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Animal Advocates



— July 15, 2018

Animal Advocates

By Jodi Helmer
  • Animal Welfare Institute takes a multi-pronged
  • approach to animal protection.

WHEN IT COMES TO PROTECTING ANIMALS from harm, Animal Welfare Institute doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Instead, the nonprofit embraces diverse approaches to ensuring that their animal welfare agenda is spread far and wide. “Animals intersect with almost every aspect of our lives and we have a tremendous impact on their existence,” explains AWI program director Dena Jones. “There are little things and big things that we can do to improve the existence of animals and that’s what we’re all about.” AWI advocates for pro-animal welfare policies and their efforts have contributed to the passing of significant legislation, including the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The organization is also involved in several creative efforts to end animal suffering. Its projects include developing a graphic novel about elephants and the ivory trade; creating a database of shelters that welcome victims of domestic violence and their pets; and chartering a plane to save companion animals out of a hurricane zone.

“We wanted to do different things where we felt we could have an impact that was a little different than our main work” in public policy, says Jones. Although AWI has been active in a range of animal welfare initiatives since it was founded, the organization was created to address a specific issue: Lab testing on animals. During a battle between pro- and anti-animal testing groups in the 1950s, AWI founder Christine Stephens stepped in to referee. She believed that taking a “middle ground” approach to animal rights issues— while improving the welfare of the animals in laboratories—could help bridge the gap. It worked. AWI was behind the 1966 Animal Welfare Act, the first federal law regulating the use of animals in research. Since then, the organization has expanded its efforts to include five program areas: Companion animals, farm animals, wildlife, marine life and animals in laboratories. Its other programs tackle issues like free trade and humane education to address concerns over the impact of individual choices on animal welfare. AWI depends on memberships, donations, grants and bequests to fund its mission. The Washington, DC-based organization has an annual operating budget of $4.6 million; 94.6% of the funds are directed toward program goals, earning the nonprofit a coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator, including a 100% score for accountability and transparency, and an A+ rating from Charity Watch. In addition to financial capital, AWI also builds human capital, engaging with stakeholders from policymakers and scientists to industry leaders to pass pro-animal legislation. “Our approach to helping improve animal welfare and safeguarding animals is two-pronged: To change laws and trade policies that impact animals and to help change human behavior in regards to the choices people make in their lives and how those choices impact animals,” Jones says. “We feel like we’ve made progress but there’s still a lot more work to do.”

Animal Welfare Institute by the Numbers
The year AWI was founded, 5 Number of programs under the AWI umbrella: Wildlife, marine life, farm animals, companion animals, animals in laboratories
Percentage of annual budget directed toward program goals, earning the nonprofit a coveted four-star rating from Charity Navigator
Year Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill prohibiting the breeding and theatrical performance of captive orcas in California; AWI campaigned for the bill, testifying at legislative hearings and working to draft the final language
Advocating for Animals on the Move
Each year, more than 100,000 animals are loaded onto cargo ships and transported overseas to join breeding programs in countries like Russia and Turkey. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulations for animal exports were lax, leading AWI to advocate for legislative changes to improve animal welfare. “There are storms at sea, electrical outages, shutdowns at ports because workers are on strike. If animals can’t be offloaded at ports, a lot of things can go wrong and kill the animals on these ships,” Jones explains. APHIS amended its export regulations in 2016. Now, a USDA veterinarian must inspect the animals before boarding the ship. On-board, hostile animals cannot be housed together; vessels must stock replacement parts for major life support systems (like ventilation systems) in case of malfunction, and maintain a means to humanely euthanize animals that become sick or injured during transport. The vessels must also submit a report to APHIS about the number of animals that were sick or injured during transport at the end of the voyage. Although the new regulations have been in place for two years, the work continues for AWI. “Now we send Freedom of Information Act requests to the USDA to find out how many animals are dying, whether there is one company in particular [with higher losses] and, if we see any trends, we can decide what action we would take in response to that,” Jones says. “In our work, nothing ever ends.”
A Closer Look at Labeling
The label claims on animal products like eggs and meat can be confusing. What are cage-free eggs? Is grass-fed beef better? AWI has devoted significant efforts to promoting reliable, meaningful food labeling. “People make a choice every time they sit down to eat, and that choice impacts animals,” Jones says. “If the labels don’t mean anything, consumers are going to be spending extra money to buy a product that isn’t helping animals out.” AWI spent more than a decade working alongside animal rights groups to have specific animal welfare standards integrated into the USDA Organic program—the original standards regarding access to fresh air and the outdoors were too vague, according to Jones. However, their efforts are currently stalled. “[The new rules] weren’t exactly all we wanted but we supported them,” Jones recalls. “Now, because those rules were withdrawn, most animal welfare groups in the United States are not endorsing the organic label— not in terms of animal welfare anyway.” AWI does support third-party certifications, especially those that enforce meaningful standards for animal welfare such as pasture-raised and free-range. Jones calls Certified Humane, a program of Humane Farm Animal Care, “a good baseline” that applies to farm animals from birth through slaughter. The certification guarantees that animals are never kept in cages, crates or tie-stalls, shall have the freedom to engage in natural behaviors like rooting, grazing and dust bathing; and are fed no antibiotics or growth hormones. AWI also endorses the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certification offered through Whole Foods. “In recent years, scientific research has shown that farm animals have a capacity to experience feelings like pain, fear and even joy,” Jones says. “Just because the destiny of farm animals is to be killed for food doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned with their suffering.”

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