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Pro-Animal Groups Push Agenda on Capitol Hill
By Jeff Golimowski
CNSNews.com Senior Staff Writer
July 31, 2007

Washington (CNSNews.com) - A woman with short hair and glasses stands on a chair in a small meeting room on the first floor of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. She's reading off the names of states and senators, directing dozens of people to meetings starting at 11 AM.

When she's through, most people listening leave to start their lobbying efforts. The rest converge on a table of food provided by the natural and organic grocery store Whole Foods.

Monday was the last day of the annual Taking Action for Animals Conference. After a weekend featuring speakers and group gatherings, this day is designated for lobbying.

"It's a very pragmatic and mainstream effort to encourage change in society to protect animals," said Nancy Perry, vice president of governmental affairs for the animal protection group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Conference attendees lobbied on behalf of four bills in particular: The House Agricultural Appropriations Bill, a provision of which would attempt to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption; the Pet Safety and Protection Act, which would restrict the sourcing of dogs and cats used in laboratory research; the Dog and Cat Fur Prohibition Act, which would require all fur products to be labeled with the source of its fur; and the Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act, which would stop the government from buying products derived from animals kept in inhumane conditions.

The HSUS has come under fire from conservative and industry groups as a "radical" animal rights organization, but Perry said the group's legislative agenda demonstrates its moderate credentials.

"These are just not radical ideas, they're mainstream ideas," she said. "It speaks volumes about where we are as an organization."

Perry and most of the groups represented at the conference went out of their way to distance themselves from extremist animal liberation groups that have resorted to violence to promote their cause.

Carole Baskin, director of two animal protection organizations, said extremists are making it more difficult for those wanting to help animals to work within the system.

"It is a challenge because when you have one bad person, you tend to all get painted with the same brush," she said. "That's like saying every Christian is a member of the KKK."

But National Animal Interest Alliance Director Patti Strand said the weekend's gathering in Washington is a prime example of a radical animal rights agenda. Strand's group is an animal welfare organization that works with industry groups and stands against what it considers extremism on both sides of the animal rights debate.

Strand said she considers the HSUS to be extremist.

"They wear business suits. They're articulate. They're fairly well-educated. They avoid the sort of in-your-face protests," said Strand. "So they're able to move the thinking, public opinion incrementally in the direction of radical change in some cases."

David Martosko, director of research at the food industry funded Center for Consumer Freedom, was even less flattering to those attending the conference.

"They're entitled to lobby just like everybody else" he said. "But we trust our elected representatives to recognize the tinfoil hat brigade when they see it."

Martosko said the legislative agenda being pushed by the HSUS is anything but mainstream. He considers there to be little difference between the controversial People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the HSUS as far as their end goals.

"When they use the word 'humane,' that's code for vegetarianism," said Martosko. "They're not lobbying against dog fighting up there. They're lobbying to do away with hog agriculture and to outlaw veal and foie gras ."