U.S. House Agriculture Committee Delivers Mixed Results for Animal Welfare

ASPCA commends Committee for taking steps to strengthen animal fighting laws, expresses dismay over provision that would trample states' rights to protect animals
May 16, 2013

NEW YORK—On Wednesday, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee approved two amendments to the House Farm Bill (Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act–H.R. 6083) that would impact animal welfare in starkly different ways.

On the plus side, an amendment to strengthen animal fighting laws was approved by a bipartisan vote of 28-17. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), would make attending an animal fight a federal offense and impose additional penalties for bringing a child to an animal fight. This amendment is similar to the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act (S. 666 / H.R. 366), standalone legislation with strong bipartisan support from 147 cosponsors introduced by Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), John Campbell (R-Calif.), Jim Moran (D-Va.) and McGovern.

"Animal fights are cruel and gruesome spectacles where animals are exploited and forced to fight as their owners profit from their torture," said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. "Children need protection from the dangerous culture of animal fighting, as well as its associated illegal activities such as drugs, weapons and gambling. The ASPCA applauds Representatives McGovern and all our Congressional leaders for their continued leadership in strengthening laws to combat animal fighting and protect public safety."

Spectators at animal fights are not there accidentally—they intentionally seek out the criminal activity at secret locations for the entertainment of watching two animals fight to the death and the opportunity to gamble on the barbaric event. When animal fighting operations are raided, it is a common practice for the organizers, promoters and animal owners to blend into the crowd of spectators in order to escape law enforcement. This legislation would discourage individuals from enabling animal fights via their patronage and ensure that organizers cannot easily hide in the crowd when law enforcement officials arrive. It would also allow law enforcement agencies nationwide to pursue and punish the spectators who drive the market for animal fighting.

In the same session, the Committee approved an amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would weaken state animal cruelty laws across the country. This dangerous provision, which passed on a voice vote, would prevent states from passing their own laws regarding the production of “agricultural products”—a term so broad that it could include farm animals and dogs in puppy mills. As a result, improved agriculture standards at the state level could be negated by much weaker federal legislation.

"The King Amendment essentially tramples states' sovereign rights to enact legislation protecting animals on farms and in puppy mills, improving the environment, and protecting consumers," added Perry. "Even more troubling, this provision would strike down many existing state animal cruelty laws, leaving some animals with no legal protections. The ASPCA expresses its dismay over this amendment and hopes the full chamber will object to this unprecedented assault on states' rights."

This week, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version of the Farm Bill. Included in this legislation is the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which was introduced as a provision by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and David Vitter (R-La.). Both the House and Senate Farm Bills must now be considered by each chamber for passage.

For more information on the ASPCA's efforts to tackle animal fighting and to join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, please visit www.aspca.org