Press Release

Tennessee Lawmakers Should Make All Forms of Animal Fighting a Felony In Light of Disease Outbreaks, Rampant Illegal Cockfighting

Cockfighting Brings Threats of Spreading Avian Influenza and Driving Up Egg Prices

Nashville, Tenn. — Citing concerns about cruelty and disease threats to other commercially raised poultry, Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation today called on Tennessee lawmakers to give favorable consideration to SB 194, by Senator Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and H.B. 285, by Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, to make core cockfighting activities a federal offense.

Under Tennessee law, cockfighting is a Class A misdemeanor. Tennessee is one of eight states without felony-level penalties for a first offense related to cockfighting.

“Cockfighting is not only illegal and barbaric, but it is associated with gambling, narcotics trafficking, and other crimes,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “It also poses a threat to commercial poultry production, with widespread movement of potentially infected cockfighting roosters adding fire to the current avian influenza outbreak and putting the price of eggs out of reach for thousands of Tennesseans.”

In 2020, Animal Wellness Action and Animal Wellness Foundation announced that an investigation uncovered extensive involvement in cockfighting from a large number of individuals in Tennessee, including several who ship cockfighting birds to Mexico, the Philippines, Guam, and other distant locations. The groups allege that these individuals are also involved in fights at illegal pits in Tennessee, Kentucky, and other states.

“Cockfighting drives outbreaks of serious poultry and zoonotic diseases especially virulent Newcastle disease (vND) and highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses,” said Jim Keen, D.V.M, Ph.D., who formerly worked at USDA’s National Meat Animal Research Center. He added that HPAI (“bird flu”) and vND are the two most high-impact diseases of poultry worldwide.

According to a new report from the Center for a Humane Economy, the 15 known introductions of vND into the United States since the first outbreak in 1950 have led to three devastating epidemics in 1971, 2002, and 2018. Disease introductions occurred from legally imported pet birds (often parrots), imported infected poultry, or game fowl smuggled for cockfighting. Ten of the 15 US vND outbreaks originated from illegally smuggled game fowl for cockfighting.

The current outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza has resulted in the mass killing of 60 million birds, mainly laying hens. That extraordinary loss of life has driven a surge in egg prices, with a dozen eggs priced between $4 and $7.50 in Tennessee and other parts of the United States. Cockfighting birds, according to Dr. Keen, can play a role in extending the range, duration, and virulence of the outbreak.

 “Cockfighting breeds a cesspool of other illegal activities, such as gambling and drug abuse,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action and a former resident of Tennessee. “It is time to root out this behavior with a combination of precise lawmaking and robust enforcement.”

WHAT TO DO

The groups also announced a $5,000 reward for information resulting in successful prosecution of any individual for violating the federal law (7 U.S.C. § 2156) or the state law (TCA Title 39) against animal fighting.

Anyone with information about illegal cockfighting activities can send information to animalcrueltytips@animalwellnessaction.org. Residents also can contact the appropriate U.S. attorneys, the state attorney general, or county sheriffs or district attorneys.

Animal Wellness Action (Action) is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization with a mission of helping animals by promoting legal standards forbidding cruelty. We champion causes that alleviate the suffering of companion animals, farm animals, and wildlife. We advocate for policies to stop dogfighting and cockfighting and other forms of malicious cruelty and to confront factory farming and other systemic forms of animal exploitation. To prevent cruelty, we promote enacting good public policies and we work to enforce those policies. To enact good laws, we must elect good lawmakers, and that’s why we remind voters which candidates care about our issues and which ones don’t. We believe helping animals helps us all.

The Center for a Humane Economy (“the Center”) is a non-profit organization that focuses on influencing the conduct of corporations to forge a humane economic order. The first organization of its kind in the animal protection movement, the Center encourages businesses to honor their social responsibilities in a culture where consumers, investors, and other key stakeholders abhor cruelty and the degradation of the environment and embrace innovation as a means of eliminating both.

The Animal Wellness Foundation (Foundation) is a Los Angeles-based private charitable organization with a mission of helping animals by making veterinary care available to everyone with a pet, regardless of economic ability. We organize rescue efforts and medical services for dogs and cats in need and help homeless pets find a loving caregiver. We are advocates for getting veterinarians to the front lines of the animal welfare movement; promoting responsible pet ownership; and vaccinating animals against infectious diseases such as distemper. We also support policies that prevent animal cruelty and that alleviate suffering. We believe helping animals helps us all.