A new bill would finally grant federal protections for cows, sheep and pigs who are used in meat industry experiments.
"Right now, it's a free-for-all. It's really difficult to find out who is doing this research and where because they don't have to report it publicly," Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States, told The Dodo. "But [under the new legislation] these facilities would have to submit annual reports. It would make it a lot more transparent."
The bill, proposed Thursday by five U.S. representatives, would close a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that exempts farm animals used in these experiments from virtually any basic welfare standards. It would require the three dozen or so federal facilities that experiment on livestock to legally adhere to the AWA regulations.
According to Conlee, the AWA sets standards for daily care, including regulations for feeding, ventilation, sanitation, minimization of pain, veterinary care and employee training. The act also requires that facilities set up small committees to monitor decisions regarding animal care, and it forces them to publicly report animal care.
The proposed bill comes in the wake of an investigation by the New York Times that revealed disturbing animal cruelty at the taxpayer-funded U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a federal livestock research facility in Nebraska. Staff there reportedly left newborn lambs to die in the cold, bred deformed calves and locked pigs in steamers until they died. The story was accompanied by an op-ed titled "Farming Science, Without the Conscience":
The humans who work at the center are not necessarily oblivious to its failings. Some veterinarians and researchers told The Times they were appalled by the suffering and abuse. They should not have their consciences degraded by what is supposed to be beneficial work. Congress founded the center 50 years ago. It should oversee it and reform it - or shut it down.
Conlee says there are about 40 facilities that conduct research on animals for the meat industry in the U.S. The HSUS estimates that from 2006 to 2013, these facilities have received a total of $4.6 billion in government funding, though not all of that went directly to experiments on animals.
The legislation, which has already been praised by animal welfare advocates, was introduced by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; Vern Buchanan, R-Fla.; and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.; and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
The bill does not make any provisions for livestock at factory farms. Cows, sheep and goats (but not birds) at factory farms in the U.S. are protected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that animals "must be slaughtered in a humane manner to prevent needless suffering" - though this standard is often not met.