Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Candidates on animal rights

Candidates on animal rights
The 2008 US presidential candidates should be assessed for their positions on animal issues as well.

Animal welfare has grown in importance in American politics in general and presidential elections in particular. Both candidates seem to have strong views on animal issues, albeit with some limitations.

Barack Obama and animal rights

The candidate for the Democratic Party, Senator Barack Obama, has been praised for his answer to a woman who asked him "What about animal rights?" during Obama's town hall meeting outside Las Vegas a few months ago.

Obama replied that he cares about animal rights very much, "not only because I have a 9-year-old and 6-year-old who want a dog." He said that he sponsored a bill to prevent horse slaughter in the Illinois state Senate and that he has been repeatedly endorsed by the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States).

"I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other," he added. "And it's very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals."

Good, diplomatic, generic way to answer a specific question; maybe Time's headline for this story, "Obama Pledges Support for Animal Rights", was a bit over-optimistic.

Still, he is considered a strong candidate on animal rights issues. He has co-sponsored new legislation to stop horse slaughter and export of
horses for human consumption, to upgrade federal penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting, to ban possession of fighting dogs and being a spectator at
a dogfight. He also signed a letter requesting increased funds for enforcement of
the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal
animal fighting law. Sent letter to National Zoo expressing concern for
the care of Toni the elephant.

In his response to a questionnaire by the Humane Society Legislative Fund (which tries to pass animal protection laws at state and federal levels), Obama pledges support for nearly every animal protection bill currently pending in Congress, and says he will work with executive agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make their policies more humane.

He believes that there is a link between cruelty to animals and violence in society: "I've repeatedly voted to increase penalties for animal cruelty and violence... In addition to being unacceptable in its own stead, violence towards animals is linked with violent behavior in general... Strong [animal cruelty] penalties are important and I support them... As president, I'd continue to make sure that we treat animal cruelty like the serious crime it is and address its connection to broader patterns of violence."

But... he has not yet co-sponsored important animal welfare bills, like the Pet Safety and Protection Act.

Besides, I do not see how Obama can reconcile the position that he professes on cruelty to animals and his support for the right to hunt wild game.

In April 2007 he said: "I don't hunt myself, but I respect hunters and sportsmen". And: "I'm a strong believer in the rights of hunters and sportsmen to have firearms".

Am I too cynical if I suspect a little insincerity in his proclaimed love for animals here?

John McCain and animal rights

His opponent, Republican Party's candidate Senator John McCain, is also strong on animal rights issues, uncharacteristically for a Republican candidate.

McCain co-sponsored new legislation to stop horse slaughter, backed a bill to stop the shipment of live birds between states for the only purpose of cockfighting, supported a bill to stop the killing of bears by ending trade in their gall bladders and other viscera and organs.

Senator McCain also took a position against the fur industry, by voting to eliminate a $2 million subsidy for the mink industry. And he voted against allowing drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saving the thousands of animals who lived there.

He earned scores of up to 75 percent on the Humane Scorecard.

But... he voted in support of an amendment to the California Desert Protection Act allowing hunting for sport in the Mojave National Park, and apparently he is a supporter of hunting in general.

Looks like both candidates are weaker on hunting grounds.

Besides, neither of them really seems to have said anything or taken positions on the major areas of animal abuse, i.e. animal experimentation and factory farming.