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Animal rights group calling for stricter cockfighting laws in Alabama

Alabama hasn't changed its penalties for cockfighting since 1896.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Center for a Humane Economy (CHE) — two non-profit animal welfare groups that bring a science-based approach to fighting animal cruelty — released two reports in January detailing rampant cockfighting in Alabama and cockfighting and its role in spreading Avian Influenza and other infectious diseases. Executive director Marty Irby of AWA says Alabama's laws place them dead last in the issue.  

"Alabama, on the issue of cockfighting, is right now, number 50 out of 50 states so, it's dead last when it comes to cockfighting in the country and the state laws and penalties that we have on the books." Irby Shares

Now, animal rights groups are calling on Alabama lawmakers to strengthen the state’s anti-cockfighting law that dates from 1896. The organizations wrote to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and alerted her to the dangerous overlap between widespread illegal cockfighting operations and the state’s massive commercial poultry operations, urging her to initiate in this session a priority legislative effort to upgrade the state’s anemic anti-cockfighting law, which has gone unchanged since 1896. 

The law is the nation’s weakest of its type, stipulating that “any person who keeps a cockpit or who in any public place fights cocks shall, upon conviction, be fined no less than $20 but no more than $50,” the letter stated. Alabama’s leniency on the law has led some to call the state the ‘cock fighting capital of the southeast.’

"We really haven't seen any widely known people in the public eye engaged in the sport, they're mostly underground," Irby shared. "They do try to brag about it on social media like Facebook and YouTube, which many of our investigations have led us to, but at the end of the day, it's a lot more of a, I would say, rural activity in the state of Alabama, and it's well hidden as far as the physical location of these events is concerned."

According to the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and the USDA, the state produces about 1.17 billion broiler chickens and 10.7 million egg laying hens annually worth $3.1 billion. Commercial poultry operations generate $15 billion in total economic impact in Alabama and employ 86,000 workers on farms, processing plants, and in allied industries. Broilers and layer farmers generate 65% of Alabama farm revenue and comprise one-eighth of the state economy. 

The recent rise of egg prices has been linked to the avian flu, which Irby shares can be linked back to old cockfighting shipments. "You can trace most of the outbreaks of avian influenza in years past back to cockfighting shipments. When avian influenza spreads, what happens is that whole flock has to then be depopulated. If we prevented this from happening on the front end and prevented these shipments of birds, then we wouldn't see this near as rampant because all of these spots are being depopulated right now. It's in 48 states, including Alabama. We're seeing a lot of the egg laying hens, being depopulated and killed and that is driving up the price of eggs.

The HPAI (H5N1 strain) bird flu epidemic that began in February 2022 in Indiana has already killed nearly 60 million commercial and backyard poultry and unknown thousands, perhaps millions, of wild birds in 48 states over the past 12 months. There have been 309 commercial poultry flocks (mostly layer flocks and meat turkeys) and 427 backyard flocks in 47 states infected and euthanized as of January 2023. It is unknown if any infected backyard flocks are game fowl because USDA does not report this data. This epidemic is the largest and will be the costliest animal disease outbreak in our nation’s history.

Another risk in this is the threat of another pandemic. "They fight to the death and many times one of them will have a knife on their foot and they'll puncture the other roosters, lungs," Irby shares. "They'll stop the fight, pull the bird out of the fight and put the bird's mouth to their mouth and perform mouth to mouth resuscitation-like action and suck the blood out of that bird's lungs into their own body. That's a prime disastrous recipe for the next pandemic to jump the species barrier. 

While groups are calling on Gov. Ivey's support, they are asking for the public to do their part. Please call the Governor's office and ask her to increase the penalties and support legislation," Irby shares. "You can also check out our microsite, because we offer a $5,000 reward to anyone who sends us information that leads to an arrest and conviction of a cockfighting in the state."

For more on cockfighting and Alabama laws, check out their website.

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