No Animals Were Harmed?

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This horse died on the AHA-monitored show Luck.

Unfortunately, the American Humane Association’s (AHA’s) “No Animals Were Harmed” seal of approval is misleading to filmmakers and audiences alike. PETA regularly receives reports from whistleblowers concerning the AHA’s inadequate oversight of the use of animals in film and television projects. PETA has been told that in some cases, animals were harmed when AHA management looked the other way or was even complicit in arranging for the filming of sequences that were potentially dangerous for animals.

Many animals have been injured or even killed in AHA-monitored productions, including the death of a shark during a Kmart commercial shoot in Van Nuys, California. Dozens of animals died during the production of Peter Jackson’s 2012 film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, despite AHA monitoring. And in 2012, three horses died during the AHA-monitored TV series Luck.

Whistleblowers also allege that the AHA film ratings are not reliable. PETA has received reports that the ratings of some films do not reflect what actually occurred on set, that acceptable ratings have been given when not all animal action was monitored, and that ratings were changed when the AHA feared information about problems on the set would be leaked.

Bob Barker speaks out about the failures of the AHA.

Bob Barker speaks out about the failures of the AHA.

Even if the AHA were effectively protecting animals on set, they do not monitor off-set living conditions or preproduction training methods, where there is the greatest potential for abuse and neglect. Most wild animals used for film and television live in cramped conditions and are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them. Elephants, primates, big cats, and bears are typically trained prior to production using violent methods that may include electric shock, whips, chains, and hooks. All this happens before the animals ever arrive on set and interact with an AHA representative.

The AHA actively defends the use of great apes in film and television productions, despite expert testimony indicating that great apes cannot be trained for entertainment without being subjected to physical abuse.

PETA has called for reform of the AHA, including the following recommendations:

  • Ban the use of great apes in all productions, and ensure that all films using great apes against the AHA’s recommendations receive an “Unacceptable” rating.
  • All AHA animal-safety representatives must be experts on the species whose use they are charged with monitoring. A dog expert should not monitor the use of equines, for instance. If several species are used, experts familiar with the needs of each species must be present.
  • An animal-safety representative must be present every time an animal is used in a production in order to grant an AHA rating.
  • Animal-safety representatives should report all animal-welfare concerns, throughout all phases of a project, to the production team in charge, and they must immediately stop production if they foresee the possibility of harm coming to an animal.
  • Animal-safety representatives must report all incidents of cruelty to animals to local law-enforcement authorities and to the production company.
  • In the standard AHA disclaimer, “No animals were harmed in the making of this film,” add the following sentence: “Preproduction training and living conditions off set were not monitored.”
  • When a script calls for the use of wild animals, strongly recommend that computer-generated imagery, blue-screen technology, animatronics, or stock footage be used instead of live animals or that the script be changed when possible. If these things aren’t possible, prohibit the use of weapons, such as bullhooks (on elephants), whips, and electrical-shock devices.
  • Because horses are particularly vulnerable, never allow horses to be placed in dangerous situations. A horse behaviorist and a licensed state humane officer must be present during all filming, including during transportation to and from the set and from scene to scene, and must be familiar with AHA guidelines and follow them without fail.
  • The AHA’s Film & TV Unit should be supervised by an animal behaviorist who has expertise with both domesticated and wild animals. A veterinarian who is not also a behaviorist is not sufficient.
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