People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA; stylized PeTA) is an American animal rights organization based in Norfolk, Virginia, and led by Ingrid Newkirk, its international president. A non-profit corporation with 300 employees, it says it has three million members and supporters and is the largest animal rights group in the world. Its slogan is "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any way."
Founded in March 1980 by Newkirk and fellow animal rights activist Alex Pacheco, the organization first caught the public's attention in the summer of 1981 during what became known as the Silver Spring monkeys case, a widely publicized dispute about experiments conducted on 17 macaque monkeys inside the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. The case lasted ten years, involved the only police raid on an animal laboratory in the United States, triggered an amendment in 1985 to that country's Animal Welfare Act, and established PETA as an internationally known organization. Today it focuses on four core issuesâ"opposition to factory farming, fur farming, animal testing, and animals in entertainment. It also campaigns against eating meat, fishing, the killing of animals regarded as pests, the keeping of chained backyard dogs, cock fighting, dog fighting, and bullfighting.
The group has been the focus of criticism from inside and outside the animal rights movement. Newkirk and Pacheco are seen as the leading exporters of animal rights to the more traditional animal protection groups in the United States, but sections of the movement nevertheless say PETA is not radical enoughâ"law professor Gary Francione calls them the new welfarists, arguing that their work with industries to achieve reform makes them an animal welfare group, not an animal rights group. Newkirk told Salon in 2001 that PETA works toward the ideal, but tries in the meantime to provide carrot-and-stick incentives. There has also been criticism from feminists within the movement about the use of scantily clad women in PETA's anti-fur campaigns, and criticism in general that the group's media stunts trivialize animal rights. Newkirk's view is that PETA has a duty to be "press sluts".
Outside the movement, the confrontational nature of PETA's campaigns has caused concern, as has the estimated 85% of animals it euthanizes. PETA was further criticized in 2005 by United States Senator Jim Inhofe for having given grants several years earlier to Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) activists, two groups that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified as agents of domestic terrorism. In 2009, the United States Department of Agriculture sent a questionnaire to animal research facilities, in which it listed PETA along with the ALF, ELF, and other groups, asking whether "terrorist activities have occurred in or around your building/facility in the past 5 years" committed by those groups. PETA responded that it has no involvement in ALF or ELF actions and does not support violence, though Newkirk has elsewhere made clear that she supports the removal of animals from laboratories and other facilities, including as a result of illegal direct action.
Newkirk was born in England in 1949 and raised in Hertfordshire, and later New Delhi, India, where her fatherâ"a navigational engineerâ"was stationed. Newkirk, now an atheist, was educated in a convent, the only British girl there. She moved to the United States as a teenager, first studying to become a stockbroker, but after taking some abandoned kittens to a shelter in 1969, and appalled by the conditions she found there, she chose a career in animal protection instead. She became an animal protection officer for Montgomery County, then the District of Columbia's first woman poundmaster. By 1976 she was head of the animal-disease-control division of D.C.'s Commission on Public Health, and in 1980 was among those named as Washingtonian of the Year. She told Michael Specter of The New Yorker that working for the shelters left her shocked at the way the animals were treated:
I went to the front office all the time, and I would say, "John is kicking the dogs and putting them into freezers." Or I would say, "They are stepping on the animals, crushing them like grapes, and they don't care." In the end, I would go to work early, before anyone got there, and I would just kill the animals myself. Because I couldn't stand to let them go through that. I must have killed a thousand of them, sometimes dozens every day. Some of those people would take pleasure in making them suffer. Driving home every night, I would cry just thinking about it. And I just felt, to my bones, this cannot be right.
In 1980, she divorced Steve Newkirk, whom she had married when she was 19, and the same year met Alex Pacheco, a political major at George Washington University. Pacheco had studied for the priesthood, then worked as a crew member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's first ship. He volunteered at the shelter where she worked, and they fell in love and began living together, though as Kathy Snow Guillermo writes they were very differentâ"Newkirk was older and more practical, whereas Pacheco could barely look after himself. He introduced Newkirk to Peter Singer's influential book, Animal Liberation (1975), and in March 1980 she persuaded him to join her in forming People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, at that point just five people in a basement, as Newkirk described it. They were mostly students and members of the local vegetarian society, but the group included a friend of Pacheco's from the UK, Kim Stallwood, a British activist who went on to become the national organizer of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. Pacheco was reluctant at first. "It just didn't sound great to me," he told The Los Angeles Times in 1992." I had been active in Europe ... and I thought there were just too many formalities. I thought we should just do things ourselves. But she made a convincing case that Washington needed a vehicle for animals because the current organizations were too conservative."
