Trump Administration Eliminates Animal Welfare Rules

The Trump administration officially withdrew an Obama-era rule that would set higher standards for the treatment of animals whose meat could be sold as organic.

The rule, created under the United States Department of Agriculture, would require poultry to be housed in spaces large enough to move freely and fully stretch their wings. Livestock would be required to have some access to outdoor space year round.

The USDA officially overturned the rule Monday, after delaying its implementation three times. It was first created in 2016 and built on seven years of deliberation.

“The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective,” said USDA Marketing and Regulatory Program Undersecretary Greg Ibach in a statement. “The organic industry’s continued growth domestically and globally shows that consumers trust the current approach that balances consumer expectations and the needs of organic producers and handlers.”

Tougher rules would limit participation in the voluntary National Organic Program, Ibach argued, and said the onus is on Congress to regulate animal welfare.

The current language governing what can be certified organic is clear on some points. Animals must be raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, and their feed must also be organic without GMOs or unapproved synthetic pesticides. But there is less clarity around animal welfare and living conditions. Many hens and cows live in the same or similar conditions as their non-organic counterparts, with no room to move and only screened-in porches for “outside” access. The USDA estimates that about half of all organic eggs come from hens living in total confinement.

The rule was poised to hurt large-scale organic egg farms that house up to 180,000 birds in one barn, said the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which represents organic farmers. Some of these farms house as many as three egg-laying hens per square foot with no time spent outdoors.

In contrast, Organic Valley, one of the most popular medium-scale organic producers in the United States, provides each bird with five square feet of space. In Europe, birds are given 43 square feet.

The Trump administration just withdrew a rule that would give poultry more space. Getty Images

The association says that this bill hurts smaller egg producers that provide better conditions for their poultry, while benefiting the large-scale, industrial farms that make up just 5 percent of all producers.

“Consumers trust that the Organic seal stands for a meaningful difference in production practices. It makes no sense that the Trump Administration would pursue actions that could damage a marketplace that is giving American farmers a profitable alternative, creating jobs, and improving the economies of our rural areas,” the OTA said in a statement responding to the withdrawal.

The proposed rule drew 47,000 comments, but only 28 supported its withdrawal, according to data compiled by the OTA.

“This is representative of the influence lobbyists and election money has at the Trump administration’s USDA,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, which provides research on organic agriculture and has long been critical of USDA standards.

“They’re servicing large, conventional egg producers at the diservice of small and medium-sized organic farms,” he said. These large companies recognize the growing popularity of organic products and want to trick consumers into purchasing their own by obfuscating the way they treat their animals, Kastel argued.

Six out of 10 American say that it’s highly important that animals used to produce organic food are raised on farms with higher standards of animal welfare. More than half of Americans say it’s highly important that animals used to produce organic food are able to go outside and move freely.

Organic meat and dairy sales totaled $47 billion in 2016 and the organic egg market grew by 12.7 percent annually between 2007 and 2016. About 30 percent of American households now buy organic, according to Packaged Facts, a consumer research company.

[Newsweek]

 

 

Trump to consider elephant trophy imports on ‘case-by-case’ basis

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced last week that it will now consider all permits for importing elephant trophies from African nations on a “case-by-case basis,” breaking from President Trump’s earlier promises to maintain an Obama-era ban on the practice.

In a formal memorandum issued on Thursday, FWS said it will withdraw its 2017 Endangered Species Act (ESA) findings for trophies of African elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia, “effective immediately.”

The memo said “the findings are no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies.”

In its place, FWS will instead “grant or deny permits to import a sport-hunted trophy on a case-by-case basis.”

FWS said it will still consider the information included in the ESA findings, as well as science-based risk assessments of the species’ vulnerability, when evaluating each permit request.

The service also announced it is withdrawing a number of previous ESA findings, which date back to 1995, related to trophies of African elephants, bontebok and lions from multiple African countries.

The decision to withdraw the FWS findings followed a D.C. Circuit Court decision in December that found fault with the initial Obama-era rule, which banned importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.

“In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species. We are withdrawing our countrywide enhancement findings for a range of species across several countries,” a spokesperson for FWS said in a statement. “In their place, the Service intends to make findings for trophy imports on an application-by-application basis.”

