Thursday, January 17, 2013

Animal rights groups, federal agencies under attack in court

Just on the heels of a $9.3 million settlement paid by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the defendant’s vow to pursue continuing legal action against several other so-called animal rights groups, a Roswell, N.M. meat company brought charges against the USDA.

Last August we talked about HSUS (Humane Society of the U.S.) and their lawsuit against Feld Entertainment, Inc., the producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus. The suit claimed mistreatment of circus elephants. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA) was a co-litigant in the action, along with four other animal rights groups: the Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA; and an individual, Tom Rider.

Feld Entertainment vigorously riposted. Turning the table on the animal rights groups by counter-suing, they alleged “…a litany of charges ranging from bribery to money laundering to racketeering.” Feld’s attorneys had done their homework and easily put the groups both on the defensive and in a very bad light.

Though the bumbling but well-paid HSUS/ASPCA attorneys moved to have the second case dismissed, District of Columbia Federal judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the case must proceed under the RICO Statutes – statutes designed to combat Mafia gangsters, among others.

On December 28, 2012, Feld announced that “…the company has reached a legal settlement with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in connection with two federal court cases. Under the settlement, ASPCA has paid Feld Entertainment $9.3 million to settle all claims related to its part in more than a decade of manufactured litigation that attempted to outlaw elephants in the company’s Ringling Bros. ® Circus. This settlement applies only to the ASPCA.  Feld Entertainment’s legal proceedings, including its claims for litigation abuse and racketeering, will continue against the remaining defendants and the attorneys involved.”

Meanwhile, as we await details of the litigation to come, another privately owned company has filed suit against the USDA for not acting on a request for inspections that would allow the company to resume slaughter of domestic horses and resume horse meat food service to foreign customers.

Valley Meat Company of Roswell alleges that USDA inaction on the company’s application has cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent months.” In addition to the USDA, the suit names Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, and Animal Protection of New Mexico as plaintiffs.

At the heart of the issue is whether horses are legally pets or livestock. Lacking a legal determination, congress caved in to emotion-based pressure and withdrew funding for federal inspection of facilities slaughtering horses in 2006, effectively ending U.S. horse slaughter, a practice which had been in place throughout or nation’s history.

Horse prices bottomed out, leaving may hobby farmers in a bad situation. They couldn’t sell their horses. Feed costs continued to rise. The economy went into meltdown. No longer able to afford an expensive hobby, many had to choose between putting the animal down or opening the gate to let the animal fend for itself.

Horse rescue organizations came into being, and with the backing of activist animal rights groups, began pressuring local law enforcement to remove horses from their owners and congregate them in shelters. Few shelters were able to adequately care for their horses, leading to malnourishment and starvation.

In 2011 congress removed the bar preventing USDA inspectors in facilities where horses were slaughtered. Valley Meat Company, losing money as drought reduced cattle numbers to the smallest U.S. cow-herd in more than 60 years, decided to apply for permits to resume horse slaughter. There is both an abundance of horses (adequate supply) and a large foreign market for horse meat (adequate demand).

Company owner Rick del los Santos says the USDA encouraged the application but told him he would have to stop slaughtering cattle to qualify for horse slaughter permits. del los Santos complied, ceasing all operations and shuttering the plant. The USDA then failed to move forward with the permits, effectively stonewalling the process.

del los Santos said that in addition to animal rights groups, even the Governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, has vowed to oppose it.

Despite the emotional outcry, other organizations, including many horse rescue agencies, livestock associations and the American Quarter Horse Association, support a return to domestic horse slaughter. Increasing horse abandonment, artificially elevated horse prices, and the high cost of veterinary care – including euthanasia – are all concerns.

del los Santos said “the number of U.S. horses sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled since domestic horse slaughter ceased, and a return to horse slaughter for food will be more humane than the existing policies in the rest of North America, especially in Mexico.”
Valley Meat Company is still waiting for the USDA to move forward. According to federal court official, the agency has until the end of January to respond. In the mean time, the lawsuit will proceed.

Animal rights activist groups and federal regulators seem to be under increasing attack by a public quickly tiring of scams, excuses, legal parsing, and an increasing tax and regulation burden. This backlash seems to be prompted by new and non-traditional media, which has taken up the burden of providing objective news to consumers, a product the major media can no longer deliver.

Such incremental gains bode well for the nation. As Mark Twain said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

But it’s not impossible.

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