Presidential Candidate Profile: Joe Biden’s record on animal protection

Presidential Candidate Profile: Joe Biden’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.

On the road to November’s election, a variety of published opinions will make it harder to distinguish fact from fiction concerning the presumptive major party candidates. But we at Humane Society Legislative Fund evaluate officeholders and office-seekers based on their records on and commitments to animal protection, as well as on their electability. We do not make judgments based on political party affiliation, or on stances they might take on any other issues. As the nation’s leading voice in animal protection politics, we work to provide unbiased analyses you can trust, of candidates at all levels of government.

As president, Joe Biden—who built a strong record on animal issues in the U.S. Senate and then as vice president—has continued to champion protections for numerous animal species and their habitats. He signed into law four major legislative enactments for animals and authorized funding and enforcement provisions for many pro-animal measures. However, as is the case with his predecessors, the Biden Administration’s overall record on animal welfare is mixed. And there is much that could be done to remedy that in the next few months, if the White House and the relevant agencies finalize key rules.

After the nation saw the events of “Tiger King” unfold, the spotlight fell upon the exotic animal owners and exhibitors who exploit big cats and their cubs—and the 117th Congress took action to stop them in their tracks. In July of 2022, President Biden issued a Statement of Administration Policy in support of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and signed the bill into law on December 22, 2022. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also issued a strong final rule implementing the Act. Now, after a decade-long fight, it is a federal crime to privately own big cats or to allow dangerous, direct public contact with them.

However, in 2023, the Biden Administration remained firmly on the wrong side of  the historic Prop 12 Supreme Court case, after the Department of Justice submitted a brief in support of the National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation’s position; putting industry profits ahead of allowing millions of animals to now stand up, spread their wings, or turn around. In the same time frame that it took this hostile position on Prop 12—one of the strongest animal protection laws in history—President Biden’s Department of Agriculture ushered in a separate leap forward for farmed animal welfare when it reinstated a rule repealed by the Trump Administration, setting clear minimum standards for animal care under the certified organic label.

The president’s record on wildlife matters is stronger. When President Biden signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2022, he made possible two major gains for wildlife. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act now prohibits the commercial trade of shark fins in the U.S., which has become a global leader in shark conservation. And the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act has already made possible the arrest of large-scale wildlife traffickers and poachers.

President Biden’s Fish and Wildlife Service also kept up the fight against cruel hunting practices through a series of proposed rules which, if finalized, would ban extremely cruel hunting methods on National Preserves in Alaska; and ban predator control on the National Wildlife Refuge System, a move which promises to protect bears, coyotes, cougars, foxes, bobcats, and other natural predators living on refuges from cruel and senseless killing. And they recently finalized a rule that will better regulate imports of critically endangered African elephants and their parts.

One iconic species that the agency has failed to protect is the gray wolf. The FWS denied a petition requesting Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, despite the science showing these wolves need protection from state-sanctioned killing programs. The agency is also considering delisting grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone ecosystems. The Biden Administration has secured greater protections for some vulnerable species like Hawaiian spinner dolphins, humpback and killer whales, and a variety of birds (through the restoration of key regulations issued under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act).

The administration’s record concerning the protection of equines leaves something to be desired. The USDA has proposed a new rule to protect Tennessee walking horses from abominable “soring” practices.  The rule isn’t over the finish line, but if finalized, it will end the corrupt self-policing of the industry. On wild horses, for years Congress has been directing the Bureau of Land Management to adopt a program to manage wild horses and burros through a multifaceted program that includes more fertility control tools. The Biden Administration has thus far failed to do so, and like the administrations that came before it, is simply continuing to remove wild horses and burros without sufficiently increasing its use of fertility control.

One disappointing administrative failure regarding animals involves the actions of the National Institutes of Health in stalling the transfer of 30 chimpanzees to the sanctuary Chimp Haven. In refusing to act, the NIH is denying these animals the care that they deserve after enduring lives as test subjects, and it is also violating federal law.

In a move of great importance, President Biden’s USDA finalized a rule extending Animal Welfare Act coverage to birds used in commerce. We have recently witnessed the somewhat strengthened oversight of breeders and exhibitors under the AWA, and we’re certainly optimistic about the prospects for increased enforcement against chronic violators of the Act.

In another bright spot, we saw the administration champion disaster preparedness for animals. President Biden signed into law the Planning for Animal Wellness (PAW) Act, which directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish a working group relating to best practices and federal guidance for animals in emergencies and disasters. In addition, the USDA finalized a similar rule to coordinate efforts to develop better emergency response plans for pets, service and laboratory animals, and animals in captivity.

Throughout his term, President Biden has taken steps to realign the country’s goals towards conservation and biodefense, establishing a series of councils to address global climate change and emerging biothreats to humans and animals alike, and issuing a series of rules meant to strengthen our nation’s wildlife laws like the Endangered Species Act.

Milestones have been made for animals since he took office. But when it comes to animals, there is always more to be done. We are working with President Biden’s administration to produce more positive change for animals where it is most needed. And, as the incumbent candidate in the race, President Biden still has time to impact federal policy towards animals before voters head to the polls in November.

As Election Day draws closer, 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 check back tomorrow for our analysis of President Trump’s record on animal protection .  

Presidential Candidate Profile: Joe Biden’s record on animal protection

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