For more than a year and a half, we have received notifications from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regarding new cases of virulent Newcastle disease (vND).
Most of these cases, according to APHIS, have occurred in “backyard exhibition chickens.”
At first, I thought that phrase meant poultry being raised by 4-H members to exhibit at their county and state fairs. But it didn’t take long for me to learn that wasn’t what APHIS meant at all. “Backyard exhibition chickens” is just a politically correct way of saying “cockfighting birds.”
Legalities of cockfighting
Cockfighting is now illegal in the United States and U.S. territories. But obviously it is continuing in some areas.
Apparently, there are no signs of it slowing down in the U.S. territory of Guam, and its legislative body apparently has no intention of stopping it, because leaders say the residents of Guam had no say in the outlawing of cockfighting.
“No input from the people of Guam was ever received. As a result, the Guam Legislature passed an amendment that would make spending local funds to enforce this unfunded mandate as the lowest priority for the government of Guam,” the legislature announced earlier in 2019 through the office of Speaker Tina Muña Barnes.
Regardless of whether you like cockfighting, you have to respect Guam’s reasoning for not enforcing the law. You could consider it taxation without representation.
Transporting of fighting cocks and related risks
While bringing cockfighting to an end in Guam is not a priority for officials there, it is a priority for at least one well-known animal rights activist.
Wayne Pacelle, who nearly two years ago stepped down as CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) amid multiple sexual harassment allegations, has gone on to found another group known as Animal Wellness Action (AWA).
Pacelle has written several opinion pieces about cockfighting in Guam, and in his latest writing, Pacelle made mention of hundreds of chickens shipped from cockfighters in 15 states to Guam.
Among those states are California, where nearly all of those U.S. vND cases have been confirmed.
AWA has requested that Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero shut down import permits for such live animals. According to Pacelle, Guerrero will confer with legal advisors on the matter and decide whether action is warranted.
It seems safe to assume Pacelle’s main objective is to stop cockfighting because he sees it as a form of animal cruelty. But there are also animal health concerns.
If these exhibitions have caused the spread of a virulent disease in California that has even hit several commercial egg facilities, there is a possibility that vND-positive birds or eggs can also be shipped to Guam and spread the disease there.
There may be no meaningful poultry production in Guam, but with potential threats from migratory birds, the acceptance of fighting bird imports in Guam seems like a risk that shouldn’t be taken.
While I disagree with Pacelle on most things, he might just be right on this one.