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Cohen Leads Congressional Delegation to Stop Taxpayer-funded ‘Abuse, Inhumane Research’ at U.S. MARC

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 12, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a Humane Society “Humane Champion,” is leading a delegation of 43 members of Congress in an effort to stop taxpayer-funded animal abuse and inhumane testing at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska. According to a recent New York Times exposé, MARC’s profit-motivated research programs have caused great suffering to its animals, which have been subjected to illness, pain, and premature death for decades. Congressman Cohen is also a cosponsor of Representative Earl Blumenauer’s AWARE Act, which would close the loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that exempts MARC from adhering to federal animal welfare standards.

“The Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska has been operated at taxpayer expense for the purpose of increasing production and profits for the meat industry, benefits that have been questionable at best, even by many within the meat industry,”said Congressman Cohen.  “Taxpayer dollars have been used in ways most taxpayers would abhor.  Animals have needlessly suffered and died in ways that are unspeakable.  We cannot as a government, as a nation, stand idly by and allow this to continue.  Our humanity is diminished when we not only allow but actively sanction and financially support such abuse.”

The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 was aimed at preventing animal abuse, but exempted farm animals researched for the benefit of the agriculture industry. This loophole has allowed the MARC to continue and expand its research programs, which have virtually no oversight and incredibly lax welfare standards that have already led to the easily preventable starvation of more than 6,500 animals and unnecessary disease and injury to other animals.

“People are becoming more aware and concerned each day about where their food comes from and that meat and other animal products be obtained in a humane manner.”  Congressman Cohen continued, “42 other members of Congress have joined me in asking Secretary Vilsack to immediately stop the research done at the MARC facility.  It is my hope that Secretary will take immediate action.”

To address these and other problems, in a letter sent this week Congressman Cohen and 42 other Members of Congress have urged Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to halt research at MARC, review their procedures, and implement new animal welfare procedures that voluntarily comply with the Animal Welfare Act. Joining Congressman Cohen’s call to immediately halt MARC research until the implementation of new animal welfare protocols are:

Representatives Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Madeleine Bordallo(Guam-AL), Michael Capuano (MA-07), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), David Cicilline (RI-01),Katherine Clark (MA-05), John Conyers (MI-13), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Ted Deutch (FL-21),Eliot Engel (NY-16), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Jim Himes (CT-04), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Eddie Bernince Johnson (TX-30), Jim Langevin (RI-02), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Nita Lowey (NY-17), Stephen Lynch (MA-18), Carolyn Maloney(NY-12), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Jim McNerney (CA-09), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Bill Pascrell (NJ-09), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Charlie Rangel (NY-13), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Linda Sánchez (CA-38), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adam Schiff (CA-28), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Mark Takano (CA-41), Dina Titus (NV-01), Chris Van Hollen (MD-08), Peter Welch (VT-AL),Frederica Wilson (FL-24), and John Yarmuth (KY-03).

The text of Congressman Cohen’s letter follows, while a pdf copy is available here:

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

As you are aware, on January 19, 2015, the New York Times published the article, “U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit.” The article highlights the experimentation done on farm animals at taxpayer expense at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Cows, sheep and pigs have undergone torturous experimentation and have suffered painful, often fatal, neglect including starvation. The research in question has been done to maximize profits for agribusiness but at a terrible cost and with no real benefit. The experimentation has been for naught and the animals have suffered and died needlessly. The taxpayers have paid nearly $200 million between 2006 and 2015 for research at the MARC facility, research done for the benefit of private entities but which has not even produced meaningful and useful results.

While we appreciate that you have directed USDA staff to create and deliver an updated Animal Welfare Strategy plan within 60 days, we urge you not to wait to stop the research at MARC. The American public is increasingly aware of where its food comes from and is concerned about animal treatment, especially in the production of food.  The call for more humanely produced food becomes louder each day. We are writing to urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to immediately stop animal testing at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska until a full review is completed and new animal welfare protocols are implemented.

Further, we are asking the USDA to voluntarily comply with Animal Welfare Act standards as has been done by many other U.S. Government departments and agencies such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services, which includes the Centers for Disease Control and The National Institutes of Health.

