Farm Bill amended to remove lab rats, mice, & birds from Animal Welfare Act protection
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2002:
WASHINGTON, D.C.–All rats, mice, and birds bred for
laboratory use would be permanently excluded from federal Animal
Welfare Act protection under a last-minute amendment to the 2002 Farm
Bill, approved by the U.S. Senate by voice vote late on February 12
and sent to a joint Senate/House conference committee for final
reconciliation on February 13.
The amendment would affect more than 95% of all warm-blooded
animals used in U.S. laboratories.
Introduced from the floor by Senator Jesse Helms (R-North
Carolina), who has announced that he will retire when his term ends
in January 2003, the amendment bypassed all Senate debate.
“The House version of the Farm Bill does not include this
provision and the Humane Society of the U.S. will urge conference
committee members to drop it,” said an alert circulated later on
February 13 by HSUS vice president for legislation Wayne Pacelle. The
House version did, however, include a clause prohibiting the U.S.
Department of Agriculture from spending any money to produce Animal
Welfare Act enforcement regulations pertaining to rats, mice, and
A similar clause inserted in the 2000 Farm Bill at the last
minute by Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) prevented the USDA
from moving to comply with the terms of settlement of a 1998 lawsuit
brought by the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation, a
subsidiary of the American Antivivisection Society. In the
settlement the USDA agreed that rats, mice, and birds would finally
Acting at request of the National Association for Biomedical
Research, Cochran chaired the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on
Agriculture in the 106th Congress, and started the 107th Congress in
the same position.
As Republicans then controlled the Senate, House, and White
House, following the election of U.S. President George W. Bush in
2000, a Republican-led effort to completely rewrite the Animal
Welfare Act was expected from the 107th Congress, but did not
materialize, after Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords changed his
registration to Democrat. Jeffords’ switch gave the Democrats the
Senate majority, and passed the chair of the Senate agriculture
appropriations subcommittee to Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin).
Kohl signaled reluctance to make substantial changes to the
AWA, which has evolved in bits and pieces from the Laboratory Animal
Welfare Act of 1966.
The first major amendments, adopted in 1970, extended the
coverage of the Act to all “warm-blooded animals…used or intended
for use, for research, testing, experimentation or exhibition
That language remained intact in the 1976 and 1985 amendments
that established the AWA in present form. If followed to the letter,
it would increase the number of federally inspected laboratories from
the present 1,200 to more than 2,000.
However, Congress left writing the AWA enforcement
regulations to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
USDA-APHIS then evaded responsibility for handling the increased
workload by excluding rats, mice, and birds from the regulatory
definition of “warm-blooded animals.”
A series of lawsuits against the exclusion followed, but the
USDA and the research industry repeatedly won rulings that animal
welfare groups and concerned individuals had no legal standing to
bring their cases. This obstacle was overturned in September 1998 by
the U.S. Court of Appeals, in a verdict later upheld without comment
by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling, in a case brought by Long
Island activist Marc Jurnove and the Animal Legal Defense Fund,
pertained to the care of a now deceased chimpanzee at the Long Island
Game Farm, but compelled the USDA to settle the case brought by the
Altern-atives Research and Development Foundation because it erased
the USDA defense for not enforcing the 1970 AWA language.
Only Congressional amendment of the AWA could now continue to
exclude rats, mice, and birds from coverage. But that is exactly
what the Helms amendment appears almost certain to achieve.
Conference committees rarely drop legislative concepts which both the
House and the Senate have endorsed in principle, and the only
anticipated reason why President Bush might veto the Farm Bill would
be budgetary. The Senate version allocates $45 billion to USDA
programs over the next five years; the House version allocates only
$38 billion. The Helms amendment was presented as a cost-cutting
Downed livestock took a kick to the ribs, in the view of
Humane Farming Associaton founder Brad Miller, from another Farm
Bill floor amendment approved by the Senate on February 13, which
incorporated into the Farm Bill some language from the “downer bill”
that was inserted into the House version of the Farm Bill in late
2001 by Representatives Gary Ackerman (D-New York) and Amo Houghton
According to the HSUS bill summary, “This provision,
championed in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Daniel
Akaka (D-Hawaii), mandates humane euth-anasia of animals too weak
from sickness or injury to stand or walk at stockyards, auctions,
and other intermediate livestock markets.”
