Cock-A-Doodle-Don’t: New Farm Bill Bans Cockfight Attendance

Chris Cates, who raises livestock in Rising Fawn, Ga., is appalled by the farm bill, which finally passed the House on Wednesday and is expected to sail through the Senate. In a petition he posted earlier at, Cates complained that the "enormous amount of amendments and taxpayer funded special interests and corporate handouts that have been attached to the Farm Bill are quite disgusting to say the least."

But his petition had nothing to do with any of that, but rather with the attached Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. The law, Cates wrote, infringes on his “God-given, constitutionally protected unalienable right to own, possess and harvest my gamecocks.” The “livestock” Cates raises are roosters raised to fight each other, often to the death, for the entertainment and gambling interests of attendees.

The law, Cates wrote, infringes on his ‘God-given, constitutionally protected unalienable right to own, possess and harvest my gamecocks.’ The ‘livestock’ Cates raises are roosters raised to fight each other, often to the death, for the entertainment and gambling interests of attendees.

The new law forbids anyone from “knowingly” attending a cockfight or a dogfight, and from bringing minors to such … er, games. Cates in his petition worried that the law will “send government agents out to make raids, rip families apart, criminalize our animal agriculture industry because you don’t personally approve of the way gamecocks are harvested to deprive us of our pursuit of happiness and liberty and create situations where government agents that gamecock farmers/ranchers taxes pay for, may kill American citizens (gamecock farmers and ranchers) simply because we are a minority group using the excuse that the purpose of the government is to defend the chickens from the farmers and ranchers that own the chickens.”

The petition drew 90 signatures. Another one in favor of the bill has drawn more than 14,000 — and people are still signing it despite passage of the bill.

The Humane Society of the United States praised the act’s passage, calling it a “major win” for animal welfare. The HSUS also praised Congress earlier this week for stripping the so-called King amendment from the bill. That amendment — the Protect Interstate Commerce Act — was aimed particularly at California’s Proposition 2, which that state’s voters overwhelmingly passed in 2008. It requires that calves, hens, and pregnant pigs be allowed to “lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely.”

King had a problem with a law passed later by the California legislature and signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requiring that eggs sold in California must have been produced according to Prop 2’s standards, no matter which state they were produced in. With the amendment’s defeat, that law will take effect next year. King claimed that the law was “unconstitutional.” Commentator Leighton Woodhouse, writing in the Huffington Post last year, said it was really “all about profits for Iowa Big Ag,” since some of the egg producers in Iowa who stuff birds into battery cages would like to continue selling eggs to Californians.

King also weighed in on the animal-fighting bill. “When the legislation that passed in the farm bill that says that it’s a federal crime to watch animals fight or to induce someone else to watch an animal fight but it’s not a federal crime to induce somebody to watch people fighting, there’s something wrong with the priorities of people that think like that,” King said. He wasn’t advocating for a ban on boxing or cage fighting, of course, and his defense of his comments didn’t make much sense.

Cockfighting has been around for thousands of years. Industrialized nations in general have decided that such activities shock the conscience, but they are still highly popular in places like Mexico and the Philippines. The World Cockfighting Championship, held in Cali, Columbia, sees entrants from across the world, and the World Slasher Cup in the Philipines bills itself as “the largest cockfighting competition in the world.”

Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, and is a felony in 33 of them. Louisiana in 2007 became the last state to outlaw the practice. In 40 states plus Washington, D.C., it is illegal to be a spectator at a cockfight. The new federal law makes it illegal in all 50. It was already illegal to transport roosters across state lines thanks to the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007.

The laws of course won’t put an end to cockfighting in the United States. On January 27, authorities in Alabama charged six people with aggravated animal cruelty for allegedly running a cockfighting operation where birds fought each other with knives and metal gaffs attached to their legs.

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