Cracking down on animal abuse and federal money used for animal testing

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MYSTERY WIRE — New efforts are underway to reduce animal abuse and experimentation across the nation, to prosecute those who are arrested and charged, and to end animal testing by companies and government agencies.

One of those lawmakers taking the lead on animal welfare issues is U.S. Rep. Dina Titus from Nevada. Since the new administration took over, Rep. Titus has been in contact with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about changes she wants to push through Congress.

According to news agency Reuters and agweek.com, Sec. Vilsack has “directed agency staff to create and deliver an updated Animal Welfare Strategy plan within 60 days.” It’s an effort that would include updating training for government employees along with others who work with animals in the service’s research labs.

Rep. Titus is also trying to get more information on where and why animal testing is allowed to continue. Last October, she wrote to then- agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue requesting details of animal testing carried about the out by the United States Department of Agriculture itself. “We’re trying to do an inventory of all the government agencies that do animal testing, to see where it exists and how much it costs because it really is a waste of money,” Rep. Titus said. “Other technologies are much more effective and much more efficient and less expensive. Perdue didn’t bother to answer.   Tom Now we’ve got (Tom) Vilsack. He has been the Secretary of Agriculture before. He’s not been out front on these issues. But he’s somebody I know and I can work with. And so we’re going to try to get his help to checkoff programs, and a number of things involving testing, both with USDA and I’m also working on it for the VA.”

Not all animal welfare groups are optimistic to see Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture again. Vilsack previously served as Ag. Secretary under President Obama from 2009 to 2017. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA, put out a statement which reads in part, During that time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) failed miserably to enforce the minimum standards of the federal Animal Welfare Act and consistently prioritized the commercial and environmentally irresponsible interests of animal-based businesses over taking meaningful action to stop the blatant mistreatment of animals on an industrial scale.

“On Tom Vilsack’s watch, the USDA allowed Ringling Bros. circus to force arthritic elephants to perform, left abused tiger cubs to suffer in the filthy cages of “Joe Exotic,” permitted laboratories to keep highly social monkeys in solitary confinement, and permitted much more suffering, turning a blind eye to violations of law. If the agency continues with business as usual, serving the interests of circuses, laboratories, roadside zoos, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills that it now calls its “customers,” animals will suffer greatly. PETA challenges Mr. Vilsack to prove his many critics wrong by committing to enforcing animal protection laws as if lives depended on it—because they do.”

Rachel Mathews, PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement

Other illegal animal practices will also get renewed scrutiny under proposals supported by Rep. Titus, including barbaric dog and rooster fighting rings which still operate across the country as well as in Titus’ own congressional district , encompassing most of Las Vegas. Law enforcement agencies in Nevada have busted two such rings in recent weeks.  

“We want to make that (rooster fighting) a federal offense,” Rep. Titus told Mystery Wire during a recent interview. “We already got it here in Nevada. That’s how they were able to go after these people. I was so glad to see it. But what a horror story. All those roosters and little cages put out there to fight with razors on their legs. And they’re still down fighting too. So we’ve just got to stay ever alert. Another reason I care so much about this issue is I think the way people treat animals is a reflection of how they treat other people.”


Below you will see a document from Animal Welfare Action (AWA) outlining all of the actions it hopes gain traction and are passed in the 117th Congress.


Titus has fought to protect wild horses since her days as a Nevada state legislator and continued that work in Congress.   Nevada is home to more than half of the nation’s  mustangs, an estimated  40,000 wild horses. According to the Bureau of Land Management,  this is around four times as many as the land can handle. This surge in the wild horse population has led to controversy and a stalemate over how to handle the population. Titus has long contended the BLM’s assessment of the environmental impact of wild horses is greatly exaggerated and that the wild horse program is one of the most poorly-managed efforts in the entire federal government. 

Not helping the situation is a shake-up in BLM staffing after it moved its headquarters from the Washington, D.C. area to Grand Junction, Colorado. Many senior staff decided to not move with the agency.

The AWA has also pushed for a fresh look at a 12-year-old bill called the Restoring Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act. When we asked Rep. Titus about an effort to get get her to help push this act through Congress she said, “I have a lot of friends in that community and they’re always wanting to send me out to do something on this issue. And I have always been willing to, because I care so so much about it. I don’t have any parts of rural Nevada in my district, but I think the little children who live here need to be able to go out there and see these wild horses and burros so we’ll be leading that. I also I work with a group called White Coat Waste, which is involved in the testing issue. So we’ll be doing that and the Humane Society got 100% A+ record with them. So people know to come to me for animal issues, and I’ll be glad to lead the charge.”

Rep. Titus said that under the previous administration she saw regulations about horse management being loosened that allowed a “thinning of the herd.”

“We saw him (Fmr. President Trump) trying to deregulate so they could use horses to sell internationally for meat,” according to Rep. Titus. “Rounding up just everything you can imagine to get rid of those wild horses. We’re gonna back off of that. I’m very excited to have (Rep.) Deb Haaland as the head of the Department of Interior. She is a personal friend. She’s a Westerner, Native American appreciate these icons of the West. She co-sponsored my legislation to increase funding for the wild horse program, which we got an additional $14 million. So she’s gonna be very receptive, I think, to a change in policy.”