Silver Spring monkeys
The group first came to public attention in 1981 during the Silver Spring monkeys case, a dispute about experiments conducted by researcher Edward Taub on 17 macaque monkeys inside the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. The case led to the first police raid in the United States on an animal laboratory, triggered an amendment in 1985 to the United States Animal Welfare Act, and became the first animal-testing case to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld a Louisiana State Court ruling that denied PETA's request for custody of the monkeys.
Pacheco had taken a job in May 1981 inside a primate research laboratory at the Institute, intending to gain firsthand experience of working inside an animal laboratory. Taub had been cutting sensory ganglia that supplied nerves to the monkeys' fingers, hands, arms, and legsâ"a process called "deafferentation"â"so that the monkeys could not feel them; some of the monkeys had had their entire spinal columns deafferented. He then used restraint, electric shock, and withholding of food and water to force the monkeys to use the deafferented parts of their bodies. The research led in part to the discovery of neuroplasticity and a new therapy for stroke victims called constraint-induced movement therapy.
Pacheco went to the laboratory at night, taking photographs that showed the monkeys living in what the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research's ILAR Journal called filthy conditions. He passed his photographs to the police, who raided the lab and arrested Taub. Taub was convicted of six counts of animal cruelty, the first such conviction in the United States of an animal researcher; the conviction was overturned on appeal. Norm Phelps writes that the case followed the highly publicized campaign of Henry Spira in 1976 against experiments on cats being performed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and Spira's subsequent campaign in April 1980 against the Draize test. These and the Silver Spring monkey case jointly put animal rights on the agenda in the United States.
The ten-year battle for custody of the monkeysâ"described by The Washington Post as a vicious mud fight, during which both sides accused the other of lies and distortionâ"Â transformed PETA into a national, then international, movement. By February 1991, it claimed over 350,000 members, a paid staff of over 100, and an annual budget of over $7 million.
PETA was based in Rockville, Maryland until 1996, when it moved to Norfolk, Virginia. PETA opened a Los Angeles division in 2006.
Philosophy and activism
PETA writes that it is an animal rights organization, and as such it rejects speciesism and the idea of animals as property, and opposes the use of animals in any form: as food, clothing, entertainment, or as research subjects. One oft-cited quote of Newkirk's is: "When it comes to feelings like hunger, pain, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." The group has been criticized by other animal rights advocates for its willingness to work with industries that use animalsâ"a position many animal rights advocates find problematic. Newkirk rejects the criticism, and has said of the group that it is here to hold the radical line.
PETA lobbies governments to impose fines where animal-welfare legislation has been violated, promotes a vegan diet, tries to reform the practices in factory farms and slaughterhouses, goes undercover into animal research laboratories, farms, and circuses, initiates media campaigns against particular companies or practices, helps to find sanctuaries for former circus and zoo animals, and initiates lawsuits against companies.
The group has two million members and supporters, it received donations of over $32 million for the year ending July 31, 2009, and its website was receiving four million hits a month as of November 2008. Over 80 percent of its operating budget was spent on its programs in 2008-2009, 15 percent on fundraising, and four percent on management and general operations. Thirty-two percent of its staff earned under $30,000, 24 percent over $40,000, and Newkirk just under $37,000.
Pacheco left the group in 1999 and since then, two key staff members next to Newkirk have been Tracy Reiman, Executive Vice President, and Dan Mathews, Senior Vice-President of campaigns.
Campaigns and consumer boycotts
The organization is known for its aggressive media campaigns, combined with a solid base of celebrity supportâ"Pamela Anderson, Drew Barrymore, Alec Baldwin, John Gielgud, Bill Maher, Stella McCartney, and Alicia Silverstone have all appeared in PETA ads. Every week, Newkirk holds what The New Yorker calls a war council, with two dozen of her top strategists gathered round a square table in the PETA conference room, no suggestion considered too outrageous. PETA also gives a yearly prize, called the Proggy Award (for "progress"), to individuals or organizations dedicated to animal welfare or who distinguish themselves through their efforts within the area of animal welfare.
Many of the campaigns have focused on large corporations. Fast food companies such as KFC, Wendy's, and Burger King have been targeted. In the animal-testing industry, PETA's consumer boycotts have focused on Avon, Benetton, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, Chesebrough-Pond's, Dow Chemical, General Motors, and others. Their modus operandi includes buying shares in target companies such as McDonald's and Kraft Foods in order to exert influence. The campaigns have delivered results for PETA. McDonald's and Wendy's introduced vegetarian options after PETA targeted them; Petco stopped selling some exotic pets; and Polo Ralph Lauren said it would no longer use fur. Avon, Estee Lauder, Benetton, and Tonka Toy Co. all stopped testing products on animals, the Pentagon stopped shooting pigs and goats in wounds tests, and a slaughterhouse in Texas was closed down.
