence shelters nationwide are able to accommodate victims’ pets.
That’s where the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act comes in. Reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today, this bipartisan bill criminalizes the intentional targeting of a domestic partner’s pet with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate.
It also establishes a federal grant program to help victims safely house their pets, and adds veterinary care to the list of costs that victims can recover. Additionally, the PAWS Act strongly asserts the need for states to expand their legal protections for the pets of domestic violence victims.
To date, more than half of U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have taken similar legislative action to protect the pets of domestic violence victims, but no federal legislation has addressed this issue before now. The federal protections offered by the PAWS Act will help victims and their pets escape abusive environments and seek the safety and shelter they need, across state lines if necessary.
Encourage your representative to join the nation’s leading domestic violence and animal welfare advocates in supporting the PAWS Act. As is true in many instances, when we protect pets, we protect people.
Chicken Scratch is an ASPCA Blog feature that highlights interesting news about farm animals and farm animal welfare.
A new investigative piece by online media company Fusion brings us behind the normally closed doors of America’s chicken industry, thanks to one fed-up farmer. The six-part series, which can be viewed here, reveals the inhumane, unhealthy conditions that define modern poultry factory farming deeply affect farmers as well as birds. “Producers” like Craig Watts disagree with the way they are forced to raise chickens, but fear of retribution by the big poultry companies has kept them silent—until now.
When Fusion investigative correspondent Mariana Van Zeller enters one of Watts’ poultry sheds for the first time, she is struck by its size and the stench of ammonia. As Watts says, the math is easy enough: 30,000 birds in a 20,000-square-foot shed means each bird has less than one square foot of floor space. With nowhere to move and fast-growth genetics that leave them struggling to carry their own weight, many birds develop raw, open sores on their undersides from languishing in their own waste.
These conditions are designed for maximum profit for the poultry companies, but they have profound consequences on the well-being of animals and the farmers. The poultry industry estimates a 3-5% mortality rate in broiler chickens on farms. That means more than 260 million birds die before they go to slaughter each year.
Although large poultry companies set the birds’ living conditions and have created crippling breed traits, it’s the farmers who are responsible for culling the sick and deformed animals. When Van Zeller asks Watts how he feels having to euthanize so many birds every day, he responds that it is “disheartening on two levels. One, having to do this to a live animal. And two, that I know it’s going to hurt me financially.”
The ASPCA is committed to improving the lives of chickens raised on farms across this country. If you are concerned about this issue and want to request that products from healthier, more humanely raised animals be sold in your local stores, take action at TruthAboutChicken.org today.