PETA, otherwise known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was founded in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk. According to PETA, the organization “focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: in laboratories, in the food industry, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry.” In the years since PETA’s creation, the organization has had some serious wins.
In their fight against animal factory-farming, PETA worked with other animal rights groups to win ag-gag lawsuits against states like Iowa, Idaho, and Utah.
These ag-gag laws made it illegal for anyone to “obtain access to an agricultural production facility ‘by false pretenses.’” These laws essentially made it illegal for undercover journalists to expose animal abuse in agricultural production facilities.
PETA, a strong proponent against livestock being used for clothing, has also made progress on the front of the mistreatment of Angora rabbits. When PETA released footage Angora farm rabbits being plucked of their fur while bleeding and screaming, more than 70 retailers stopped using Angora wool.
Here’s where PETA’s message starts to get blurry. PETA is against the use of livestock for any reason, even if the animals are treated humanely. They are even against sheep being sheared for wool, even though the American Society of Animal Science reports that excess wool on a sheep can cause them to overheat and die.
Furthermore, many of the alternatives to animal-made clothing are bad for the environment. According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, “35% of microplastics released into the world’s oceans are from synthetic textiles.” These microplastics negatively impact sea life.
Another perplexing area of PETA is their view on shelter animals. PETA opposes the “no-kill movement”, citing the fact that spaying and neutering pets is a much better solution to unwanted pets and that animals turned away at no-kill shelters will just die on the streets.
While no-kill shelters may have their issues, that still doesn’t justify PETA’s high use of euthanasia at its animal shelter in Norfolk, Virginia. In 2014, they took in 3,017 animals and euthanized 2,455 of them.
PETA says that these animals were too old, sick, or badly behaved to be adopted, but in that same year, they also kidnapped a healthy dog off someone’s porch and euthanized it, so it’s hard to be certain all the other animals put down at their shelter were really “better off.”
Finally, PETA is known for their extreme marketing campaigns, but they frequently take things too far. In 2003 they launched the “Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign”, where they compared farming and eating meat to the holocaust. In 2009 they dressed in Klu Klux Klan attire outside of the Westminster Dog Show to protest the American Kennel Club’s supposed attempt to create a ‘master race’.
As recently as 2016, they compared artificially inseminated farm animals to the human victims of sexual assault. While these campaigns may have caught people’s attention, for survivors they were insensitive, painful reminders of past trauma.
PETA, of course, isn’t the only organization out there with offensive marketing campaigns or confusing views. With more than “6.5 million members and supporters,” PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world. While in 2019 the president seems to have paid herself very little, the organization made $50,871,312. They also have many big-name celebrities supporting them, like Alec Baldwin, Ariana Grande, and P!nk.
With this much momentum behind them, PETA has a responsibility to conduct itself ethically, but after decades of work, it’s clear that they have no intention of changing.