As part of its anti-fur action, PETA members have infiltrated hundreds of fashion shows in the U.S, Europe, and once in China, throwing red paint on the catwalks, and unfurling banners. Celebrities and supermodels have posed naked for the group's "I'd Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur" campaignâ"some men, but mostly womenâ"triggering criticism from feminist animal rights advocates. The New Yorker writes that PETA activists have crawled through the streets of Paris wearing leg-hold traps and thrown around money soaked in fake blood at the International Fur Fair. They regularly engage in pie-throwingâ"in January 2010, Canadian MP Gerry Byrne compared them to terrorists for throwing a tofu cream pie at Canada's fishery minister Gail Shea in protest at the seal hunt, a comment Newkirk called a silly chest-beating exercise. "The thing is, we make them gawk," she told Satya magazine, "maybe like a traffic accident that you have to look at."
PETA has also objected to the practice of mulesing (removing strips of wool-bearing skin from around the buttocks of a sheep). In October 2004, PETA launched a boycott against the Australian wool industry, leading some clothing retailers to ban products using Australian wool from their stores. In response, the Australian wool industry sued PETA, arguing among other things that mulesing prevents flystrike, a very painful disease that can affect sheep. A settlement was reached, and PETA agreed to stop the boycott, while the wool industry agreed to seek alternatives to mulesing.
In 2011, PETA named five orcas as plaintiffs and sued SeaWorld over the animals' enslavement, seeking their protection under the Thirteenth Amendment. A federal judge heard the case and dismissed it in early 2012. In August 2014, SeaWorld announced it was building new orca tanks that would almost double the size of the existing ones to provide more space for its whales. A "larger prison is still a prison," was the response of PETA.
Patricia de Leon worked with PETA in 2011 to reduce support for bullfighting among Hispanic people.
Some campaigns have been particularly controversial. Newkirk was criticized in 2003 for sending a letter to PLO leader Yasser Arafat asking him to keep animals out of the conflict, after a donkey was blown up during an attack in Jerusalem. The group's 2003 "Holocaust on your Plate" exhibitionâ"eight 60-square-foot (5.6Â m2) panels juxtaposing images of Holocaust victims with animal carcasses and animals being transported to slaughterâ"was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League. In July 2010, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that PETA's campaign was not protected by free speech laws, and banned it within Germany as an offense against human dignity. In 2005, the NAACP criticized the "Are Animals the New Slaves?" exhibit, which showed images of African-American slaves, Native Americans, child laborers, and women, alongside chained elephants and slaughtered cows.
PETA's "It's still going on" campaign features newspaper ads comparing widely publicized murder-cannibalization cases to the deaths of animals in slaughterhouses. The campaign has attracted significant media attention, controversy and generated angry responses from the victims' family members. Ads were released in 1991 describing the deaths of the victims of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, in 2002 describing the deaths of the victims of serial killer Robert William Pickton, and in 2008 describing the murder of Tim McLean. In several cases, newspapers have refused to run the ads.
The group has also been criticized for aiming its message at young people. "Your Mommy Kills Animals" features a cartoon of a woman attacking a rabbit with a knife. To reduce milk consumption, it created the "Got Beer?" campaign, a parody of the dairy industry's series of Got Milk? ads, which featured celebrities with milk "mustaches" on their upper lips. When the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, PETA ran a photograph of him with a white mustache and the words "Got prostate cancer?" to illustrate their claim that dairy products contribute to cancer, an ad that caused an outcry in the United States. After PETA placed ads in school newspapers linking milk to acne, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and strokes, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and college officials complained it encouraged underage drinking; the British Advertising Standards Authority asked that the ads be discontinued after complaints from interest groups such as The National Farmers' Unions.
In August 2011, it was announced that PETA will be launching a soft pornography website in the .xxx domain. PETA spokesperson Lindsay Rajt told the Huffington Post, "We try to use absolutely every outlet to stick up for animals," adding that "We are careful about what we do and wouldn't use nudity or some of our flashier tactics if we didn't know they worked." PETA also used nudity in its "Veggie Love" ad which it prepared for the Super Bowl only to have it banned by the network. PETA's work has drawn the ire of some feminists who argue that the organization sacrifices women's rights to press its agenda. Lindsay Beyerstein criticized PETA saying "They're the ones drawing disturbing analogies between pornography, misogyny and animal cruelty."
