Louisiana governor signs cockfighting ban

The only U.S. state where breeders can still legally pit fighting roosters against each other in bloody battles to the death has officially banned cockfighting.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed the ban Thursday, ending years of dispute among legislators, the cockfighting industry and the animal rights groups that consider the fights barbaric.

The new law, effective in August 2008, makes it a crime to organize or enter birds in a cockfight. It also closes a loophole in Louisiana's animal cruelty laws.

Gambling on the fights was banned in the state this summer.

Cockfighting is a rural tradition in which specially bred roosters, often with blades or metal spurs attached to their legs, fight to the death or serious injury while spectators wager on the outcome.

Louisiana breeders of the fighting roosters and owners of the cockfighting arenas, known as "pits," had argued that an immediate ban would be unfair, leaving them with equipment and hundreds of useless birds.

Lawmakers, however, were under pressure after New Mexico's ban went into effect in June, leaving their state alone in allowing cockfighting.

Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States, acknowledged in a statement that he wanted the fights banned immediately but said the new law at least set "a short timeline for the demise of this barbaric activity in the state."