Animal-friendly laws and regulations are having a moment in the United States.
Late last month, President Joe Biden signed three long-awaited bills into law: a ban on the tiger cub petting and breeding industry, a prohibition on the buying and selling of shark fins, and the FDA Modernization Act 2.0, which lifts requirements to use animal testing in pharmaceutical development, among other things.
Animal welfare appears to be gaining traction at the state and local levels too, with lawmakers increasingly considering restricting animal testing, puppy mills, fur sales, and fur farming. In December, New York became the 10th state to ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals, and the Humane Society of the United States now expects at least five states to introduce similar legislation this year.
“We’re seeing movement on many bills,” says Kathleen Schatzmann, strategic legislative affairs manager at the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “This shows the bipartisan nature of animal protection.”
Last week, two federal agencies also proposed regulations that would enhance protections for wild animals in captivity and some animals in the wild. The drafts are available for public comment through March 10.
Proposed: Tiger King ban 2.0
One proposal published in the Federal Register on January 9 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture could impose new limits on how people can interact with captive wild and exotic animals, effectively expanding the recent legislation that applies to tigers and other big cats.
The USDA is asking members of the public to suggest what kinds of restrictions would be appropriate for different species—from bears and killer whales to “pocket pets” such as sugar gliders—and whether the government should require timely incident reports when, for example, a captive animal escapes or injures someone.
As part of its rulemaking, the agency says it wants to clarify what counts as “adequate experience and knowledge” for keeping wild and exotic animals and what constitutes sufficient safety barriers between people and exhibited animals, including species that could injure or kill people.
The USDA has issued licenses to nearly 2,000 exhibitors and says that exhibitors increasingly have been offering opportunities for visitors to interact with their animals. In 2021, 44.4 percent of facilities did so, according to the agency. Meanwhile, between 2019 and 2021, the USDA reported 119 “handling” problems; 12.6 percent of them caused injury or death to a person or animal.
To improve animal care, the USDA also proposes that all wild and exotic animal species kept for exhibition should have their environmental enrichment requirements met—a shift that could require facilities to make changes enabling more natural foraging, feeding, and socializing for animals. In the past, species-specific enrichment has been required only for marine mammals and non-human primates.
Proposed: Bear baiting banned in Alaskan preserves
As part of a new National Park Service proposal in the Federal Register, animals in Alaska’s sprawling national preserves may soon receive new protections to keep them safer and healthier.
The proposal seeks to ban use of processed food lures such as donuts, dog food, and bacon grease in bear hunts and to prohibit other controversial hunting practices—shooting caribou while they’re swimming, hunting wolves and coyotes (including pups) during denning season, and using dogs to catch black bears. These were banned in 2015, but five years later, the Trump administration restored them. In the public comment period before the lifting of the prohibitions, the park service says that over 99 percent of more than 200,000 pieces of correspondence opposed lifting the prohibitions.
Bears accustomed to processed foods may raid trash bins or become aggressive and attack people near hunters’ bait stations, and food-conditioned bears are more likely to be killed by authorities or members of the public, the park service notes.
A state-wide fur sale ban
This year, California’s law banning sales of newly made furs also went into effect, making it the first—and only—state where it’s illegal to sell or manufacture new fur products. Californians can still buy older furs, and there are exceptions for religious uses, such as traditional fur hats. Animal welfare groups praise the ban and say it may presage similar measures elsewhere.
Lawmakers in at least four states will consider bills in 2023 that ban fur sales, and communities in 14 states will assess local ordinances that would ban them too, says Anne Sterling, vice president of state affairs at the Humane Society of the United States.
Eight communities outside California have already passed ordinances banning new fur sales, including Ann Arbor, Michigan; Boulder, Colorado; Hallandale Beach, Florida; and five towns in Massachusetts.
Last April, nine of the 13 members of Washington, D.C.’s council introduced a similar bill. Councilmember Vincent Gray cited zoonotic disease risk from minks as a reason to approve it. The bill had a public hearing in December.
“People love animals,” Sterling says, and now “they’re increasingly using the power they have to speak up in the political process.”