A federal appeals court ruled at the end of last year that the Obama administration did not follow the right procedures when it drafted its ban on the imports. The court also said the FWS should have gone through the extensive process of proposing a regulation, inviting public comment and making the regulation final when it made determinations in 2014 and 2015 that elephant trophies cannot be brought into the country.

The agency used the same procedures as the Obama administration for its ESA determination in 2017 that led to reopening African elephant imports to the U.S. in November.

At the time, a FWS spokesperson said the reversal “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”

Following the fall announcement to overturn the ban, the Trump administration faced immense backlash, which played a role in leading the president to denounce elephant hunting and promise to re-establish the ban.

Trump in February called the administration’s initial decision to overturn the Obama-era ban “terrible.”

In an interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, Trump said he had decided to officially turn the order around.

“I didn’t want elephants killed and stuffed and have the tusks brought back into this [country] and people can talk all they want about preservation and all of the things that they’re saying where money goes towards well, money was going in that case, going to a government which was probably taking the money, OK?” Trump said.

Despite the president’s tweets and interviews, however, FWS and the Interior Department remained tight-lipped as to the status of the ban. Numerous requests for information to FWS from The Hill over several months were referred to Interior and left unanswered.

“The president has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go,” the FWS spokesperson said of the new memorandum. “Unfortunately, since aspects of the import permitting program for trophies are the focus of ongoing litigation, the Department is unable to comment about specific next steps at this time.”

Nine days before FWS added the reversal to the Federal Register, the Interior Department announced that it was establishing an International Wildlife Conservation Council to “advise the Secretary of the Interior on the benefits that international recreational hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation.”

Interior Department Spokeswoman Heather Swift said Tuesday that Zinke and the President’s positions remain unchanged.

“The recent FWS posting on the website does not break any promises. In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species,” she said.

The council will hold its first meeting next week on March 16.

[The Hill]

Trump administration lifts ban on importing heads of hunted elephants

The Trump administration confirmed Thursday it lifted a ban that had prohibited hunters from importing trophies of elephants killed in two African nations, reversing a 2014 rule put in place by the Obama White House.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told NBC News that the agency had “determined that the hunting and management programs for African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” the spokesperson said.

The reversal will apply to elephants hunted in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2018 and to elephants hunted in Zambia in 2016, 2017 and 2018 “for applications that meet all other applicable permitting requirements,” the agency spokesperson said.

The move overturns a 2014 rule implemented by former President Barack Obama that banned hunters from bringing the trophy heads of elephants they’d killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the U.S.

The African Bush Elephant is currently listed as endangered, under the Endangered Species Act, but a provision in the law allows for the import of trophies if it can be proved that hunting the animals contributes to conservation efforts.

The statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited conservation “enhancement findings” in reaching its decision but did not elaborate on what those findings were.

The decision by the agency was first reported Wednesday by ABC News.

Zimbabwe and Zambia issue annual permits allowing foreign hunters to kill animals, like elephants, buffalo and lions, saying the practice allows the nations to raise money for conservation. The Obama White House, however, introduced the initial ban on trophy imports in 2014 after the population of the African elephants fell.

Animal rights groups blasted the Trump administration’s move.

“Let’s be clear: elephants are on the list of threatened species; the global community has rallied to stem the ivory trade; and now, the U.S. government is giving American trophy hunters the green light to kill them,” Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a statement posted on his blog.

“What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive cannot kill elephants in order to use or sell their parts to make a living, but that it’s just fine for rich Americans to slay the beasts for their tusks to keep as trophies?” he added.

Among those who could benefit from the rule change are President Donald Trump’s adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, who are known big game hunters. Photographs of the pair surfaced in 2012 showing the two men posing with the carcasses of several dead animals from a hunting trip they’d taken a year earlier in Zimbabwe.

[NBC News]

Reality

The Trump administration’s decision to loosen restrictions around the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia has turned attention back to the president’s family’s own connection to the controversial sport.

Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump are prolific big-game hunters and during the 2016 campaign, images re-emerged of the pair on a 2011 hunting trip posing with animals they had killed on safari, including an elephant, a buffalo and a leopard.