Parker: Animal rights — and humanity — get a boost in farm bill

Provisions in the farm bill the House is set to vote on will end cruelty to farm animals and pets.

By Kathleen Parker

For people who support the humane treatment of animals, including those that end up on America’s dinner plates, passage this week of the farm bill would be a gift befitting the season, and a grand bipartisan gesture to close out the year.

The Senate sent back an earlier version of the bill, now expected to cost taxpayers $867 billion over 10 years, back to the House with amendments in June. Now that lawmakers have reached agreement, the bill is expected reach a floor vote this week and travel to the White House for the president’s signature.

If passed, the farm bill will do more for animal rights — and therefore for humanity — than any previous legislation in recent history. In large part, the pro-animal provisions are thanks to the unstoppable Wayne Pacelle, former CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and now part of Animal Wellness Action, a political action committee he co-created after leaving HSUS following allegations of inappropriate behavior. Also due credit are Pacelle’s former HSUS colleagues Marty Irby, now Animal Wellness Action’s executive director, and Holly Gann, the PAC’s director of federal affairs.

Whatever one thinks of the circumstances surrounding Pacelle’s resignation from HSUS, no one would argue that he wasn’t the hardest worker in the office and around the globe as he tried to reduce the number of suffering animals, whether among Africa’s wildlife, in puppy mills or in large-scale agricultural operations. (Disclaimer: One of my sons once worked for HSUS.) Driven by what Pacelle views as humans’ moral duty to protect animals, he hasn’t remained idle post-departure. Three reforms included in the farm bill bear his fingerprints and are testament to his dedication.

One provision is a crackdown on dogfighting and cockfighting in the five U.S. territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Although animal fighting is already outlawed on the U.S. mainland, such activities are still permitted in the territories and are typically defended as cultural expressions. Phooey. It’s long past time to acknowledge that cultural equivalency is a lie and all forms of animal cruelty, whether as entertainment or cultivation for human consumption, should be outlawed.

Another reform is a ban on dog and cat meat in the U.S., not that anyone other than a few soulless mercenaries (and a few million coyotes) much care. Alas, there are those who do kill dogs and cats and then sell the meat in a small yet horrific underground market.

Globally, more than 30 million dogs and cats are victims of food purveyors and others who celebrate their consumption. Notorious is China’s annual Dog Meat Festival where man’s best friend is slaughtered and consumed to celebrate the summer solstice. Now, there’s some science for you. Why not sacrifice their first-born to the Man in the Moon?

We who love our animals as nearly equal to (and sometimes greater than) family members can’t conceive of such an atrocity, nor should we try. For now, we can be grateful that the U.S. is poised to put the rest of the world on notice that we’ll pursue a global ban on the consumption of dogs and cats.

The bill also includes a provision — or rather a commitment — to add kennels and other animal shelters at domestic violence centers, reasoning that pets are also at risk in violent households. Moreover, abusers will often use pets as leverage to keep a spouse or partner in place, according to Animal Wellness Action.

What’s clear with the farm bill is that Washington is recognizing through legislation that America’s relationship with its animals, both wild and domestic, is shifting to norms that the recently departed President George H.W. Bush would describe as both kinder and gentler. Additionally, as Pacelle wrote in his book “The Humane Economy,” kindness pays dividends in a culture of increasingly enlightened consumers.

Perhaps the most important feature of the bill, not to exclude legalization of industrial hemp used in CBD oil, is the elimination of the so-called King Amendment, about which I’ve written before. Named for Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the amendment would have allowed states to scrap regulations banning such cruel practices as confining an animal so that it can’t move or turn around — ever.

Anyone who would seek to undo this minimal reduction of animal torture, for that it is, ought to be ashamed of himself. Those who vote “yay” on the farm bill deserve rose petals at their feet and a sustained Bravo! And maybe a bow-wow here and a meow-meow there.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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