Other campaigns are less confrontational and more humorous. In 2008, it launched the "Save the Sea Kittens" campaign to change the name of fish to "sea kittens" to give them a positive image, and it regularly asks towns to adopt a new name. It campaigned in 1996 for a new name for Fishkill, New York, and in April 2003 offered free veggie burgers to Hamburg, New York, if it would call itself Veggieburg.
PETA sometimes issues isolated statements or press releases, commenting on current events. After Lady Gaga wore a dress made of meat in 2010, PETA issued a statement objecting to the dress. After a fisherman in Florida was bitten by a shark in 2011, PETA proposed an advertisement showing a shark biting a human, with the caption "Payback Is Hell, Go Vegan". The proposed ad drew criticism from relatives of the injured fisherman.
PETA has also produced various Flash games showcasing their campaigns, including parodies of Cooking Mama, Super Mario Bros., Super Meat Boy, and PokÃ©mon. A game released in November 2011 features a skinned tanuki chasing Mario to reclaim its fur from him. This was widely criticized as "absurd and unresearched" by the gaming community, prompting PETA to claim that it was a tongue-in-cheek effort to draw attention to the real-life issue of tanuki being skinned alive.
Killing of shelter animals
PETA opposes the no kill movement, and, according to their most recent filling with The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), euthanized 81% of the animals that ended up at their shelter. According to VDACS, PETA took 3,017 animals into its shelters in 2014, of which 2,455 were euthanized, 162 were adopted, and 353 were released to other shelters. The group justifies its euthanasia policies towards pets that are not adopted by saying that it takes in feral cat colonies with diseases such as feline AIDS and leukemia, stray dogs, litters of parvo-infected puppies, and backyard dogs, and says that it would be unrealistic to follow a no-kill policy in such instances. They offer free euthanasia services to counties that kill unwanted animals via gassing or shootingâ"they recommend the use of an intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital if administered by a trained professional, and for severely ill or dying pets when euthanasia at a veterinarian is unaffordable. They recommend euthanasia for certain breeds, such as pit bull terriers, and in certain situations for animals in shelters: for example, for those living for long periods in cramped cages.
PETA's operation of animal shelters has drawn criticism. In 2008, the Center for Consumer Freedom formally petitioned VDACS, requesting official reclassification of PETA as a slaughterhouse. The CCF said in a press release that "(a)n official report filed by PETA itself shows that the animal rights group put to death nearly every dog, cat, and other pet it took in for adoption in 2006." A spokesperson for the VDACS said that it had considered changing PETA's status from "shelter" to "euthanasia clinic", citing PETA"s willingness to handle animals that other shelters would not.
In another case, two PETA employees were acquitted in 2007 of animal cruelty after at least 80 euthanized animals were left in dumpsters in a shopping center in Ahoskie over the course of a month in 2005; the two employees were seen leaving behind 18 dead animals, and 13 more were found inside their van. The animals had been euthanized after being removed from shelters in Northampton and Bertie counties. A Bertie County Deputy Sheriff stated the two employees assured the Bertie Animal Shelter "they were picking up the dogs to take them back to Norfolk where they would find them good homes". During the trial, Daphna Nachminovitch, the supervisor of PETA's Community Animal Project, said PETA began euthanizing animals in some rural North Carolina shelters after it found the shelters killing animals in ways PETA considered inhumane. She also stated that the dumping of animals did not follow PETA policy.
PETA has promoted legal initiatives to enforce existing euthanasia laws. In 1990, Georgia's "Humane Euthanasia Act" became one of the first laws in the nation to mandate intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital as the prescribed method for euthanizing cats and dogs in Georgia animal shelters. Prior to that time, gas chambers and other means were commonly employed. Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin was tasked with licensing the shelters and enforcing the new law, through the Department's Animal Protection Division. However, Commissioner Irvin failed to abide by the terms of the law, and instead continued to license gas chambers. PETA contacted the author of the original legislation, and in March 2007, the Georgia Department of Agriculture and Commissioner Irvin were sued by former State Representative Chesley V. Morton. The Fulton County Superior Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, validating the terms of the Humane Euthanasia Act, with an injunction prohibiting the Department from issuing licenses to shelters using gas chambers in violation of the Act. When the Department continued to license a gas chamber in Cobb County, a second court action was brought, which resulted in the Department being held in contempt.
