Controversies

Like most activist groups, PETA often uses unorthodox methods to get their point across. This has raised many controversies in their past and has given PETA a firm grasp on the attention of the public.

For example, in their campaign against milk, PETA advertised their resistance by posting up billboards declaring, “Got beer? Milk is so bad for humans that even beer looks good in comparison." Their claims about beer being better than milk ruffled the fur of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD.)

MADD charged PETA with promoting alcohol to underage kids. PETA’s president, Ingrid Newkirk, had this to say to MADD: “We realize that [you are against] PETA and we do not resent that. Without your drawing the media to our campaign, PETA would not have been able to let as many people as we did know that modern milk production is abusive to cows."

There are other campaigns like this too. PETA has been giving fur coats to homeless people in Iraq as a seemingly caring gesture, until PETA president Newkirk wrote: “When the homeless are wearing fur, you know fur has hit rock bottom. It is no longer fashionable, chic or desirable. People with money and style can choose, and they don’t choose fur because nothing beats synthetics for warmth as borne out by Polar and Everest expeditions. Perhaps the only people left who can justify wearing fur are those so down-and-out that they cannot choose.”

PETA’s crafty usage of the homeless showed people not only the downside of fur coats themselves, but also the symbolism of it: if homeless people wore fur coats, it wasn’t fashionable. In a heated response, Lee Hall, a legal director, attacked PETA with these words: “[Since] Iraqis [are] reduced to wearing PETA’s fur, in the world according to Newkirk, it is clear that these people have hit rock bottom. Never mind that through years of sanctions and finally by invading their land, we were the ones who put them there.”

PETA is infamous for their advocacy of human breast milk – they believe that milking cows is harmful to the cows. In the fall of 2008, Swiss restaurant owner Hans Locher announced he would be making dishes with human breast milk. His restaurant used at least 75% breast milk in his soups and sauces. The food control authority was confused at first because humans were not on the list of approved species, such as cows, but they were not on the list of banned species, such as primates, either.

After hearing of this, PETA sent a public letter to Ben & Jerry’s asking them to follow Locher’s example. Ben & Jerry’s refused the suggestion. This situation raised an interesting question: would people still eat ice cream that came from humans instead of cows? The answer was fuzzy, but it was a risk Ben & Jerry's would not invest in.

PETA was also against an Indian Supreme Court decision to rescind its ban on jallikatu, or bull taunting. This led PETA members to protest by flinging a blindfold around a statue of Mahatma Ghandi in Coimbatore’s Ghandi Park. As Ghandi was a famous Indian pacifist for Indian independence, local authorities blamed PETA for “creating religious ill-feeling, defaming the national leader, trespassing and also for [infringements of the] Tamil Nadu Open Places Prevention of Disfigurement Act.” Newkirk, along with two other members, were arrested on January 10, 2008 in the southern Indian state of Tamil. They were released on bail after signing a bond.

PETA is responsible for making a billboard claiming, “Doggies multiply faster than the Duggars.” This made a reference to the ill-famed Duggars family, a household of over nineteen people. PETA was trying to present to the public the fact that owners should spay and neuter their pets. This would prevent the tens of thousands of kittens and puppies that are born every year from going to animal shelters.

Residents from the Duggars’ hometown of Tontitown thought it was unfair to target the Duggars specifically. Mary Crump, a friends of the Duggars’, said that there would be “probably a lot more of them [PETA] torn down and a lot of people mad.” PETA responded by saying, “The fact that the Duggars have chosen to have nineteen kids and … a reality show about it … presented us with an opportunity to talk about the national crisis of cat and dog overpopulation.”

However, the one controversy that trumps all of these is PETA’s sexual advertisements. Their ads contain pictures of women holding vegetables suggestively. One caption in an ad like this is stubbed with the phrase, “Studies show that vegetarians have better sex.” The study they were referring to is unclear and probably does not exist. Their “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign has also raised many eyebrows in the past. NBC did not approve of the ad, so it has never appeared on television before; nevertheless, it can still be found online.

PETA also goes to the dark side in their campaigns. For example, in their McCruelty: I’m Hatin’ It campaign, a sinister comic strip shows Ronald McDonald killing Birdie (the cute chick with an aviator hat). With bloodthirsty eyes and hands tightly gripping a knife, he goes through the motion of slitting Birdie in the throat. Was this really necessary? - especially on a website animal-loving kids frequent?