People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an international nonprofit organization that supports Animal Rights and has spawned a tremendous amount of conflict and controversy from its inception. The organization, which has been headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, since 1996, was founded in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk, who had worked at an animal shelter and then as a deputy sheriff in Montgomery County, Maryland, where she focused on animal-cruelty cases. She was also chief of Animal Disease Control for the Public Health Commission of the District of Columbia.

Newkirk became increasingly horrified at the inhumane treatment of animals that she encountered in her work, particularly in socalled "factory farms," which confine hundreds to thousands of animals (usually chickens, pigs, turkeys, or cows) in one facility, and in research laboratories. While other organizations are dedicated to seeing that animals are treated humanely, none is as radical in both outlook and strategies as PETA. Newkirk has been quoted as saying, "When it comes to feelings like hunger, pain, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." The organization's philosophy is uncompromising: "animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment." The organization's goals to inform and educate the public and policy-makers about animal abuse and to stop such abuse wherever possible are carried out in a number of ways.

PETA is a grassroots organization run by hundreds of volunteers under the leadership of Newkirk, Dan Mathews, vice-president of campaigns, and Bruce Friedrich, director of vegan outreach. The vegan philosophy prohibits eating, wearing, or using any kind of animal products including milk, eggs, honey, and wool or leather products.

PETA has been called "the most successful radical organization in America." With over 750,000 members and supporters in the United States and around the world, the organization has an annual budget of approximately $14 million, almost all of which is raised by small contributions from individuals.

In addition to familiar protest tactics such as letter-writing campaigns and corporate boycotts, the organization makes prolific use of multiple Web sites that proselytize against numerous issues, including the fur trade (furismurder.com), fishing (fishinghurts.com), zoos (wildlifepimps.com), tobacco companies that continue to do animal testing (smokinganimals.com), and fast food restaurants. PETA has been particularly successful in appealing to youth between the ages of 13 and 24 who are interested in the humane treatment of animals as well as vegetarianism and veganism. The organization's youth-oriented Web site peta2.com advertises PETA as the "largest and boldest animal rights organization in the world."

PETA supporters have staged hundreds of flamboyant activities in the United States and Europe in which they have sprayed red paint on fur coats while the coats were being worn, tossed containers of currency covered with fake blood on audiences at the International Fur Fair, dropped a dead raccoon on the plate of a Vogue magazine editor as she dined at a fashionable New York restaurant, sat naked in cages and crawled along streets wearing leg-hold traps on their feet.

In November 2002, PETA activists disrupted a Victoria's Secret lingerie show that was being watched on network television by 11 million viewers. Despite extremely high security, several women managed to leap onto the stage in front of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen with signs that read "Gisele: Fur Scum." Bundchen had been featured in a series of ads promoting a line of Blackglama brand mink furs. Although the PETA supporters were quickly arrested and jailed, the subsequent news stories and video clips of the incident were played throughout the world, eclipsing coverage of the show and gaining maximum publicity for PETA.

Like its other strategies, PETA advertising campaigns are designed to create maximum interest by both attracting and repelling political and public attention. Some of PETA ad campaigns featuring nude female celebrities under the slogan "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" have drawn the ire of both conservative and feminist groups. When PETA ran a series of ads lampooning the dairy industry's "Got Milk?" campaign with a "Got Beer?" ad that ran in numerous college newspapers, the organization was attacked by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for making light of alcohol abuse by college students.

In February 2003, PETA launched what many considered its most inflammatory campaign to date, a traveling exhibit called "Holocaust on Your Plate," which compared human abuse and mistreatment of animals to the torture, cruelty, and death inflicted by the Nazis on concentration camp victims. Numerous writers and organizations including the Anti-Defamation League denounced the PETA exhibit, but the organization succeeded once again in making the news.

Other organizations have sought IRS revocation of the PETA nonexempt status citing the violence of the rhetoric used by PETA leaders and activists and its support of the Animal Liberation Front, which has been labeled a "domestic terror-ist" group and openly claims to use damage and destruction of property to save animals.

Even the organization's critics, however, agree that PETA has been instrumental in a number of victories ranging from closing laboratories where animals were mistreated to getting cosmetic corporations to stop animal testing and persuading car manufacturers not to use animals as auto crash test subjects. PETA also successfully applied pressure to various fast food corporations to add vegetarian options to their menus and to institute regulations for better treatment of poultry and livestock by their producers.

Further readings

Guillermo, Kathy Snow. 1993. Monkey Business: The Disturbing Case that Launched the Animal Rights Movement. Washington, D.C.: National Press Books.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Available online at <www.peta.org> (accessed August 1, 2003).

Specter, Michael. 2003. "The Extremist: The Woman Behind the Most Successful Radical Group in America." New Yorker (April 14).

Cross-references

Animal Rights.

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