PETA sends its staff undercover into research laboratories, factory farms, and circuses to document the treatment of animals, where they spend many months as employees of the facility, making copies of documents and wearing hidden cameras. By 2007, it had conducted 75 such investigations. It has also produced videos based on material collected during ALF raids. Some undercover efforts have led to lawsuits or government action against the companies or universities. PETA itself faced legal action in April 2007 after the owners of a chinchilla ranch in Michigan complained about an undercover inquiry there, but the judge ruled in PETA's favor that undercover investigations can be legitimate.
Notable cases include the 26-minute film PETA produced in 1984, Unnecessary Fuss, based on 60 hours of researchers' footage obtained by the ALF during a raid on the University of Pennsylvania's head injury clinic. The footage showed researchers laughing at baboons as they inflicted brain damage on them with a hydraulic device intended to simulate whiplash. Laboratory animal veterinarian Larry Carbone writes that the researchers openly discussed how one baboon was awake before the head injury, despite protocols being in place for anesthesia. The ensuing publicity led to the suspension of funds from the university, the firing of its chief veterinarian, the closure of the lab, and a period of probation for the university.
In 1990, two PETA activists posed as employees of Carolina Biological, where they took pictures and video inside the company, alleging that cats were being mistreated. Following the release of PETA's tapes, the USDA conducted their own inspection and subsequently charged the company with seven violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Four years later, an administrative judge ruled that Carolina Biological had not committed any violations.
In 1990, Bobby Berosini, a Las Vegas entertainer, lost his wildlife license, as well as (on appeal) a later lawsuit against PETA, after the group broadcast an undercover film of him slapping and punching orangutans in 1989. In 1997, a PETA investigation inside Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a contract animal-testing company, produced film of staff in the UK beating dogs, and what appeared to be abuse of monkeys in the company's New Jersey facility. After the video footage aired on British television in 1999, a group of activists set up Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty to close HLS down, a campaign that continues.
In 1999, a North Carolina grand jury handed down indictments against pig-farm workers on Belcross Farm in Camden County, the first indictments for animal cruelty on a factory farm in the United States, after a three-month PETA investigation produced film of the workers beating the animals. In 2004, PETA published the results of an eight-month undercover investigation in a West Virginia Pilgrim's Pride slaughterhouse that supplies chickens to KFC. The New York Times reported the investigation as showing workers stomping on live chickens, throwing dozens against a wall, tearing the head off a chicken to write graffiti, strangling one with a latex glove, and squeezing birds until they exploded. Yum Brands, owner of KFC, called the video appalling, and threatened to stop purchasing from Pilgrim's Pride if no changes were made; Pilgrim's Pride fired 11 employees, and introduced an anti-cruelty pledge for workers to sign.
In 2004 and 2005, PETA shot footage inside Covance, an animal-testing company in the United States and Europe, that appeared to show monkeys being mistreated in the company's facility in Vienna, Virginia. According to The Washington Post, PETA said an employee of the group filmed primates there being choked, hit, and denied medical attention when badly injured. After PETA sent the video and a 253-page complaint to the United States Department of Agriculture, Covance was fined $8,720 for 16 citations, three of which involved lab monkeys; the other citations involved administrative issues and equipment. The company said none of the issues were pervasive or endemic, and that they had taken corrective action. In 2005 Covance initiated a lawsuit charging PETA with fraud, violation of employee contract, and conspiracy to harm the company's business, but did not proceed with it.
PETA also goes undercover into circuses. In 2006, they filmed trainers at Carson & Barnes Circusâ"including Tim Frisco, the animal-care directorâ"striking elephants while shouting at them; The Washington Post writes that the video shows Frisco shouting "Make 'em scream!". A company spokesman dismissed PETA's concerns as "Utopian philosophical ideology", but said the circus would no longer use electric prods.
Direct action and the ALF
Newkirk is outspoken in her support of direct action, writing that no movement for social change has ever succeeded without what she calls the militarism component: "Thinkers may prepare revolutions," she wrote of the ALF in 2004, "but bandits must carry them out."
In 2004 The Observer described what it called a network of relationships between apparently unconnected animal rights groups on both sides of the Atlantic, writing that, with assets of $6.5 million, and with the PETA Foundation holding further assets of $15 million, PETA funds a number of activists and groupsâ"some with links to militant groups, including the ALF, which the FBI has named as a domestic terrorist threat. American writer Don Liddick writes that PETA gave $1,500 to the Earth Liberation Front in 2001â"Newkirk said the donation was a mistake, and that the money had been intended for public education about destruction of habitat, but Liddick writes that it went to the legal defense of Craig Rosebraugh, an ELF spokesman. That same year, according to The Observer, PETA gave a $5,000 grant to American animal rights activist Josh Harper, an advocate of arson.