We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

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Press Releases

Comptroller Audit Uncovers Theft of Morristown Animal Shelter Funds by Employee

Press release from the Office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson; May 22, 2013:

An employee of the Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society altered receipts to conceal the theft of $51,130 from the organization’s adoption fees and other funds, an audit by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigation has revealed.

Receipts in the humane society’s computer system were backdated – up to 11 years before the installation of the computer system – so they would not be included in daily collection reports. That meant money from adoption fees and other sources didn’t appear in the organization’s records. Investigators concluded that money was stolen by the employee, who was later fired.

Investigative auditors reviewed records from July 1, 2009 through October 31, 2011 after Hamblen County officials discovered the altered receipts from collections were not deposited into the humane society’s bank accounts. The stolen funds should have been used to operate the animal shelter, enforce animal control ordinances and conduct animal cruelty investigations.

The employee involved had been responsible for gathering collections, matching collections with receipts and delivering those collections to the bookkeeper for deposit. During questioning by investigators, the employee admitted to backdating one receipt to “borrow” $120. The employee refused to speak with investigators after being fired.

Investigators also found weaknesses in the humane society’s accounting and record-keeping procedures, which made the theft easier to conceal.

“It is very important that there is an appropriate amount of oversight when public funds are being accepted, recorded and spent or deposited,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Putting too many responsibilities in the hands of one individual without that kind of oversight can create situations that are ripe for fraud or abuse. It is very unfortunate in this case that money that could have been used to help stray and abused animals in Hamblen County isn’t available for that purpose because of this.”

The Comptroller’s Division of Investigation has forwarded copies of its report and supporting information to the Office of the District Attorney, Third Judicial District.

To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/

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Press Releases

Veto of ‘Ag-Gag’ Bill Praised by Animal Welfare Champions

Press release from the Humane Society of the United States; May 13, 2013:

(May 13, 2013) NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the anti-whistleblower “ag-gag” bill, SB 1248/HB 1191, after hearing from thousands of Tennesseans urging the veto and a report deeming the bill constitutionally suspect by the Tennessee Attorney General.

Animal protection groups, First Amendment advocates and newspaper editorial boards across Tennessee opposed the bill, which would criminalize undercover investigations at agribusiness operations and stables. More than 300 Tennessee clergy also spoke out against the bill, as did several Tennessee celebrities, including Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013. The bill also received national criticism from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who invited Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, on her show to discuss the issue.

Leighann McCollum, Tennessee state director for The HSUS, said: “We thank Gov. Haslam for listening to his constituents and honoring the Constitution by vetoing this recklessly irresponsible legislation that would criminalize the important work of cruelty whistleblowers. By vetoing this bill, the governor is supporting transparency in horse stables and our food system.”

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, added: “It’s the wrong policy to punish the person who exposes cruelty, instead of the person who perpetrates it. We are grateful to Governor Haslam for hearing the clear voice of Tennesseans and ending this debate so emphatically.”

In his statement describing his reasons for vetoing the bill, Gov. Haslam had said: “First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so….Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.”

In 2011, an HSUS investigation into Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell’s stable in Collierville, Tenn., revealed shocking cruelty to horses. The investigator recorded horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and burned with caustic chemicals. As a result of that investigation, a federal grand jury handed down a 52-count criminal indictment and a state grand jury indicted McConnell and two others for 38 counts of criminal animal cruelty.

The crimes at McConnell’s stables would have never come to light had SB 1248/HB 1191 been enacted.

Facts

  • The HSUS placed a full-page advertisement in The Tennessean that includes quotes from ten Tennessee newspapers editorializing against SB1248.
  • Pacelle sent a letter to Gov. Haslam stating that if SB1248 is signed into law, “it may indeed backfire, and result in more public mistrust and skepticism about the workings of the Tennessee walking horse industry at a time when it is already suffering a drastic decline in popularity due to the stigma of soring.”
  • The HSUS and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville District 13, screened a television commercial at the state capitol showing footage from the undercover investigation into the Tennessee walking horse industry and calling on the governor to veto SB1248.
  • Of the 11 states that have introduced such ag-gag legislation in 2013, none have passed it.