By Justine Lopez
WASHINGTON — Puerto Rican lawmakers are seeking to repeal a provision of the 2018 Farm Bill that bans cockfighting in U.S. territories.
“This ban is an overreach from Congress to the U.S. territories,” Jenniffer González-Colón, resident commissioner of Puerto Rico — a non-voting member of Congress — said during a Wednesday news conference in Washington.
González-Colón said she introduced legislation signed by the delegates of all U.S. territories to repeal the ban.
The Department of Sports and Recreation of Puerto Rico regulates cockfighting in the U.S. territory. Local island government controls every standard of cockfighting from breeding, refereeing and licensing of venues. Colón said she worries that banning the cockfighting, it will continue illegally and potentially harm public safety.
“This abrupt provision of cockfighting will likely force the highly regulated industry in Puerto Rico to become an underground industry without the safeguards or the oversight of local government,” she said.
Lawmakers also are seeking to repeal the ban for economic reasons. The industry generates more than $18 million annually and represents more than 27,000 direct and indirect jobs in Puerto Rico, according to the territory’s Office of Gallic Affairs.
But animal-rights organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society International consider the new law a victory.
“These are birds that are armed with weapons that slash eyes out, and it’s just a brutal blood sport and it’s really something that should’ve gone a long time ago,” Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Humane Society International, said in an NPR interview.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states. Gambling is common at the fights, which law enforcement officials have found often go hand-in-hand with illegal-drug sales, according to HSUS.
The organization offers rewards of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in cockfighting.
President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill into law in late December 2018.