Cockfighting: Centuries-Old Blood Sport on Its Way Out

In a victory for animal rights groups, all but one state has now outlawed the brutal sport of cockfighting, and developments on Capitol Hill indicate a federal ban may be close at hand. 

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson last week signed a cockfighting ban into law in his state, making Louisiana the only state in the union to still allow the centuries-old blood sport.

"I am proud that New Mexico will now move beyond cockfighting and join the 48 states that have already banned this outdated practice," said Gov. Richardson.

Cockfighting is a billion-dollar industry, and hundreds of thousands of dollars can change hands at a cockfight, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

In Louisiana, the last bastion for legal cockfighting in the U.S., cockfighting pits tend to be concentrated on the borders of neighboring states, presumably to capitalize on the illegal interstate trafficking of birds for fighting.

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Animal rights activists are preparing for a fight when the Louisiana state legislature convenes to vote on a bill to ban the sport throughout the state in April.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said in a statement last week that she "would support banning cockfighting" but has released no further details. 

On the federal level, cockfighting has been a contentious issue in Washington for years. ABC News reported in 2001 that lobbyists spent over $250,000 to prevent a bill from passing that would make transport of birds for fighting over state and national lines illegal.

Supporters of the bill said then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., was instrumental in preventing it from going to vote by arguing that the states alone should handle the issue.   

President Bush signed the Farm Bill in 2002, which included language to make interstate transport of birds for fighting a federal misdemeanor.

When legislation was introduced to increase the penalty to a felony last year, then-House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., blocked its consideration on the House floor, even though three-fourths of the House had signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, according to the HSUS.  He, like Lott, argued that the states should decide the penalty.

On Wednesday, there will be a vote in the House to make the transport of birds across state lines for cockfighting a felony offense.

Animal rights activists say that the federal vote is a crucial one to cut down on the gambling and illegal trafficking of birds that go along with the gruesome sport.

"These are interstate cockfights, catering to interstate business; this is interstate crime," said John Goodwin, Deputy Manager of Animal Fighting Issues for the HSUS.

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