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2017 Agriculture Appropriations Bill Includes Favorable HPA Enforcement Language



By Jeffrey Howard

The House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2017 Agriculture Appropriations bill.  The proposed legislation funds agriculture and food programs and services, including animal and plant health programs.  The budget for APHIS, which is charged with enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, is contained within this bill.

The proposed legislation includes language that is critical of the efforts of APHIS to work with the industry on enforcement of the HPA.  The language also speaks directly to the current efforts of the USDA and APHIS to bypass Congress to change the HPA through the rule-making process.

The specific language includes, “Horse Protection Act. - The Committee has continually encouraged APHIS to work more closely with stakeholders pursuant to the Horse Protection Act. Specifically, the agency has been directed to provide greater and more consistent transparency, to work more closely with stakeholders on rules and regulations, and to move away from the subjective nature of current inspection methods in favor of objective measurements. The Committee is disappointed that the agency has not worked in good faith to address the Committee’s requests, which are intended to further the dual goals of the Horse Protection Act—to care for animals engaged in the trade and promote the industry in a safe manner. The Committee has become aware that APHIS intends to modify regulations associated with Horse Protection Act through rule-making actions and notes that any substantive changes to the statute or its intent should be made by Congress through the legislative process.”

The language in the proposed legislation also points out the need to move away from subjective inspection protocols and institute more objective inspection methods.  The industry has repeatedly pointed this fact out and supports the proposed bills by Rep. Scott DesJarlais and Senator Lamar Alexander that include objective inspection protocols.  The Humane Society of the United States and USDA both oppose the bills and have worked jointly to promote the legislation written by HSUS, the PAST Act, and introduced most recently by Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida and Senator Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire.

The original PAST Act was introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield, whose wife Connie works for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, an arm of the HSUS.  The close connection of Whitfield’s staff and the HSUS and his wife led Whitfield to face ethics charges by the House Ethics Committee.  Whitfield has since announced he won’t seek reelection this year.

In addition, HSUS supported current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s wife, Christie, in her bid for election in the House of Representatives in Iowa.  The HSUS spent over $750,000 trying to defeat Steve King in his campaign against Christie Vilsack with negative television ads, ads that were eventually pulled because of the false accusations they contained.  The HSUS made a single $1,000 contribution directly to Christie Vilsack, however that contribution was never cashed, seemingly in an effort to avoid the direct conflict of interest for Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack.

The HSUS has been unsuccessful in getting the PAST Act passed through Congress so it is no secret they have asked and pushed Secretary Vilsack and USDA to bypass Congress and pass tenants of the PAST Act through rule-making.  The HSUS previously did the same thing with the Minimum Penalty Protocol, which the industry filed suit against the USDA as a result of the new rule and won in the Fifth Circuit. That rule-making decision cost the USDA over $260,000 in attorneys’ fees that the court mandated they pay to SHOW and Contender Farms.

The Agriculture Appropriations bill totals $21.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $451 million lower than the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $281 million below the President’s budget request.  The release from the committee stated, “The legislation targets funding to programs to provide the most benefit to the American people and the U.S. economy, while reducing funding for inefficient, wasteful, or lower-priority programs and agencies".

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