by M-K Jones
There are many animal welfare concerns with the conditions and processes currently employed in livestock production operations. In response, there are countless organizations attempting to address these issues. One animal rights group in particular is constantly making headlines with their aggressive allegations. There are many words to describe their tactics: bold, passionate, moving…. disturbing, misleading, inaccurate, extreme….. PETA has infinite propaganda claiming their organization is vital to saving the organisms of our world. I’m about to present the argument that is clear to those involved in agriculture: that your support is far more useful when invested in educated, realistic catalysts for change rather than radical extremists.
The first issue with PETA’s message is that they are often disturbingly incorrect. I don’t want to assert (or even believe) that such an influential organization is willing to intentionally mislead the general public. However, the information they present is sometimes so blatantly imprecise that the only explanations are purposeful deception or a painfully low level of education about the processes they speak on. I don’t know which is worse to think; that the institution as a whole blatantly lies to achieve goals, or that it lacks the thought to fact check the simplest of statements.
One particular ad I recently saw (posted in September of 2014 on PETA’s facebook page) is a perfect example. It shows a woman wearing a knit sweater, followed by a bloodied ewe, the text reading “when you buy this, you support this”. I was sitting in a study lounge when I saw it on my news-feed and my sudden “Are you kidding me!?” reaction was passionate enough to startle the stranger sharing my table.
The issues start with the ewe itself. Anyone with even a modest knowledge of sheep production knows the animal pictured is a Suffolk. Suffolks have been bred for meat production. They are a fast-growing breed with large frame size and excellent muscling. Unlike wool or dual purpose breeds their fiber is of such poor quality that it is virtually useless- certainly not the breed any producer would choose when making wool clothing products. Second, obviously the animal was shorn improperly. I’ve shorn several sheep myself and seen it done by professional shearers many times. Shearing, when properly done, is generally not painful or even stressful to the animal. While a small nick here or there is common, the scene depicted above is not.
Unfortunately, this poorly crafted ad is not an unusual PETA message. Their marketing strategy follows that of many product-pedaling companies: heavy on catch-phrase flare and light on facts. Certainly our core ethical responsibilities also include presenting factual education for our peers?
The other main issue with PETA is the organization’s radicalism. PETA is not an animal welfare group, they are an animal rights group. As I explained in a previous post about vegetarianism, there is a huge difference between animal welfare and animal rights. Most welfare advocates state that they seek to prevent cruelty, reduce unnecessary stress and suffering, and implement humane treatment/slaughter standards. Animal rights, however, is a huge leap above this ideal. The latter is most commonly defined as the belief that any and all human use of sentient living organism should end. This includes but is not limited to hunting, livestock production, entertainment, laboratory animals, and even ownership of companion animals like your family dog.
Eliminating all “use” of animals- to stop our domestication process- is not only an unrealistic ideal, it’s a downright deadly one for animals and humans alike. Our species and society relies heavily on animal products, and to remove them would mean implementing extreme changes in almost every aspect of our modern lifestyle. Maybe these are convenient for college girls following the latest “no leather” fad, but imagine the implications for those living in third world countries, or even those in our own society who struggle below the poverty line. That’s not to mention the unimaginable economic suffering due to job loss and the death of industrial giants.
The alternatives to rearing these animals for agricultural production is to raise them for enjoyment or release them. PETA’s official stance is not to release well cared for companion animals but simply control populations through spay and neuter programs. While this is a realistic view for pets, raising farm animals as companions on a large scale is not pragmatic. The option of release is not practical for either companion or livestock species. Domesticated animals have been bred to the point of human dependency (hence the fact that they are domesticated) and releasing them from farming or family homes would ensure a death toll of massive proportions of the animals themselves.
Beyond this, PETA has been accused of extremely radical techniques including the destruction of public property, among many other allegations. Although I hesitate to comment on their involvement in companion animals (as I do not have a strong educational background in the care or laws surrounding these animals) I will point out that I have read many court documents and articles alleging abuse and cruelty by PETA’s shelters and employees. In fact, their title of “animal shelter” is in jeopardy of being revoked in Virginia due to their outrageous kill rates (article link below).
When people hear of my anti-PETA stance, I am often accused of being anti-animal welfare, and am reminded of the necessity of whistle-blowers. In contrast, I adamantly support animal welfare and the presence of regulatory institutions in every industry. However, a frighteningly misinformed and ill-planned agenda like PETA’s distracts from the possibility of realistic and mutually beneficial changes by spreading misleading propaganda. So ironically, it is the fact that I AM an animal welfare supporter that makes me unable to support PETA.
Check out my post “Our duty to Agriculture” for my broader view on Animal Welfare and the purpose of this blog:
*A recent article in the Washington post… Proposed Virginia legislature would take away PETA’s ability to call itself an “animal shelter” due to it’s outrageous death/euthanasia rates: