A Response To PETA’s Position On “Happy” Or “Humane” Exploitation

Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has written a PETA Alert concerning PETA’s position on “happy” exploitation.

This Alert reads in part:

PETA has pushed hard and will continue to push hard to reduce the sum total of suffering in the meat, dairy, and egg industries—because that makes a huge difference if you are a pig or a chicken on a factory farm. We’ve stopped PETA protests outside Burger King or McDonald’s restaurants when those companies agreed to reforms, but that doesn’t mean that we would ever suggest eating meat from Burger King or anywhere else—because we know that massive suffering still goes into every bite. Yes, it’s better to pay extra for an egg from a chicken who had a marginally less hideous life than one who suffered more, but we must do better by animals. In fact, we have yet to find a “humane” factory farm where animals don’t have their tails cut off and their ears painfully notched, where they aren’t debeaked, dehorned, or castrated without anesthesia, where they aren’t kept in crowded conditions without sunlight or fresh air, where they don’t have their beloved children taken away from them, where they aren’t denied the companionship of others, where they aren’t sent to a feedlot, or where they are instantly dispatched without the trauma of capture, the horror of transportation, or the terror of seeing other animals killed before suffering the same fate.

PETA has pushed for vegan living since our inception in 1980. Our motto is: “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” With so many vegan cookbooks and meal options available and with programs like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s 21-Day Vegan Kickstart and our wildly popular vegan starter kit, we can all help animals—and not miss a thing. Let’s live and let live, and tell others to come along with us, reminding them that animals have emotions and needs just as human beings do.

There is no such thing as humane meat. Giving animals a few more inches of living space is simply not enough. Animals deserve more. The momentum is on our side, but it will take every one of us to bring this change about by being active advocates of animal rights. Thank you!

I acknowledge with gratitude that Ingrid Newkirk introduced me to veganism. Although I had become a vegetarian in the late 1970s, I continued to eat dairy and eggs, believing that it was necessary to do so given that I was not eating meat, poultry, or fish. I had never even heard the word “vegan” and I was unaware that it was possible to live a healthy life (let alone a healthier life) without consuming any animal products. I met Ingrid quite by chance in October 1982–30 years ago this month–and she literally threw away all of the dairy products in my refrigerator! I have been vegan ever since. I appreciate what she did and I have no doubt that she is committed to veganism.

But PETA has changed dramatically since those early days. In addition to its steady stream of sexist campaigns that merely reinforce thinking of others as commodities, which characterizes both sexism and speciesism, and its position on the no-kill movement, there can be no doubt that PETA has become deeply involved in the whole “happy” or “humane” exploitation movement.

PETA gives awards to various vendors of “happy” meat and animal products;

PETA, along with other animal groups, has enthusiastically endorsed the Whole Foods “Animal Compassionate” program/label;

PETA gave an award in 2004 to Temple Grandin, the designer of “happy” slaughter houses and what Grandin calls the “stairway to heaven” system of slaughter;

PETA announces and then calls off boycotts of institutional animal users such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King and praises those companies for their supposed concern for animal welfare;

PETA praises McDonald’s as “actually ‘leading the way’ in reforming the practices of fast-food suppliers, in the treatment and the killing of its beef and poultry.”

To say that this does not constitute support for “happy” or “humane” exploitation is simply not correct.

Newkirk says:

We’ve stopped PETA protests outside Burger King or McDonald’s restaurants when those companies agreed to reforms, but that doesn’t mean that we would ever suggest eating meat from Burger King or anywhere else—because we know that massive suffering still goes into every bite.

But if PETA calls off a boycott or protest, PETA does not have to “suggest eating meat from Burger King or McDonalds.” The moment PETA announces that the active opposition is at an end, the message is sent out: those concerned about animals can once again patronize these restaurants. When PETA praises McDonald’s, Burger King, the Whole Foods “Animal Compassionate” program, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, the message that is sent is very clear. There is no need to say “it’s okay to eat a hamburger.” That message is unquestionably implicit when PETA praises the company or its labeling program.

Newkirk seems to acknowledge that welfare reforms do very little to improve animal welfare. She characterizes reform efforts as providing a “marginally less hideous life” for animals and as “[g]iving animals a few more inches of living space.” I would certainly agree with her there.

But then why does PETA spend so many of its resources on these welfare reform campaigns? They are not a small part of PETA’s program. PETA’s welfare reform campaigns and single-issue campaigns are the centerpiece of PETA’s program. Indeed, in contrast to its support for vegan advocacy–Newkirk mentions PETA’s support for the “21-Day Vegan Kickstart and our wildly popular vegan starter kit,” PETA’s support for welfare reform and single-issues is overwhelming.

Several years ago, PETA Senior VP Dan Mathews gave an interview, which occurred at a McDonald’s restaurant. The reporter asked if it was alright for him to order a cheeseburger. Mathews replied: “Order what you want,” . . . . “Half of our members are vegetarian and half think it’s a good idea.”

If only half of PETA’s members are vegetarian and not necessarily vegan, and half are still eating meat, dairy, and other animal foods, then it is easy to understand why PETA devotes the effort that it does to these welfare reform campaigns. It is easier to cater to a “compassionate” donor base than to a vegan one. So they will keep promoting welfare reforms because that is what most PETA members want; they want to be able to consume animal products but still think of themselves as “animal rights” advocates.

Many years ago, the late animal advocate Henry Spira decided that he was going to work with institutional animal users to try to effect change from “inside.” One of his campaigns involved working with the cosmetics industry to find alternatives to using live animals for testing.

Another animal advocate criticized Spira:

He is hobnobbing in the halls with our enemy. Six or seven years ago, we had a lot in common. Everything he did then was putting gravel down for other people to pave roads, which was crucial. But I think Henry was deceived by the industry response. Henry was unable to cut himself loose from the mire of having become an industry mediator. The search for alternatives is a quite transparent ploy to maintain the status quo.

That animal advocate was Ingrid Newkirk. The year was 1989.

And Newkirk’s criticism in 1989 of Spira’s cosmetics campaign applies squarely to these contemporary campaigns to make animal agriculture more “humane”: they require that animal organizations become “industry mediator[s]” as part of a “transparent ploy to maintain the status quo.”


If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan!

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione