New Animal Welfare Group Forms to Challenge American Humane Association (Exclusive)
This story first appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
An upstart on-set animal monitoring service is out to challenge the supremacy of the American Humane Association's officially sanctioned "No Animals Were Harmed" program. The nonprofit Movie Animals Protected, set to launch in January, says its approach will differ significantly from the AHA's and will be more transparent and responsive to on-set animal injuries and deaths. It will be run by Barbara Casey, a former high-ranking official in the AHA's Studio City-based Film & TV Unit.
Casey oversaw the AHA's on-set safety representatives for 13 years before her dismissal in January 2012. She has filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit alleging she was fired for aggressively standing up to HBO and producers over safety issues regarding their ill-fated racetrack drama Luck, on which several horses died. (The AHA and HBO deny her claims.)
MAP's emergence comes after a Nov. 25 THR report that explored how the AHA has distorted its film ratings, downplayed or failed to publicly acknowledge harmful incidents and sometimes hasn't seriously pursued investigations. Because of the THR report, which exposed animal deaths, injuries and accidents on major films including Life of Pi and The Hobbit, Casey says the new group may appeal to productions concerned about the questions raised about the AHA.
Most of MAP's 14 monitors will be former AHA reps. Casey says her group is in talks with several productions and will charge an hourly fee on a sliding scale. It also plans to apply for grants, including one from the Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund, an entity that gave the AHA $2.4 million during its current annual cycle. (On Jan. 1, the AHA was to begin charging productions a $500-a-day "service fee.")
MAP claims it will surpass many of the AHA's protocols by creating special guidelines for live events and reality shows, conducting risk assessments of scripted animal stunts, immediately issuing statements when on-set animal deaths occur and posting results of its investigations (including necropsies) online. Its jurisdiction will include animal housing and transportation, which the AHA does not monitor. Casey says MAP will not offer an "absolute statement" like the AHA's main "No Animals Were Harmed" credit regarding how animals are treated. Instead, it will acknowledge its participation on a production, referring viewers to its website for further explanation. "We don't want to mislead the public by issuing a blanket disclaimer," she says.
For its part, the AHA tells THR: "Our mission is focused entirely on protecting the lives of our animal friends. … We cannot speak to what other groups intend to do." However, "We are continually learning, reviewing and improving the ways we can protect animals."
In the THR report, critics focused on the conflict of interest inherent in the entertainment industry bankrolling its regulator. For all of its reformist striving, MAP has chosen to rely on the same fundamental funding structure as the AHA.
"If they're getting money from the same people, they're already compromised," says Ed Stewart, president of the Performing Animal Welfare Society. "Now you're just into a catfight between two organizations doing versions of the same thing."