According to Liddick, PETA has substantial links with Native American ALF activist Rod Coronado. He alleges that two Federal Express packages were sent to an address in Bethesda, Maryland, before and after a 1992 fire at Michigan State University that Coronado was convicted of setting, reportedly as part of "Operation Bite Back," a series of ALF attacks on American animal testing facilities in the 1990s. The first package was picked up by a PETA employee, Maria Blanton, and the second intercepted by the authorities, who identified the handwriting as Coronado's. Liddick writes that the package contained documents removed from the university and a videotape of one of the perpetrators. When they searched Blanton's home, police found some of the paraphernalia of animal liberation raids, including code names for Coronado and Alex Pachecoâ"PETA's co-founderâ"burglary tools, two-way radios, and fake identification. Liddick also writes that PETA gave Coronado $45,000 for his legal bills and another $25,000 to his father.
Newkirk is a strong supporter of direct action that removes animals from laboratories and other facilitiesâ"she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992 that when she hears of anyone walking into a lab and walking out with animals, her heart sings. Newkirk commented to the Chronicle of Higher Education in 1999, "When you see the resistance to basic humane treatment and to the acknowledgment of animals' social needs, I find it small wonder that the laboratories aren't all burning to the ground. If I had more guts, I'd light a match."
In an interview for Wikinews in 2007, she said she had been asked by other animal protection groups to condemn illegal acts. "And I won't do it, because if it were my animal I'd be happy." But she added that she does not support arson. "I would rather that these buildings weren't standing, and so I think at some level I understand. I just don't like the idea of that, but maybe that's wishy-washy of me, because I don't want those buildings standing if they hurt anyone ... Why would you preserve [a building] just so someone can make a profit by continuing to hurt and kill individuals who feel every bit as much as we do?"
Neutering, backyard dogs, working animals, and pets
PETA runs several programs though its Community Animal Project for cats and dogs in poorer areas of Virginia, near its headquarters. In 2008 they neutered 7,485 cats, dogs, and rabbits in that area, including pit bulls and feral cats, at a discounted rate or free of charge. They shelter neglected dogs and cats who are ill and injured, and pursue cruelty cases. They set up dog houses with straw bedding for dogs chained outside all winter. They urge population control through neutering and adoption from shelters, and campaign against organizations such as the American Kennel Club that promote the selection of purebred breeds.
PETA argues that it would have been better for animals had the institution of breeding them as "pets" never emerged, that the desire to own and receive love from animals is selfish, and that their breeding, sale, and purchase can cause immeasurable suffering. Newkirk has stated that she doesn't use the word "pet," preferring "companion animal," and described PETA's vision:
- For one thing, we would no longer allow breeding. People could not create different breeds. There would be no pet shops. If people had companion animals in their homes, those animals would have to be refugees from the animal shelters and the streets. You would have a protective relationship with them just as you would with an orphaned child. But as the surplus of cats and dogs (artificially engineered by centuries of forced breeding) declined, eventually companion animals would be phased out, and we would return to a more symbiotic relationship â" enjoyment at a distance.
PETA writes that millions of dogs spend their lives chained outside in all weather conditions or locked up in chain-link pens and wire cages in puppy mills, and that even in good homes animals are often not well cared for. They would like to see the population of dogs and cats reduced through spaying and neutering, and for people never to purchase animals from pet shops or breeders, but to adopt them from shelters instead. PETA supports hearing dog programs where animals are taken from shelters and placed in appropriate homes, but does not endorse seeing-eye-dog programs because, according to one of their Vice Presidents, "the dogs are bred as if there are no equally intelligent dogs literally dying for homes in shelters." PETA also opposes the keeping of fish in aquarium tanks, suggesting that people view computer videos of fish instead.
In November 2014 a resident of Accomack County, Virginia produced video evidence that two intruders in a van marked with a PETA logo had entered his property and stolen his dog, which was then killed. He reported the theft and killing to the police, who identified and charged two PETA workers, but the charges were later dropped by the commonwealth attorney on the grounds that it was not possible to prove criminal intent.
Wildlife conservation personalities
PETA is critical of television personalities they call self-professed wildlife warriors, arguing that while a conservationist message is getting across, some of the actions are harmful to animals, such as invading animals' homes, netting them, subjecting them to stressful environments, and wrestling with themâ"often involving young animals the group says should be with their mothers. In 2006 when Steve Irwin died, PETA's vice-president Dan Mathews said Irwin had made a career out of antagonizing frightened wild animals. Australian Member of Parliament Bruce Scott said PETA should apologize to Irwin's family and the rest of Australia.