Another piece of legislation introduced into Congress this year was the Kangaroo Protection Act  introduced by Representatives Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn.

The act, if passed and signed, would ban the sale of any kangaroo parts in the United States. The push for this legislation comes mainly from investigations into major shoe manufacturers using illegally hunted kangaroo leather from Australia in shoes sold here in the United States, especially in California where it has been banned.

Animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and Animal Wellness Action are pushing hard for a crackdown on illegal and inhumane practices.

The Humane Society has published much of its work on its website including its suggestions on improving the lives of farm animals.

Animal Wellness Action is shining a spotlight on factory farming practices and putting its money where its mouth is by offering a $5,000 reward for information resulting in the successful prosecution of any individual for violating state or federal law (7 U.S.C. § 2156) against animal fighting. 


Below you can read the transcript of George Knapp’s interview with Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV).

George Knapp
Let’s switch to animal welfare. You know, these kind of issues have always been on your radar screen, as long as I’ve known you, as long as you’ve been in Washington. But it seems like the last couple of years, you’ve really stepped to the front on a lot of these issues. Is that on purpose?

Rep. Dina Titus 
Well, it is, you know, you remember George, I worked on this in the state legislature. We went after dogfighting, cockfighting, puppy mills. You, you helped me on some of those issues. So it’s a continuation of that. What we now see though, is not just because I’m an animal lover, but there’s a lot of waste of taxpayer dollars doing things like animal testing, for medical research, that they could use more modern, technological developments.

George Knapp
You wrote to Secretary Perdue, I think last October, asking for some information about animal testing carried about the out by the USDA. Can you tell us what you were asking for and what you received?

Rep. Dina Titus
Well, we’re trying to do an inventory of all the government agencies that do animal testing, to see where it exists and how much it costs because it really is a waste of money. Other technologies are much more effective and much more efficient and less expensive. He didn’t bother to answer. Now we’ve got Vilsack. He has been the Secretary of Agriculture before. He’s not been out front on these issues. But he’s somebody I know and I can work with. And so we’re going to try to get his help to checkoff programs, and a number of things involving testing, both with USDA and I’m also working on it for the VA.

George Knapp
Vilsack, I was gonna ask you about him because you know, he’s a democrat, so you can talk to him, but he’s pro big ag, pro big meat, he’s been very supportive of the sort of the whole factory farming kind of operations, you think he can make some headway?

Rep. Dina Titus
Well, I hope so. I think he’ll listen, I know him personally, we’re gonna present a very compelling case. So I’m optimistic about it. We know what we’re up against. These folks have a lot of money and make a lot of arguments, kind of like the Cattlemen’s Association here in Nevada.

George Knapp
A lot of the issues that you’ve had to grapple with animal welfare groups you have had to grapple with in dealing with USDA is transparency. I mean, they just won’t cough up the information, they find new ways to hide information. They won’t give out a lot of statistics on animal testing, how many animals are involved? How much money? Is that a place where you can focus to start with?

Rep. Dina Titus
Well, I absolutely will do that. But you can’t fight a fight if you don’t know what you’re up against. So you need that kind of information. This new administration has promised more transparency, so I’m gonna hold them to that. We’re not only gonna look though, at USDA, other agencies like the VA, we’ve had some success there. But we’re gonna go back after kitty testing and dog testing to be sure that is totally eliminated. We’ve stopped some of the monkey testing and we’ve got some allies and you know, this is not a partisan issue. George, this reaches across party lines. I’ve had Brian Mast who’s a pretty conservative Republican Vern Buchanan from Florida be a co-sponsor so much domestic we can make some headway.

George Knapp
Can you describe what the VA was doing, what kind of animal testing they thought they needed to do?

Rep. Dina Titus
Well it was just horrible. Stress tests causing heart attacks and brain test, I can’t even look at it or read it because it’s so bad. But it’s they say all kinds of new technology, our kind of computer programming can do the very same thing even better. And that comes from medical experts. So this is totally outdated. It’s cruel, it’s inhumane. People just can’t stand the thought of testing on dogs and kitties waste their taxpayer dollars. And plus, it’s not producing the results we need for veterans.

George Knapp 
Back to USDA for a minute. I know there that hundreds of millions of dollars are paid by farmers and ranchers around the country that eventually flows into these animal testing programs. It gets channeled into that. Hass Avocado Board recently voted that they’re not going to allow their money to flow into that. I think some other big industry players are considering that. Are you involved in that at all?

Rep. Dina Titus
Absolutely. We have introduced legislation to put some checks on those what they call checkoff programs, agricultural farmers, ranchers are required to pay into this fund. It’s supposed to be used to promote a certain kind of product, not a certain brand, but a certain product. But it’s been misused in a couple of ways. Not only does it go for animal testing that we think is inhumane, I’m very glad that avocado folks quit doing that. But it’s also being used to lobby and that’s illegal to when they used to lobby members of Congress on certain kinds of policy that may or may not be in the best interest of people beyond a narrow agricultural group.

