The Senate adopted the bill last month, after it was approved by the House.
“With this law, we can clamp down on these cruel, inhumane practices,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the bill's chief Senate sponsor.
Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., had introduced the House version.
Dog fighting is banned throughout the United States and is a felony in 48 states. Cockfighting is a felony in 33 states and legal only in Louisiana.
Many anti-animal-fighting laws carry a punishment of no more than a year in jail. Violators of the new federal law would face felony-level penalties and up to three years in prison for knowingly buying, selling or transporting animals across state or international borders for the purpose of fighting.
The law also would make it a felony to knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal fight, or to buy, sell or transport knives, gaffs and other weapons used in cockfighting.
Animal-welfare groups had long urged Congress to adopt stronger penalties on blood sports such as dog fighting and cockfighting, centuries-old traditions that most lawmakers and animal rights advocates now label brutal.
“Animal fighting is a barbaric and inhumane practice, and it is fitting and appropriate that we now have a national policy condemning and criminalizing this form of organized animal cruelty,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, which led the push for stronger penalties against animal fighting.
The new law should substantially curb the transport of fighting animals across state and U.S. borders, Pacelle said. The Humane Society is already seeing some major breeders of fighting roosters cut back on production, he said.
Blumenauer called Bush's signature on the bill a great victory.
“After being held up for more than five years, today's approval by the president marks a significant milestone for all of us who worked so hard to stop this barbaric crime and hold accountable those who perpetrate it,” he said.
The bill is H.R. 137.
On the Net:
Humane Society of the United States: www.hsus.org