PETA opposes animal testingâ"whether toxicity testing, basic or applied research, or for education and trainingâ"on both moral and practical grounds. Newkirk told Vogue magazine in 1989 that even if it resulted in a cure for AIDS, PETA would oppose it. The group also believes that it is wasteful, unreliable, and irrelevant to human health, because artificially induced diseases in animals are not identical to human diseases. They say that animal experiments are frequently redundant and lack accountability, oversight, and regulation. They promote alternatives, including embryonic stem cell research and in vitro cell research. PETA employees have themselves volunteered for human testing of vaccines; Scott Van Valkenburg, the group's Director of Major Gifts, said in 1999 that he had volunteered for human testing of HIV vaccines.
PETA opposes the use of animals for producing clothing that utilizes fur, leather, wool, or silk. PETA also opposes the use of down from birds and the use of silk from silkworms or spiders.
PETA Asia-Pacific was founded by Ingrid Newkirk in Hong Kong in 2005 to support animal rights programs and campaigns in Asia. Jason Baker, a former staff member of PETA who was involved in setting up PETA India and PETA Australia, is PETA Asia Pacific's first director. Its offices are in Hong Kong and Manila. It works through public education, animal cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns. Its campaigns cover countries including China, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea.
PETA Asia-Pacific promotes vegetarian and vegan diets through three specific campaigns: education about the benefits of a vegetarian diet, demonstrations and celebrity involvement against fast food outlets, and undercover investigations of animals used for live transport and traditional religious slaughter. The organization has also used the PETA Lettuce Ladies in local demonstrations. PETA Asia-Pacific regularly demonstrates against KFC outlets to promote better treatment of chickens used by the company.
PETA Asia-Pacific supports the PETA campaign "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur", in which celebrities appear nude to express their opposition to wearing fur. The group also stages anti-fur events to publicize their opposition to fur. PETA Asia-Pacific has been involved in several undercover investigations of fur farms in China.
Animals used for entertainment
The group regularly protests the use of animals in entertainment, including circuses. These demonstrations are specific to the area, including anti-bull riding, not keeping wild animals in chains, and stopping humanâ"animal wrestling matches.
PETA Asia Pacific also coordinates protests against other uses of animals which it believes are abusive, such as improving the treatment of rats, and it advocates for improvements for companion animals.
Domain name disputes
In February 1995, a parody website calling itself "People Eating Tasty Animals" registered the domain name "peta.org". PETA sued, claiming trademark violation, and won the suit in 2001. While still engaged in legal proceedings over "peta.org", PETA themselves registered the domains "ringlingbrothers.com" and "voguemagazine.com", using the sites to accuse Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Vogue of animal cruelty. PETA later surrendered the domains under threat of similar legal action over trademark infringement.
Position within the animal rights movement
Robert Garner of the University of Leicester writes that Newkirk and Pacheco are the leading exporters of animal rights to the more moderate groups in the United Statesâ"both members of an animal rights elite that he argues has shaken up the animal rights movement, setting up new groups and radicalizing old ones.
There is criticism of PETA from both the conservative and radical ends of the movement. Michael Specter writes that it provides for groups such as the Humane Society of the United States the same dynamic that Malcolm X provided for Martin Luther King, or Andrea Dworkin for Gloria Steinemâ"someone radical to alienate the mainstream and make moderate voices more appealing. The failure to condemn the Animal Liberation Front triggers complaints from the conservatives, while the more radical activists say the group has lost touch with its grassroots, is soft on the idea of animal rights, and that it should stop the media stunts, the pie-throwing, and the targeting of women. "It's hard enough trying to get people to take animal rights seriously without PETA out there acting like a bunch of jerks," one activist told writer Norm Phelps.
The ads featuring barely clad or naked women have appalled feminist animal rights advocates. When Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti Davis posed naked for Playboy, donating half her $100,000 fee to PETA, the group issued a press release saying Davis "turns the other cheek in an eye-opening spread," then announced she had been photographed naked with Hugh Hefner's dog for an anti-fur ad. In 1995, PETA formed a partnership with Playboy to promote human organ donation, with the caption "Some People Need You Inside Them" on a photograph of Hefner's wife. The long-standing campaign, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur," in which celebrities and supermodels strip for the camera, generated particular concern.
