Puerto Rico delegate seeks to roll back cockfighting ban

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A report by Timothy Cama for The Hill.

Puerto Rico’s delegate to Congress wants to roll back a law passed last year that banned cockfighting on the island and in other United States territories.

Del. Jenniffer González-Colón (R), along with the nonvoting delegates of the other four inhabited territories, introduced legislation Wednesday that would repeal a section of last year’s farm bill that banned the widely condemned practice of pitting chickens against each other for gambling.

“This ban is an overreach from Congress to the U.S. territories, precisely because it is contrary to Congress’s intent in enacting the original Animal Welfare Act that was approved in 1976, which includes all the U.S. territories in the definition of states,” González-Colón told reporters Wednesday at a news conference, flanked by Puerto Rico territorial lawmakers and cockfighting industry representatives.

“This prohibition on cockfighting will likely force the highly regulated industry in Puerto Rico to become an underground industry, without the safeguards or the oversight of the local government, bringing cockfights back to our streets, absent of local control or government oversight, resulting in risks that could, overall, hurt the community health or public safety,” she said.

Cockfighting employs about 27,000 people in Puerto Rico directly or indirectly, and generates about $18 million annually in economic activity, González-Colón said.

Federal law leaves cockfighting regulation in states mostly up to state governments, but all 50 have banned the practice.

Up until last year, territories were also allowed to regulate cockfighting. But the Agriculture Improvement Act banned it, along with dogfighting, in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa.

Animal rights activists cheered the prohibition.

“The amendment will protect animals from cruelty, communities from associated criminal activity, and the public from disease transmission in the food supply,” the Humane Society of the United States said after the bill’s Senate passage.

But González-Colón said that in Puerto Rico, the provision is devastating, particular with the economy so fragile after 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

“This will have a direct impact on the economy of the island if you are prohibiting the cockfighting industry,” she said.

“This issue never received a congressional hearing. This issue never received a markup discussion or any other consideration appropriate to regulate this industry.”

Both chambers of Puerto Rico’s legislature endorsed repealing the cockfighting ban.

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