Of all federal cabinet secretaries, none impact the lives of animals more than the Secretary of Agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its agencies oversee the enforcement of laws and regulations that impact nearly 10 billion animals raised for food in America every year. The USDA also enforces laws and regulations that protect vulnerable animals in puppy mills, zoos, and research labs, and helps bring animal fighting to a long overdue end.
Given this enormous responsibility, we hope President Trump’s recent choice for Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, prioritizes the well-being of these animals and builds upon recent animal welfare gains at the USDA.
These positive steps include the improvement of animal welfare policies and their enforcement at USDA-Agriculture Research Service facilities across the country (following a 2015 New York Times expose revealing farm animal suffering at the USDA’s U.S. Meat Animal Research Center), supporting and implementing strong regulations to finally put an end to the cruel practice of horse soring, and this week’s encouraging release of a long-awaited set of animal welfare standards for farm animals raised under the organic label.
The organic regulations in particular would raise the standards for farm animal treatment to a level these animals deserve and to a degree most consumers want and expect. In recent studies, 97% of organic consumers supported requirements that give animals sufficient outdoor space, which is consistent with these standards. Overall, 74% of Americans have said they would like large food producers to raise animals more humanely.
We appreciate Mr. Perdue’s commitment to animal welfare during his terms as Governor of Georgia, including efforts to make dog fighting a felony and to outlaw the use of gas chambers by animal shelters. We now look forward to working with him and the Department of Agriculture on a variety of other animal welfare touchpoints, including raising the living standards of dogs at commercial breeding facilities, giving meaningful definitions to animal food product labeling claims, ensuring animal welfare at slaughter facilities with thorough inspections, and continuing to halt the establishment of horse slaughter plants in the U.S. – which are opposed by 80% of Americans.
The connections between people and pets are deep and cherished, as are the many ways society benefits from animals of all kinds. So the least we can do for vulnerable animals – especially those of us who wield considerable influence over their welfare – is to always value their lives and qualities of life, as well as work collaboratively toward a future in which industries never victimize or cruelly exploit animals in the name of commerce.
As the nation’s longest-standing and leading animal welfare organization that intervenes on behalf of animals in crisis, we stand ready to help, guide, and work with Mr. Perdue and his staff toward our mutual humane goals and responsibilities.
Originally published in The Hill.
Matthew Bershadker is President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).