The origin of cockfighting dates back thousands of years, but it was during Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to the Philippines in 1521 that modern cockfighting was first documented by his chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, in the kingdom of Taytay. It’s a gruesome and still-rampant blood sport, disturbingly present in Georgia, South Carolina, and all around the Southeastern U.S.
Most states banned cockfighting in the 19th century, and in the 21st century, Congress has made cockfighting a felony and banned it everywhere in our nation. It’s also a crime to train birds for fighting, ship them across state, territorial or national lines, to traffic in the fighting weapons cockfighters attach to the birds’ legs, or to attend a fight or bring children to one.
We lobbied hard to secure the latest federal provision enacted in the 2018 Farm Bill — banning animal fighting in the U.S. Territories — and that provision won overwhelming support in the Congress.
We followed up on the new law by conducting an investigation of live-animal shipping records to Guam. We found records for 9,000 birds shipped to Guam from the states, and it was plain that these transports were animals bound for Guam’s fighting pits. Our investigation revealed that Americans are deeply involved in the global trade of fighting animals.
Since then, we’ve conducted more eye-opening investigations and we’ve seen cockfighters busted in Georgia and South Carolina, as well as an entire family indicted on federal cockfighting charges following an investigation we completed in Alabama.
Animal fighting is animal abuse — plain and simple. The illegal gambling adds to lawlessness. Bringing kids to the fights, using, or distributing narcotics, and engaging in other illegal activities should make the whole enterprise a hot target for the U.S. Department of Justice, and for state and local law enforcement.
It’s not only inhumane and unconscionable but, it’s a health and human safety threat, given the role of cockfighting in spreading Newcastle disease, and Avian influenza — something everyone should be mindful of in light of the recent pandemic. Cockfighters are often seen sucking the blood out of roosters’ lungs themselves in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation-like contact so the gamecocks can continue to fight to the death after a lung has been punctured — blood and feathers flying all around. And Avian influenza has been found in more than forty states this year according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
And this month, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Savannah, a stalwart on animal protection issues who helped advance numerous animal protection measures in the House – including the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act to end doping in horse racing; the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act designed to end abuse in the show horse world; and the FDA Modernization Act that would end animal testing mandates at FDA – stepped up again. Carter joined a raft of bipartisan Representatives that included Reps. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., Don Bacon, R-Neb., Cindy Axne, D-Iowa., and others, in introducing the Animal Fighting Amendments Act of 2022, H.R. 9309.
The measure would upgrade the federal law to ban simulcasting and gambling on animal fights in the United States, no matter where the fights and broadcasts originate; halt the shipment of mature roosters shipped through the U.S. mail; create a citizen suit provision to allow private right of action against illegal animal fighters and ease the resource burden on federal agencies; and enhance forfeiture provisions to include real property used in the commission of an animal fighting crime. Every loophole that allows cockfighting to run rampant must be closed.
We applaud Rep. Carter for his tireless work for animals, and for working to upgrade the law with H.R. 9309 that aims for inclusion in the next Farm Bill set to be brought before legislators in the 118th Congress that begins in January. No civilized society should tolerate this form of staged cruelty.
Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C. who was named as one of The Hill’s Top Lobbyists for 2020 and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect animals. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @ MartyIrby