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Anti-animal agriculture concerns raised in push to make animal abuse a felony

By Joel Penhorwood

A new bill — the PACT Act — has been introduced in Congress that looks to make animal abuse a felony — a more serious punishment than the current state-by-state laws. Livestock farmers in general continue to be at the forefront of animal welfare, but this latest federal legislation is drawing some questions. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is pushing for the measure.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of communications for the non-profit Animal Agriculture Alliance, said the PACT Act seems to have animal agriculture as a target.

“You might think what’s wrong with that, we’re all opposed to animal cruelty and that’s absolutely true,” she said. “All of us in animal agriculture take animal welfare very seriously and want to see animals treated well and raised ethically, but we have some concerns with what HSUS would consider cruel, because they are very opposed to the existence of animal agriculture, certainly to large-scale modern practices, so we have some concerns with what this might shape into.”

PACT stands for Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture and the act looks to prosecute for abuse involving crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling animals and sexually exploiting them.

Thompson-Weeman said the open-ended buzz words bring up concerns.

“One of the words mentioned is burning. So is dehorning going to be considered cruelty and a federal felony under this proposed legislation? There is also the word suffocation used. Well sometimes CO2 euthanasia is used in the poultry and pork industries. Could that be considered suffocation and now become a felony under this proposed legislation? There are certainly some words that we find potentially alarming,” she said.

The question has also been raised about the Act’s duplicity with each state already having their own animal-abuse laws on the books. The Animal Agriculture Alliance has a breakdown of state-by-state laws at this link.

Exceptions are built into the proposed legislation for veterinarians and hunting, but notably not for agriculture or animal research — something that differs from much of current state legislation.

“A lot of those state legislations do consider animal agriculture to be an exemption, because again there are things that might happen to an animal when we’re raising them for food that wouldn’t be done to a pet. For example, we don’t slaughter dogs and cats for food here in the United States. There are things that would be considered cruel if we were doing them for no reason, but because we’re doing them in the pursuit of raising animals for food in a healthy, sustainable way, they are obviously not considered cruel. Again, there is a lot of debate among activist groups about what they would consider cruel and from their perspective, raising animals for food is inherently cruel,” Thompson-Weeman said.

HSUS is known to back such efforts with an anti-animal agriculture agenda. The PACT Act, introduced by congressmen Ted Deutch and Vern Buchanan, a Democrat and Republican from Florida, has also been endorsed by the National Sheriffs Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Thompson-Weeman said this serves as a unique opportunity for farmers to share with consumers how livestock are cared for.

“It is very important to be proactive in these conversations. If we can go to someone before they’ve heard something when we’re not reacting to an issue, it’s much more effective. So certainly now is a great time opportunity to do outreach in your community,” she said. “We have a lot of new legislators that have been elected in last fall’s election, so if you are engaged in lobbying or even if you just want to have a relationship with an elected official, this is an excellent time to reach out and build those relationships. Because when they see these bills come across their desk or they get asked to sponsor things, if they know they have a farmer they can call and get the real deal, that can really help us influence what goes on.”

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