People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1980 and became first a national, then international, voice for animal rights. Over its history, PETA has taken on several issues, such as the cruel treatment of animals in factory farms, research labs, and circuses. Its activities have included undercover reporting, protests, advertising campaigns, and litigation.
An undercover investigation by PETA of a Silver Springs, MD lab led to the first US police raid on an animal treatment facility. A protest campaign against McDonald's in 2000 led to its becoming the first major US corporation to impose, on all their suppliers, minimum standards in the treatment of chickens.
While the organization's ultimate goal is to liberate all animals from suffering caused by humans, PETA does not itself engage in the more extreme forms of activism that characterize other groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Instead, PETA aims to improve the living conditions for animals and reduce the demand for animal products. This approach has sometimes led to criticism from more radical animal rights groups that PETA is not so much about animal rights as it is about animal welfare.
The founder and guiding force behind PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, has long used aggressive, attention-grabbing campaigns to bring the organization's message to the public. It would seem that nothing is too tasteless or offensive for PETA as long as people talk. For example, they are linking the treatment of animals to the Holocaust, slavery and the unavoidable infamous serial killers.
PETA volunteers have disrupted fashion shows, dragged themselves through the streets in leg-hold traps, and dumped money soaked in fake blood on audiences at fur fashion shows. Another technique used is to attract attention through sex.
To protest against the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, it sponsored a "Running of the Nudes" two days before. To protest against wearing furs, they featured attractive models (both male and female) in the campaign "I Would Rather Go Nude Than Wear Fur". To promote vegan diets, they sent photos of "Lettuce Ladies" dressed in bikinis made of strategically placed leaves. Some of these tactics have drawn criticism from women's organizations.
These campaigns are particularly successful. While "publicity stunts" create press, I do not believe all press is suitable for philanthropic organizations.
Organizations should focus on staying within the confines of the law and applying the Hippocratic oath to philanthropy: seek to do good but not harm. While I appreciate that PETA attempts to do good, its ends do not justify its means. Potential donors and people who support industries where animal cruelty still occurs will refrain from being swayed by offensive, damaging imagery or statements; it undermines the importance of their mission.
PETA's actions are not always in line with its mission. Per their website, "PETA opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview, and focuses on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time…."
While they do not want to minimize the pain of animals or assume that humans are superior, I do not think it aligns with their mission to minimize the pain of the human species.
References to the Holocaust, serial killers, and slavery are entirely inappropriate. Supporting the rights of animals does not mean that it is okay to minimize atrocities that have happened to humans. Regarding the "Running of the Nudes," I also do not think it is okay as per their mission to advocate for animal rights by denigrating half of the human population, either.
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