Why the ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ movie disclaimer doesn’t mean much

BY newsdesk  November 26, 2013 at 2:35 PM EDT

A new report released Monday criticizes the nonprofit organization responsible for granting the “No Animals Were Harmed” end credit disclaimer. The investigation by The Hollywood Reporter reveals a long history by American Humane Association of downplaying and underreporting animal injuries and death and accuses the AHA of actually awarding the disclaimer to films and TV shows where animals were harmed during production.

These include:

  • A Bengal tiger, used whenever CGI wasn’t effective, almost drowned on the set of “Life of Pi.”

  • Three thoroughbreds died during the production of HBO’s horse-racing drama “Luck” and under the AHA’s supervision, which was canceled shortly after the third horse was euthanized after sustaining major head injuries.

  • A Husky dog was repeatedly punched by a trainer on the set of “Eight Below.” The AHA said the force was necessary to stop a dog fight.

  • An animal handler dropped a chipmunk, stepped on it, thus killing it during the production of “Failure to Launch.”

  • More than two dozen animals, including sheep and goats, perished from dehydration and exhaustion during a hiatus in the production of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” All of these productions received the end credit, and THR’s Gary Baum, relying on anonymous sources, lists more examples in his report. Among the horses affected from 2001-2006, “impalement,” “broken shoulder” and “collision with camera car” are listed as injuries and causes of death. On “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” set, 14 horses sustained injuries. And yet, the film received the “No Animals Were Harmed” credit because the organization said “none of the injuries were serious or due to intentional harm.” The AHA dismisses other horse deaths because they were “not work-related.”

Baum reports that the AHA is in a position of monitoring the same industry that funds them. Barbara Casey, the Film & TV Unit’s former head of production, sued the AHA and HBO for wrongful termination related to the horse deaths on the “Luck” set. She said her calls for safer horse treatment were ignored by the show’s producers, who “exercised their political muscle and influence with AHA” and fired her as a result.

Casey also said that “in order to protect Steven Spielberg, one of the most notable and influential persons in the history of film, and because of the volume of press and other publicity this film garnered, AHA agreed to cover up the death of [a] horse [on "War Horse"] and to give the 2011 film its ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ end credit.”

Dr. S. Kwane Stewart, head of the organization’s monitoring program, told THR, “This whole idea that we’re cozy with the industry — it’s simply not the case. We first and foremost want to keep the animals safe.”

In a statement responding to Baum’s report, the AHA maintains that the organization has a “remarkably high safety record of 99.98 percent on set … Regrettably, there have even been some deaths, which upset us greatly, but in many of the cases reported, they had nothing to do with the animals’ treatment on set, or occurred when the animals were not under our care.”