Report: Humane Association Covered Up Animal Abuse On Hollywood Sets

An investigation by The Hollywood Reporter alleges that the American Humane Association has tried to cover up instances of animal abuse and deaths on Hollywood sets. Melissa Block talks with Gary Baum, a senior writer for the magazine who reported the story.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. You've probably seen the credit at the end of a movie - "no animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture." Well, according to an investigative report titled "Animals Were Harmed," that claim is meaningless. The article in The Hollywood Reporter says the group in charge of monitoring animal safety on sets - the American Humane Association, or AHA - is in cahoots with the film industry, accountable only to Hollywood itself.

Reporter Gary Baum says he based his story on interviews with six AHA employees as well as internal documents including emails and audits. He details numerous cases of animal injuries and deaths during production, including horses, dogs, sheep and fish; cases he says the AHA often downplays or fails to pursue.

In the story, he describes one internal AHA report he obtained that outlines horse injury, illness and death on film and TV sets from 2001 to 2006. Gary Baum says the list covers 58 injuries and eight horse deaths.

GARY BAUM: They died in a mixture of accidents - everything from impalement to tripping and falling because of a lead rope, to all sorts of things that happen when you're involved in complicated productions with many crew members and production aspects and props. What's interesting, of course, is that none of this is shared with the public. The AHA's work in the entertainment industry is an example of privatized regulation. The AHA is only answerable to the entertainment industry, not to the public.

BLOCK: One of the horses who died, I believe, collided with a camera car on the set. Did the movies where these horses died get that AHA tagline that says no animals were harmed?

BAUM: In different cases, they received different sorts of taglines, which I get into elsewhere in the story; that there's a whole series of created taglines that they offer. But the entertainment consumer, the audience member just sees that American Humane monitored the action - that might be a quote - or that American Humane says that no animals were harmed. And the issue is that what they say and what actually is the case, is often at odds.

BLOCK: What is the standard if a movie is going to get that tagline of no animals were harmed? Would it include accidents? Or does it only apply to intentional death, injury, things like that?

BAUM: It has a very limited scope. It's circumscribed. It doesn't include issues in transit. It doesn't include holding facilities. It's basically everything that happens between action and cut. It very much limits what they feel is their responsibility, in comparison to what most people would assume means when no animals are harmed in the making of a production.

And the other thing is, is this idea of intentional cruelty. Most times, when animals are harmed related to productions, it doesn't have to do with act of malice. It has to do with some sort of passive negligence. They've decided that they are not going to count those instances. They aren't going to investigate them. And they have a power to investigate these things, find out what went wrong and how they can find new ways to make sure that these things don't go wrong again in the future.

BLOCK: One of the things you describe in your article is a cozy relationship between the AHA and the film industry that it's supposed to be policing. You say there are inherent conflicts of interest, and business relationships that profit both sides. Why don't you explain how that works?

BAUM: The general issue at play is that the AHA is funded in its film and TV unit program, which handles the no-animals-were-harmed credit. Almost entirely, it's funded by the entertainment industry that it's covering through the - an arrangement between the SAG-AFTRA actors' union and the - something called the AMPTP, the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers. So you have a situation where the industry is bankrolling its regulator.

BLOCK: What are some of the ways that that perceived conflict of interest plays out, do you think? How does that affect what's going on?

BAUM: Well, what my sources have told me is that there's a desire to bend over backwards whenever possible, to look at any situation from the industry's point of view; to look at incidents as unpreventable accidents, to assign monitors and apply their guidelines in sometimes lax ways; to basically view themselves - the AHA - as a collaborator rather than an independent force, first and foremost, advocating for animal welfare.

BLOCK: Well, the American Humane Association says that the picture that you paint in your story is, in their words, completely unrecognizable. They say: Far from allowing abuse or neglect to occur, we have a remarkably high safety record of 99.98 percent on set.

BAUM: Right.

BLOCK: What do you say to that?

BAUM: Well, the story itself refutes that number. It shows that the statistical grounding for it is essentially meaningless; that they tend to use bizarre estimates where they will not include animals that were injured and died in transit or at holding facilities, in these very - outside of a very limited, circumscribed point of view; and that they will also use, according to my sources, these estimates involving sometimes 10,000 insects or 30,000 bugs of different sorts, in order to attain these numbers. So there - it's really just not a trustworthy number for the public to be engaging with at all.

BLOCK: Well, what do you think we should assume? If we're going to a movie, and we see that tagline - no animals were harmed - what should we think when we see that?

BAUM: Well, at this time until reforms are put in place, unfortunately, we have to assume nothing at all. We can't trust that no-animals-were-harmed tag until the industry and/or the AHA gets more serious about independence for animal welfare monitoring.

BLOCK: Gary Baum is a senior writer with The Hollywood Reporter. Gary, thanks very much.

BAUM: Thanks for having me again.

BLOCK: And the American Humane Association sent us a statement. It reads, in part: The association has made tough changes to ensure that the no-animals-were-harmed program is structured to meet the humane charter with which we have been entrusted.

It goes on: Abuse in film and entertainment is not pervasive, as the salacious headlines imply. Rather, our experience is that most everyone we work with in production settings wants to do right by the animals, as do we.

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