Miller, however, has pointed out since October 2001 that
between originating as HR 1421, by Ackerman, and inclusion in the
House version of the Farm Bill, the “downer bill” language was
amended to exclude any case “in which nonambulatory livestock receive
veterinary care intended to render the livestock ambulatory,”
whether or not the “intended” treatment is successful.
“Never does the unspecified ‘care’ need to be effective in
relieving pain and suffering,” Miller explains. “It need only be
‘intended’ to get the animals walking. Even if the ‘care’ has no
effect whatever, it is perfectly acceptable according to this
language to ignore the animals’ excruciating pain, load them onto
trucks, and send them off to a slaughterhouse for even more abuse.”
In addition, all penalties for violating the “downer bill”
In effect, as passed now by both the House and Senate, the
“downer” language allows the meat industry to continue doing exactly
what it now does.
Although still touted as a victory by HSUS and Farm
Sanctuary, the amended form of the “downer bill” was opposed at
least from November 2001 by most other organizations working on farm
animal issues, including the Animal Protection Institute, the
Animal Welfare Institute, Defending Farm Animals, Friends of
Animals, In Defense of Animals, Pigs: A Sanctuary, and United
Poultry Concerns, among many others.
The major positive aspect of the “downer” language is that it
appears to establish in principle that injured and ill livestock
should not be mistreated. In theory it could be strengthened later
by amendment. But that was also said about the Humane Slaughter Act.
Introduced in 1954, the act was passed in 1958 after sections about
animal handling and care were deleted. Much of the deleted language
was restored in 1978, 20 years later. However, changes in the USDA
inspection system have left it virtually unenforced during the past
The Senate version of the 2002 Farm Bill acknowledged
this by including a nonbinding resolution asking the USDA to resume
enforcing the Humane Slaughter Act. The resolution was introduced by
Senator Robert Byrd (R-West Virginia), who–like Helms–is to retire
in January 2003, and is the last member of the Senate who voted for
the Humane Slaughter Act in 1958.
Also in both the House and Senate versions of the
Farm Bill is an Animal Welfare Act amendment to close a 1976 clause
allowing the interstate shipment of gamecocks. As adopted, the
amendment prohibits interstate shipments of either birds or dogs for
any kind of fighting. It was introduced in the House by Earl
Blumenauer (D-Oregon), who reintroduced it and pushed it though in
October 2001, after his first attempt failed on a voice vote, and
was introduced in the Senate by Wayne Allard, DVM (R-Colorado) and
Senate Agriculture Committee chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
Passed in the Senate version of the Farm Bill, with
a House version pending, was language from the Bear Protection Act,
introduced again by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) after a
version introduced in the 106th Congress cleared the Senate but died
in the House when then-Resources Committee chair Don Young (R-Alaska)
refused to bring it up for a vote. The Bear Protection Act would ban
the import, export, and sale in any form of bear gall bladders,
bile, and viscera. The House version, introduced by Elton Gallegly
(R-California), has 186 co-sponsors–still 31 votes short of passage
if taken to the floor, but perhaps close enough to be squeezed into
the final Farm Bill.
Likewise passed in the Senate version of the Farm Bill, with
a House version pending, was language from the Puppy Protection Act,
introduced by Senators Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) and Richard
As summarized by Representative Mike Doyle (D-Pennsylvania),
this language would “expand regulatory authority over puppy breeding
faclities and create a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy for
repeat violators of basic care standards. Additionally, it requires
a waiting and recovery period between litters, and mandates that
puppies must be socialized with other dogs and people.” The House
version, introduced by Representatives Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) and
Sam Farr (D-California) has 135 co-sponsors, and will probably need
much more support to be included in the reconciled Farm Bill.
Another last-minute amendment to the Senate version of the
Farm Bill added by voice vote was a requirement that the USDA and
U.S. Agency for International Develop-ment must report to Congress by
January 2004 on the cost and logistics of sending live U.S.-raised
lambs to Afghanistan as food and agricultural aid. Introduced by
Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), this proposal has not yet been made
to the House, but might win support from western Republicans as part
of the inevitable series of trade-offs that will occur as conference
committee members try to shepherd special benefits to their
constituents through the reconciliation process.