This quarter, I wanted to outline a few animal-related bills that have been recently introduced. They are all concerned with the exploitation and farming of animals, both wild and domesticated. The response to each of these bills will likely be reflective of the way that domesticated farmed animals are perceived, compared to the farmed-but-still -wild bears and minks, who are the subjects of the first two acts below.
The Bear Poaching Elimination (BPE) Act
It’s not clear from the name, but this bill seeks to stop the worldwide trade of bear viscera, which in the United States is procured through poaching. Globally, bears are kept in cages and their bile extracted to be sold for use in traditional Asian medicine. Bear farming started in China in the 1980s, and today thousands of bears are farmed for their bile across Asia. An acid found in the bile has been proven to treat liver disease and gallstones, although it’s sold for many nonproven uses as well. The acid in bear bile is also artificially reproduced, so the farming or poaching of bears is not necessary to source the acid needed to treat gallstones etc. If the bill passes, it would prohibit “the importation, exportation, and interstate trade of bear viscera and items, products, or substances containing, or labeled or advertised as containing, bear viscera.” The demand for bile from wild bears comes from the belief that it is more effective than that of farmed bears.
This bill calls for the total elimination of mink farming in the United States. Specifically, should the bill pass it would be “unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase American mink (Neovison vison) raised in captivity for fur production, whether dead or alive. “Although the US isn’t the center of the mink fur industry, every year before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been established that minks are vectors for COVID-19, with variants of the virus proliferating on mink farms in the US and Europe, and thousands of mink-to-human transmissions recorded.
This bill comes after over 15 European countries banned mink farming in the midst of the pandemic, including Denmark and the Netherlands. I’m hopeful that it will also start a larger conversation about the intensive confinement of farmed animals—the spread of zoonotic disease is certainly not limited to mink farms, and many researchers believe that the intensive confinement of pigs could lead to a major disease outbreak.
That leads us right into the final bill for this post:
The Pigs in Gestation Stalls (PIGS) Act
This bipartisan bill was introduced in the house in March of this year, and has been referred to the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture. Banning gestation crates on pig farms would eliminate one of the cruelest practices in modern agriculture—confining pregnant pigs to narrow crates that prohibit them from turning around, laying on their sides, taking more than one step forward, and having contact with other pigs. Eliminating gestation crates would force farmers to find other ways to care for their pregnant pigs. The PIGS Act necessitates 24 square feet of space per pig—undoubtedly an improvement, but 6×4 feet for an adult large-breed pig isn’t exactly a generous space allowance. The bill does outline a plan to provide funding to pig farmers to implement the changes, which will prioritize “independent” producers. Regardless, industry groups are predictably pushing back against this bill, on the grounds that it would be financially ruinous to accommodate the changes outlined above. National Hog Farmer reports that the cost per pig to make these changes would amount to about $10/pig, and that “less than 4% of current pork production can comply with the law”.
This bill is being considered as the National Pork Producers Council is headed to the Supreme Court to argue that a similar law in California is unconstitutional. California’s gestation crate ban applies to all pork products sold in the state, not just in-state farmers, and would require significant changes to farms across the country. Oral arguments begin on October 11th, and the impact of the decision will be major—states are increasingly enacting animal welfare laws for farmed animals that could impact out-of-state producers.
Author: Anna Balser – ASI Policy Volunteer. Anna holds a MS in Anthrozoology from Canisius College, where she primarily focused her studies on sanctuary regulation, public policy, and animal ethics. After living on the west coast for the past seven years, Anna recently relocated to upstate New York, where she is the Education Manager at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary. She loves helping people question their assumptions about farmed animals and think deeply about interspecies relationships, always with the goal of building a more compassionate world. She is thrilled to be working on the Policy Corner this year.