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Issues in Farm Bill Have Animal Advocates' Attention

PHOTO: The proposed Farm Bill includes a crackdown on cockfighting, an activity that persists in Arkansas despite being made a felony in 2009. Courtesy HSUS.
PHOTO: The proposed Farm Bill includes a crackdown on cockfighting, an activity that persists in Arkansas despite being made a felony in 2009. Courtesy HSUS.
July 25, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Earlier this year, eight men in Craighead County pleaded guilty after being busted for cockfighting. However, a loophole in the federal law on animal fighting lets people off easier who are watching the action - at least, for now.

A proposal to strengthen that law, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, is part of the new versions of the Farm Bill being hashed out in the U.S. House and Senate. Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, explained what it would do.

"It would add to the existing federal statute that cracks down on animal fighting by making it a crime for someone to attend a dogfight or a cockfight, or to bring a child to a dogfight or a cockfight," he said.

Animal fighting became a felony crime in Arkansas in 2009, but being a spectator still is a misdemeanor under state law.

Animal welfare also is the topic of an amendment in the current House version of the Farm Bill. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, wants to toss out state laws about humane treatment of animals. In Arkansas, that could affect a variety of statutes, from not allowing people to dye baby chicks and rabbits to unlawful bear exploitation. Pacelle predicts it would especially affect animals that are caged.

"If there's a state standard that says that the animals should be able to lie down, turn around, stand up and extend their limbs, that could be nullified by Steve King's amendment," Pacelle said. "He even opposed efforts to include pets in disaster planning."

King has said he believes the patchwork of state animal welfare laws restricts commerce by making it difficult - particularly for food producers - to comply with them. Pacelle said the King amendment could nullify rights for animals in 34 states, with broad implications for food safety and environmental standards.

Animal-cruelty laws in Arkansas are listed online at nationalaglawcenter.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR