Presidential Candidate Profile: Donald Trump’s record on animal protection

Presidential Candidate Profile: Donald Trump’s record on animal protection

With the Super Tuesday primary elections behind us, and the Democratic and Republican Party nominations nearly settled, we wanted to provide a review of the animal welfare records of President Biden and President Trump.  

As the leading voice in animal protection politics, we provide an objective analysis of candidates, free from judgements based on political party affiliation or on the candidates’ positions on any other issues. HSLF evaluates candidates for political office at all levels of government on their records and commitments concerning animal protection, as well as on their electability.

Given Donald Trump’s status as the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2024 presidential election, a full review of the Trump Administration’s animal protection record between 2017-2020 is warranted. When we at Humane Society Legislative Fund published our first analysis of President Trump’s legacy on animal welfare, he had 6 months left in office; a time which resulted in both significant gains and losses for our nation’s animals.

On the positive side, President Trump was responsible for signing multiple landmark animal protection measures into law. He wasted no time signing the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, designating certain acts of extreme animal cruelty as felony crimes. He authorized the federal omnibus package of 2020 which included the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, requiring the oversight and strict regulation of practices in the horseracing industry. And he also signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which effectively banned the slaughter or trade in dog and cat meat, funded a grant program to provide transitional sheltering options for domestic violence survivors fleeing with pets, and outlawed the barbaric practice of animal fighting in the U.S. territories.

Yet, over the course of his term, the Trump Administration often favored special interests over wildlife. President Trump himself tweeted that “big-game” trophy hunting was a “horror show,” which he believed did not support the conservation of elephants or any other animal. Notwithstanding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted existing Obama-era bans on the import of elephant and lion trophies from certain African countries, deciding to approve imports on a case-by-case basis. In these matters, the FWS chose to cater to the interests of wealthy trophy hunters and groups like the NRA and Safari Club International.

The Department of the Interior under President Trump overturned a rule prohibiting controversial hunting and killing methods on 20 million acres of National Preserve lands in Alaska, and the administration opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to vast oil drilling. The FWS carried out the largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities in U.S. history, opening the gates to 2.1 million acres at 88 wildlife refuges and hatcheries. Moreover, the FWS removed Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and gray wolves across the lower 48 states, though both actions were subsequently overturned by courts.

One area in which the Trump Administration showed great promise involved the use of animals in research and testing. President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency embraced a vision of a future free of animal testing, releasing a plan to promote the development and implementation of alternative product testing methods, and then announcing a goal to end all animal testing on mammals for chemicals and pesticides by 2035.

Things were challenging at  the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Trump. In the administration’s earliest days, the agency instituted a website data purge of important enforcement records related to horse soring, dog breeding operations, and related facilities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). These crucial records were only restored after years of fighting by HSLF, and due to an express directive by Congress. The agency also cut back drastically on the number of AWA citations and enforcement actions for enterprises like puppy mills and roadside zoos. At the same time, the USDA did finalize a positive licensing rule, strengthening some standards for USDA licensing of dog breeders.

The Trump Administration’s record on farmed animal welfare was bleak. The USDA repealed an Obama-era rule on organic farming, which had set basic standards of care for the national organic label. The agency took steps to ensure that all beef, pork, and poultry slaughterhouses and processing plants remained open and fulfilled orders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—which proved harmful and even fatal to slaughterhouse workers. And the USDA even ruled that these slaughterhouses could increase their line speeds, allowing them to operate at a dangerously high pace. Moreover, the EPA chose to deny a petition to list Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) as sources of pollution under the Clean Air Act, exempting massive factory farms from reporting emissions. And perhaps most importantly, the Trump Administration filed an amicus brief seeking to overturn the nation’s strongest farm animal protection law in California’s Proposition 12.

The Trump Administration also failed the horses subjected to the cruel practice of “soring,” by unlawfully withdrawing a USDA agency rule years in the making—the rule would have strengthened the USDA’s Horse Protection Act regulations by banning the use of cruel horse soring devices, as well as ending the failed system of industry self-policing.

During his time in office, President Trump’s agencies worked to change the entire regulatory landscape concerning animals. The Endangered Species Act became a tool used primarily to take federal protections away, rather than to grant them, as a series of rules were finalized making it harder to achieve federal protections for endangered and threatened species in need. Yet, the administration also worked to secure significant protections for whales, leatherback and loggerhead turtles, whitetip sharks, bison, service animals, and NIH research animals who were made eligible for retirement as adoptable pets.

As with those that came before it, the Trump Administration’s legacy on animal protection is mixed. We celebrated several big wins for animals. But overall, the damage it wrought to wildlife, farmed animals, and beyond was significant.

On the road to November, please remember to update your voter registration, request an absentee ballot, and take other steps to participate in this critically important election.

Be sure to also check out our analysis of President Biden’s record on animal protection in yesterday’s blog. 

Presidential Candidate Profile: Donald Trump’s record on animal protection

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