Newkirk has replied to the criticism that no one is being exploited, the women taking part are volunteers, and if sexual attraction advances the cause of animals, she is unapologetic. Asked in 2007 how she feels when criticized from within the movement, she said: "Somebody has to push the envelope. If you say something that someone already agrees with, then what's the point, and so we make some more conservative animal protection organizations uncomfortable; they don't want to be associated with us because it will be embarrassing for them, and I understand that. Our own members write to us sometimes and say, 'Oh why did you do this? I don't want anyone to know I'm a PETA member.'"
Gary Francione, professor of law at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, argues that PETA is not an animal rights groupâ"and further that there is no animal rights movement in the United Statesâ"because of their willingness to work with industries that use animals to achieve incremental change. This makes them an animal welfare group, in Francione's view: what he calls the new welfarists. A proponent of abolitionism, Francione argues that PETA is trivializing the movement with what he calls the "Three Stooges" theory of animal rights, making the public think progress is underway when the changes are only cosmetic.
Like Francione, PETA describes itself as abolitionist. Newkirk told an animal rights conference in 2002 that PETA's goal remains animal liberation: "Reforms move a society very importantly from A to B, from B to C, from C to D. It's very hard to take a nation or a world that is built on seeing animals as nothing more than hamburgers, handbags, cheap burglar alarms, tools for research, and move them from A to Z ..."
Francione has also criticized PETA for having caused grassroots animal rights groups to close, groups that he argues were essential for the survival of the animal rights movement, which rejects the centrality of corporate animal charities. Francione writes that PETA initially set up independent chapters around the United States, but closed them in favor of a top-down, centralized organization, which not only consolidated decision-making power, but centralized donations too. Now, local animal rights donations go to PETA, rather than to a local group.
According to sciencebasedmedicine.org, PETA embraces pseudoscientific views and has "a history of (as the old saying goes) using science as a drunk uses a lamppost â" for support rather than illumination. In that way they are typical of ideological groups. They have an agenda, they are very open about their beliefs, and they marshal whatever arguments they can in order to promote their point of view."
Autism and dairy products controversy
PETA claims on their website that "...scientific studies have shown that many autistic kids improve dramatically when put on a diet free of dairy foods."
Studies such as these have been around for decades, and are mainly centered around the concept that behavioral differences between people with autism and neurotypicals may be observed through a gluten-free diet. According to scienccebasedmedicine.org:
Behavior in children, especially those with the challenge of autism, can be unpredictable. Unpredictable and variable symptoms lend themselves to confirmation bias, with a strong tendency to lead to the anecdotal experience that whatever is being looked for is real. For example, many parents believe that sugar makes their children hyperactive, when this is simply not true. [...] The evidence for any effect on behavior is weak and likely not real. There is also no credible evidence to suggest that casein plays a causal role in autism. The evidence is overwhelming that autism is a genetic disorder. [...] This is clearly, in my opinion, a campaign of fear mongering based upon a gross distortion of the scientific evidence. The purpose is to advocate for a vegan diet, which fits their ideological agenda. They are likely aware that it is easier to spread fears than to reassure with a careful analysis of the scientific evidence.
Even though the website cites (pseudo)scientific studies, the studies on their website are outdated, vague, relied on a very small sample size of children, were single-blind tests (which can be heavily influenced by an experimenter's bias), and conflated correlation with causation. The billboards put up by PETA promoting this discredited research have also been considered offensive by many autistic individuals.
- Animal euthanasia
- Kentucky Fried Cruelty
- Women and animal advocacy
- Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (2004) Episode 1 of Season 2 - "P.E.T.A."
- Your Mommy Kills Animals (2007) documentary film
- Pence, Gregory. Classic Cases in Medical Ethics: Accounts of Cases That Have Shaped Medical Ethics. McGraw-Hill, 2007.
- Workman, Dave P. Peta Files: The Dark Side of the Animal Rights Movement, Merril Press, 2003.
- PETA homepage, accessed July 2, 2010.
- FBI file on PETA
- Morrison, A.R. Personal Reflections on the "Animal-Rights" Phenomenon, The Physiologist, Volume 44, Number 1, February 2001, accessed July 17, 2010.
- McCartney, Stella. "Fur farm investigation", PETAtv.com, accessed July 2, 2010.
- The Huffington Post. The Sexiest PETA Ads of All Time! A slideshow, accessed July 2, 2010.
- PETA. Meet Your Meat, a film about the egg and meat industries, narrated by Alec Baldwin, accessed July 2, 2010.
- Chesley V. Morton v. Georgia Department of Agriculture and Tommy Irvin in his Official Capacity as Commissioner