Half-Cocked
Hillary aims to strangle America's game-fowl industry.
  by Kimberley A. Strassel       August 9, 2001

Hillary Clinton is a chicken.
That's the verdict of a scrappy little industry known for its breeding and selling of  fighting poultry.

Last week the junior pullet from New York co-sponsored an amendment to the Democrats' farm bill
that would have banned the interstate shipment of game fowl. Such roosters, you'll remember,
are known primarily as the majestic creatures that participate in cockfights.

Cockfighting is legal only in Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma, and Ms. Clinton had little chance
of changing the rules there. But since cockfighting depends mainly on roosters shipped from around the
country to those three states, Ms. Clinton's amendment was a backdoor way of crippling the sport.
Mrs. Clinton, the industry maintains, didn't have the courage to take cockfighting on directly.

Last week the amendment died along with the Democrats' farm bill. But legislators vow to revive it. This should be
a cause for concern, because whether or not you approve of cockfighting, Ms. Clinton's bill is an affront to
greater principles. To begin with, it tramples all over states' rights. Worse, it threatens to eliminate a legal,
legitimate, multimillion-dollar industry that conducts a thriving trade across the world.

There's no lack of journalism both defending and condemning cockfighting, and I'm not about to try to change
anyone's mind. Personally, I think rooster fights are perfectly legitimate. These are chickens, after all. Chickens,
moreover, which by their own nature love to fight. I see little reason why humans should stop them from doing in
a pit what they do with great frequency in a barnyard.

But whatever your feelings about cockfighting, there are bigger questions at stake with Ms. Clinton's cock
legislation. And at the top of the list is the concept of federalism.

Cockfighting remains wildly popular in the states where it is legal, in part because people travel from other parts of
the country to enter their roosters. The tradition itself is as old as America, and it has all the elements of a
much-loved hobby--magazines (Grit and Steel, Feathered Warrior), Web sites (PitMaster.com) merchandise,
specialty products, swap meets and a lingo all its own. Many people consider it a heritage, passed down from
generation to generation.

Despite opponents' frantic efforts, citizens of the three cockfighting states have firmly and repeatedly declined to
outlaw the sport. Just last year, the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting couldn't garner enough signatures to
put the issue on the ballot, falling 10,000 short. That was after the state Supreme Court found more than 30,000
signatures weren't legal.

Thwarted at the state level, animal-rights activists and reactionary senators are focusing on Washington. The
amendment (also sponsored by Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado, a Republican who should know better) was the
ultimate loophole legislation. The supporters of the legislation made no secret of their actual goal, making
incendiary and hyperbolic comments about rooster fighting, and the people--known as cockers--who engage in it.

Now, I'm not about to argue that the survival of cockfighting somehow underpins the survival of the republic. But
at the same time, the very obscurity of the issue shows just how intrusive the federal government can be. We've
had many intelligent debates in this country over federalism; our last presidential election engendered the most
recent and lively. But I dare any birdbrain to show me exactly what part of the Constitution gives the federal
government the power to protect the rights of chickens. And in the absence of that power, it's clear that the
right to let roosters have at it belongs firmly to the states.

What's more, Sen. Cluck-Cluck's legislation would kill off an impressively successful industry--one that is largely
rural and family owned, yet that does merry trade across the globe. Indeed, one of the ironies of Mrs. Clinton's
amendment is that it was stuck to a massive bailout bill for farmers. Yet here was Hillary hoping to strangle one of
the few parts of the agricultural industry that make good money.

What many people don't know is that while cockfighting is illegal in most states, breeding gamecocks is not. In
fact, the United Gamefowl Breeders Association estimates that, at the low end, there are more than 100,000
breeders in America, located in every state.

Most of the farms have long histories and are run by farmers who take their profession seriously. Raising game
fowl is a craft, one that starts with choosing the correct animals to mate--creating breeds with the best muscular
and skeletal structure, mental capabilities and certain fighting traits. These bloodlines have colorful names, from
Pearl-Legged Butchers to Lacy Roundheads, and make an impression on buyers. Then comes the long period when
the birds are put out to free range, then housed individually, with careful feeding, exercise and training.

A significant number of gamecocks are simply raised to show, proudly, at poultry shows--the way people raise
prize turnips. But for those breeders that sell their wares, the money is worthwhile. A good brood hen brings in
$500. It isn't unusual to see a rooster and two hens--of the right variety--advertised for $5,000.

Indeed, the Louisiana Gamefowl Breeders Association recently did an economic impact survey of its industry in the
state. The group estimated, conservatively, that the state had 2,750 breeders, that the average number of fowl
per farm was 368, and that the average cost and value of one game fowl was about $203. This works out to an
approximately $205 million economy. That's just one state. Louisiana's game-foul industry is small compared with
those of Alabama, Georgia, Texas and other states where cockfighting itself is against the law.

Game fowl is an international industry. Only a handful of nations outlaw cockfighting, and the great bulk U.S.
game-fowl sales are to other countries. (Perhaps all those Democrats complaining that America is out of step with
the rest of the world should add this to their list of things to change?) In places like the Philippines and Guam,
cockfighting isn't only legal, it's a national sport. America game-fowl breeders are an important aspect of this
global industry.

Given that the breeders aren't fighting the birds in their states and are selling them to residents of countries
where it is legal, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Allard have no real compelling reason for driving an entire industry into
bankruptcy other than their own delicate sensibilities.

Hillary has no business imposing her squeamishness on the rest of us. Someone should tell her to quit sticking her
beak in where it isn't wanted.
Ms. Strassel is an assistant features editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Her column appears on
alternate Thursdays.

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