Rooster Need a Booster? Call Breco!
A business that advertises in 'The Gamecock' magazine alleges its products are for fatigue and infections, not cockfighting
John Goodwin was flipping through the November issue of The Gamecock magazine when he came across an ad and did a double-take: Breco Products LLC, a family-owned business that makes "supplements" for fighting roosters and, allegedly, for "show" birds and animals, had made a move. In the past, the company had often bought several pages of glossy ads in the underground magazine for its products, advertising them for sale by phone or mail from Cook Springs, Ala. This month, there was just a single-page color ad, now advertising the products with a new address – an Austin address, located in the Steiner Ranch development near Lake Travis.
Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy for the Humane Society of the United States, is about as close to an expert on cockfighting as a person who doesn't fight roosters can be. For more than a decade, he's kept a close eye on the underground world of cockfighting – a blood sport that pits two or more birds against each other in a ring in what is often a fight to the death of more than one bird. Cockfighting is illegal under federal law and in all 50 states. Alabama's law, which makes only the fighting itself a misdemeanor offense, ranks as the weakest law against cockfighting in the country, according to HSUS.
But with passage last year of a law that greatly strengthens Texas' century-old ban on cockfighting – a law that makes it a felony to cause a cockfight; to operate a location used for cockfighting or to allow another person to use a space for a cockfight; to make money from a cockfight; or to manufacture or sell "gaffs" and "slashers," knives affixed to the birds to make their strikes more deadly – the Texas stance against the practice has become far more stringent. In that context, moving Breco to Texas – and, more strikingly, to Austin, a bastion for vociferous protectors of animals – struck Goodwin as strange. "I thought, 'Wait, this doesn't look right: Austin, Texas?'" he recalls thinking when he spotted the new address on the Breco ad. "You've got to be kidding me."
But it's no joke: According to the ad – and to paperwork filed this summer with the state – Breco Products LLC has indeed moved from Alabama to Texas, with a business address that is the site of a Pak Mail store in Steiner Ranch, in the same strip mall as a coffee and ice cream shop, a martial arts studio, and a hair salon. An online search turned up a nearby residential address for Lori Berryman, the managing member of the family business, and her husband, Christopher. Breco does not maintain a website, but its products are readily advertised online, through sites that cater to the gamecock crowd, such as Oakridge Gamefarm. The products range from the relatively straightforward "Breco B15 Nite Owl Method," described as a B15 complex meant to prevent fatigue in birds due to "lactic acid buildup in the muscles," to the more cryptic "Breco Ceka injectible 30cc," described as a "highly effective combination of two agents used in the prevention of excess bleeding and in controlling the 'rattles.'" Goodwin said in his experience Breco's supplements are meant either to "juice" the roosters, to make them more aggressive, or, as with the Ceka injectible, to allow them to fight a bit longer even when mortally wounded and, in that specific case, suffering from "death rattles."
But what exactly is in those products is unclear – and so is whether they're legal. Texas' law does not outlaw the sale of paraphernalia related to cockfighting other than gaffs and slashers. But the federal anti-animal fighting law does prohibit using the mail to further an "animal fighting venture," which could be applied to Breco's products, says Texas animal law attorney Don Feare – particularly if the products are shipped interstate, which the ad in The Gamecock readily suggests. The products may also run afoul of Food and Drug Administration rules, Feare suggests. "It's most definitely something the FDA should look into," he said.
In a brief phone conversation Monday, Christopher Berryman said first that the company hadn't moved to Austin and doesn't advertise, a position that he changed after being reminded of The Gamecock ad. He said the products are simply supplements to enhance animal well-being, that they are meant not only for roosters but for all kinds of animals – including "tigers, racing pigeons, parakeets, and peacocks" – and that the products Breco sells are manufactured by others. Berryman declined to release a list of those manufacturers or a list of ingredients in Breco's products, but said they are all compounds that don't require FDA approval. Asked about the Breco Ceka injectible, he said it was simply meant to treat fowl with "respiratory infections." When read the text from the online Oakridge Gamefarm ad, he hedged; when asked if that was specifically targeting wounded fighting gamecocks, he terminated the call: "I think we need to end this conversation," he said, and he directed further questions to his attorney. Berryman hung up before providing an attorney's name, and a subsequent phone call went unanswered.
FDA rules suggest some of Breco's products may indeed be subject to regulation despite Berryman's assurance to the contrary. Without a list of ingredients, it is difficult to know whether the products contain only substances already approved and codified in federal law. Moreover, a spokesperson from the FDA referred the Chronicle to a 2002 "Update on Animal Dietary Supplements" article from the agency's Veterinarian Newsletter that suggests that at least some of the Breco products – including the Ceka, which is billed online as a coagulant – may contain drugs that firmly fall under FDA regulations. The FDA spokesperson would not comment directly on Breco or its products, but wrote in an email that the agency believes the 2002 newsletter speaks for itself. Indeed, it does suggest there may be something to regulate when it comes to Breco, but that going after possibly illegal animal-supplement companies isn't at the top of the agency's lengthy list of responsibilities. "Many of these types of products marketed for animals contain ingredients that may be unsafe food additives or unapproved new animal drugs, making the products unsafe for animals," reads the article. "While these products are technically in violation of the law, they are of low enforcement priority except for when public or animal health concerns arise."