National Commentary

Animal Protection: No Place for Partisanship

While partisanship is red hot on Capitol Hill, four animal protection measures have the potential to elicit bipartisan consensus.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to outlaw the sale and distribution of graphic videos depicting the murder or abuse of animals by an overwhelming margin, passing the “Prevention of Interstate Commerce in Crush Videos Act” 416 to 3. While these videos showcase behavior that would be considered animal cruelty under most state and federal laws, it is nearly impossible to prove who produces the videos, making a ban on their sale through interstate commerce a critical tool for prosecutors.

The need for this legislation stemmed from a recent Supreme Court decision, Stevens vs. US, which struck down a decade old law that banned the videos on the grounds that its broad scope could unduly restrict free speech. Following the Stevens ruling, the Animal Protection Caucus, which I chair with Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) (comprised of 67 Democrats and 21 Republicans) quickly mobilized support for a narrower bill, focused solely on prohibiting the sale of crush videos. Members of the House Judiciary Committee from both parties worked together to refine the legislation to ensure it addressed the constitutional concerns raised by the Court.

Of particular concern was the impact the bill could have on legitimate hunting and fishing videos, so explicit language was added to exempt those materials. The final product is one that I believe will both stop the proliferation of crush videos and withstand further constitutional scrutiny.

There are many bills currently pending before Congress that attempt to take a similarly measured, bipartisan approach to animal protection issues. Three pieces of legislation– including one up for consideration on the House floor this week – are especially deserving of broad, bipartisan support.

Today, it is easy to buy a product – let’s say, a pair of fur-lined winter gloves – under the assumption that the fur is not real because the price is low and there is no tag or label stating otherwise. Unfortunately, due to a loophole in current law, the fur that decorates your winter gloves could be a real animal pelt. What’s worse, there’s a good chance it could be that of a dog or cat, especially if imported from China.

The Truth in Fur Labeling Act (H.R. 2480), legislation which I authored, would close the loophole in current law that allows products made with fur that are less than $150 in value to forego labeling requirements. If passed, this common sense measure would give Americans with allergies or ethical objections to fur the information they need to make an educated purchasing decision. The Truth in Fur Labeling Act, which has 170 bipartisan cosponsors, was unanimously reported out of the Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month after being amended to address legitimate concerns about the unintended impact on hunters and trappers who sell small quantities of homemade products. I expect the bill to pass the full House this week.

The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act (H.R. 4733) is another measured attempt to address animal welfare. The bill would require agricultural producers that supply food to the federal government to give egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves enough room in their cages to turn around and stretch their legs. Polls indicate that this basic level of humane treatment for farm animals is supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans, and many food retailers and fast food companies are already demanding this level of care from their suppliers. Supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, this bill is yet another example of how targeted legislation can help put an end to some of the most egregious forms of animal suffering.

A third issue that warrants immediate action involves puppy mills. The Puppy Uniform Protection Statute or “PUPS” (H.R. 5434) would stop thousands of large, commercial breeders who have made big bucks selling puppies over the Internet without needing to obtain the appropriate licensing and abide by the animal welfare standards that govern traditional breeders. Due to improper care and overcrowded conditions, these puppies are often sick, leaving unsuspecting consumers with ill, sometimes dying puppies that require expensive veterinarian visits just to have a slim chance at survival. Meanwhile, the breeding dogs at these facilities often spend their entire lives in constant confinement and deprivation. If enacted, the PUPS Act would eliminate this exception in the Animal Welfare Act and end the illicit internet puppy trade in the United States.

As demonstrated by the passage of the animal crush video bill, it is clear that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle reject senseless violence towards animals. But there is also a number of other animal protection issues in which bipartisan consensus is possible. We need these commonsense measures enacted to ensure the humane treatment of our companion animals and other sensate beings.

 


Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.


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