George Knapp
I’m glad the avocado board did that. I can’t imagine what animal testing would need to be done to protect avocados or help that industry out.

Rep. Dina Titus
Exactly. It was a high intensity diet for speeding that sort of thing. So it’s just not necessary.

George Knapp 
I’d like to talk about wild horses, an issue you and I have talked about for at least 20 years or so. Seems like the last few years, we’re almost a race to see if they can round up every single horse left alive on the public range. Is it too soon to expect some sort of a policy change under the new administration? Is there going to be some kind of review?

Rep. Dina Titus
Yes, we saw under Trump a thinning of the herd. We saw him trying to deregulate so they could use horses to sell internationally for meat. Rounding up just everything you can imagine to get rid of those wild horses. We’re gonna back off of that. I’m very excited to have Deb Haaland as the head of the Department of Interior. She is a personal friend. She’s a westerner, Native American, appreciates these icons of the West. She co sponsored my legislation to increase funding for the wild horse program, which we got an additional $14 million. So she’s gonna be very receptive, I think, to a change in policy.

George Knapp
That program has been such a mess for so long, it’s all they want to do is round them up and stick them somewhere and pay their buddies to take care of them. But would you think that there would be room to consider something like sanctuaries like what Madalyn Pickens did, or putting horses back on the 10s of millions of acres where they’d been zeroed out to make room for cattle?

Rep. Dina Titus
Well, you pay subsidies to farmers to not grow crops, you know, not grow tobacco. We could look at subsidies for farmers here, or ranchers to put horses on their ranches. I think you just have to think outside the box. Some of the reproductive issues have been controversial birth control for the herds, but I think you need to look at that as well.

George Knapp 
I’ve heard from a lot of the animal welfare groups, the Animal Wellness Action folks, the Humane Society, they had an act some years ago called the ROAM (Restore Our American Mustangs) act, the scuttlebutt is that they want to put you front and center of that effort. Has anybody approached you?

Rep. Dina Titus
Well, they, I have a lot of friends in that community and they’re always wanting to send me out to do something on this issue. And I have always been willing to because I care so so much about it. I don’t have any parts of rural Nevada in my district, but I think the little children who live here need to be able to go out there and see these wild horses and burros so we’ll be leading that I also I work with a group called White Coat Waste, which is involved in the testing issue. So we’ll be doing that and humane society got 100% A plus record with them. So people know to come to me for animal issues, and I’ll be glad to lead the charge.

George Knapp 
A larger question about public lands. You know, the last four years have been really good for the extractive industries oil and gas and coal and mining, environmental standards were obliterated or ignored. All systems go for, like squeezing private profits out of public lands. What changes do you expect that Nevadans would notice on public lands and how they’re managed?

Rep. Dina Titus
Well, we haven’t had anybody appointed to head the BLM yet. But I’m looking forward to see who that is. I think we’ll have some input in that. Also, the whole department of interior was just stripped of people who are professionals who work there, so many people left. And then when they moved the BLM to Cory Gardner’s district, just hoping to help him in the election, which it didn’t, many many people retired and left the agency and we lost that expertise. So you’re gonna find that that agency will become more robust. So we can process some of these forms that have been going through or claims and be more engaged. You’ve already seen the rolling back of through executive order some of those regulations that Trump either undid or put in place that allow mining or extraction of oil off of public lands. And there was an attempt when they tried to shrink some of the monuments and we didn’t have it at Gold Butte but you saw it at Bears Ears. Maybe we can go back to what they were originally intended. But we won’t see any shrinking under the new administration.

George Knapp
I was just thinking, as you said about the movement of BLM out west, although senior people all that years of experience, they just went away. They didn’t want to move halfway across country. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to rebuild that. I mean, the BLM was always troubled at its best.

Rep. Dina Titus
Right, exactly. Right. And, and the different offices throughout the state varied from north to south to rural, so maybe we can get some consistency with a new director. And hopefully, it’ll be somebody from the west who understands our issues.

George Knapp
You mentioned briefly about dog fighting, chicken, rooster fighting rings, there have been several big busts lately. It’s hard to believe that that still exists in our country. But do you expect to be involved in that fight again?

Rep. Dina Titus
Yes, we want to make that a federal offense. So we already got it here in Nevada. That’s how they were able to go after these people. I was so glad to see it. But what a horror story. All those roosters and little cages put out there to fight with razors on their legs. And they’re still down fighting too. So we’ve just got to stay ever alert. Another reason I care so much about this issue is I think the way people treat animals is a reflection of how they treat other people.

George Knapp 
Neither one are very good right now. One last question. So Titus-watchers are wondering if you might still be offered a job by the Biden administration. I mean, you’re in such a great position in Congress. Now you have seniority, you’re well known or respected, you’d have to be a really good job, I would think, for you to leave anywhere.

Rep. Dina Titus 
Thank you for saying that. George. I’m happy to serve the people of District one. That’s the best district in the country. We’ll see. We’ll see where I’m called. But I’m not anxious to leave because we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We have to get through this virus pandemic, and then get our economy going again, because a lot of people here in Southern Nevada are still hurting.

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