Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act should be included in the final Farm Bill
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Last month, Reps. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamMillionaires group endorses Dem House candidates opposed to GOP tax law Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker Trump's woman problem may cost the GOP the House MORE (R-Ill.), Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Congress just failed our nation’s veterans when it comes to medical marijuana MORE (D-Ore.), John FasoJohn James Faso'Law & Order: SVU' star wins court case, gets on ballot in NY congressional district Preventing violence isn’t partisan: Time to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act Five things to watch for in New York primaries MORE (R-N.Y.), and Steve Knight (R-Calif.) successfully offered an amendment to the House Farm Bill to upgrade the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting. Their amendment mirrored the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, H.R. 4202, which seeks to clarify that the federal prohibitions against animal fighting apply in U.S. territories as well as everywhere else in the United States.

Congress has strengthened the federal ban on animal fighting four times in the past 16 years, each time with sweeping bipartisan support. Current law makes it a felony to sponsor or exhibit an animal in a fighting venture; to buy, sell, deliver, possess, train or transport an animal for fighting purposes; to use the Postal Service or other interstate means to promote animal fighting; to buy, sell, deliver or transport cockfighting implements; and to bring a minor to an animal fight. Spectators at animal fighting events also can be charged with federal misdemeanors.

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The word “State” is defined in the statute to include the U.S. territories, but the law still includes ambiguities that create doubt about the enforceability of these prohibitions in the U.S. territories.

Earlier upgrades to the federal law served to strengthen ongoing campaigns to halt cockfighting in Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and other states when they went into effect. Unfortunately, animal fighting events remain common in Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Public opinion is shifting, however, and public tolerance of animal fighting is on the wane in these territories. In June of 2017, for example, a poll of 1,000 registered voters in Puerto Rico, conducted by Remington Research on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States, revealed that citizens support a ban on cockfighting by a two-to-one margin among those with a position on the question. Dogfighting is already a felony in Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Not only is animal fighting cruel to the animals; it poses serious threats to public health, and creates financial risk to U.S. economies and food systems. Cockfighting involves handling and transport of bloodied and injured birds, and can increase the risk of disease transmissions such as bird flu.

This measure will also safeguard our nation’s food supply. In a 2004 letter to Congress, the U.S. secretary of Agriculture wrote that cockfighting has “been implicated in the introduction and spread of exotic Newcastle disease in California in 2002 and 2003, which cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $200 million to eradicate, and cost the U.S. poultry industry many millions more in lost export markets.”

The 204 Republicans and 155 Democrats (overwhelming majorities of each party)– who voted to include the PACE amendment in the House version of the Farm Bill did the right thing. The Senate should do no less, and include the measure when it takes up the Farm Bill this week. Clarifying this important federal law will bring us closer to ending the vicious practice of animal fighting and its associated risks to humans and animals alike.

Marty Irby is a senior advisor at The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund.