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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
FoundedMarch 22, 1980; 44 years ago (1980-03-22)
FocusAnimal rights
Ingrid Newkirk[1]
Senior VP, Campaigns
Dan Mathews[1]
US$66.3 million (2020)[2] Edit this at Wikidata

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA; /ˈptə/) is an American animal rights nonprofit organization based in Norfolk, Virginia, and led by Ingrid Newkirk, its international president. PETA says that its entities have more than 9 million members globally. [citation needed]

Founded in March 1980 by Newkirk and animal rights activist Alex Pacheco, the organization first gained attention in the summer of 1981 during what became known as the Silver Spring monkeys case.[3] The organization opposes factory farming, fur farming, animal testing, and other activities it considers to be exploitation of animals.[a]

The organization's controversial campaigns have been credited with drawing media attention to animal rights issues, but have also been widely criticized. Its use of euthanasia has resulted in legal action and a response from Virginia lawmakers.


Ingrid Newkirk

Newkirk talking about herself and her legacy (11:27)
Ingrid Newkirk

Ingrid Newkirk was born in England in 1949, and raised in Hertfordshire and later New Delhi, India, where her father—a navigational engineer—was stationed. Newkirk, now an atheist, was educated in a convent, the only British girl there.[5] She moved to the United States as a teenager, first studying to become a stockbroker, but after taking some abandoned kittens to an animal shelter in 1969 and being appalled by the conditions that she found there, she chose a career in animal protection instead.[6] She became an animal-protection officer for Montgomery County, Maryland, and then the District of Columbia's first woman poundmaster. By 1976 she was head of the animal disease control division of D.C.'s Commission on Public Health and in 1980 was among those named as "Washingtonians of the Year."[7]

Alex Pacheco

In 1980, after her divorce, she met Alex Pacheco, a political science major at George Washington University.[8] He volunteered at the shelter where she worked, and they fell in love and began living together.[9] Newkirk read Peter Singer's influential book, Animal Liberation (1975), and in March 1980, she persuaded Pacheco to join her in forming People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, at that point just "five people in a basement," as Newkirk described it. They were mostly students and members of the local vegetarian society, but the group included a friend of Pacheco's from the UK, Kim Stallwood, a British activist who went on to become the national organizer of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.[10]

Silver Spring monkeys

PETA distributed images of the monkeys with the caption, "This is vivisection. Don't let anyone tell you different."[11]

The group first came to public attention in 1981 during the Silver Spring monkeys case, a dispute about experiments conducted by researcher Edward Taub on 17 macaque monkeys inside the Institute of Behavioral Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. The case led to the first police raid in the United States on an animal laboratory, triggered an amendment in 1985 to the United States Animal Welfare Act, and became the first animal-testing case to be appealed to the United States Supreme Court,[3] which upheld a Louisiana State Court ruling that denied PETA's request for custody of the monkeys.[12]

Pacheco had taken a job in May 1981 inside a primate research laboratory at the institute, intending to gain firsthand experience of working inside an animal laboratory.[13] Taub had been cutting sensory ganglia that supplied nerves to the monkeys' fingers, hands, arms, and legs—a process called "deafferentation"—so that the monkeys could not feel them; some of the monkeys had had their entire spinal columns deafferented. He then used restraint, electric shock, and withholding of food and water to force the monkeys to use the deafferented parts of their bodies. The research led in part to the discovery of neuroplasticity and a new therapy for stroke victims called constraint-induced movement therapy.[14]

Pacheco went to the laboratory at night, taking photographs that showed the monkeys living in what the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research's ILAR Journal called "filthy conditions."[15] He passed his photographs to the police, who raided the lab and arrested Taub. Taub was convicted of six counts of cruelty to animals, the first such conviction in the United States of an animal researcher; the conviction, though, was overturned on appeal.[16] Norm Phelps writes that the case followed the highly publicized campaign of Henry Spira in 1976 against experiments on cats being performed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and Spira's subsequent campaign in April 1980 against the Draize test. These and the Silver Spring monkey case jointly put animal rights on the agenda in the United States.[17]

The 10-year battle for custody of the monkeys—described by The Washington Post as a vicious mud fight, during which both sides accused the other of lies and distortion— transformed PETA into a national, then international, movement. By February 1991, it claimed over 350,000 supporters, a paid staff of over 100, and an annual budget of over $7 million.[18]

PETA India

PETA India was founded in 2000 and is based in Mumbai, India.[19]

PETA and the NGO Animal Rahat, authorized by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), participated in a nine-month investigation of 16 circuses in India. After it was said that "animals used in circuses were subjected to chronic confinement, physical abuse, and psychological torment", AWBI, in 2013, banned the registration of elephants for performance.[20]

PETA India put up billboards prior to a 2020 annual religious event Eid al-Adha where animals are ritualistically slaughtered. The billboards depicted goats with the words "I am a living being and not just meat. Change your view towards us and become a vegan." and "I am ME, Not Mutton. See the Individual. Go Vegan." Muslim clerics wanted to take down the billboards, saying that it was hurtful to their religious sentiments.[21][22]

In July 2020, PETA put up billboards saying "This Rakshabandhan, protect me: Go leather-free".[23]


PETA was based in Rockville, Maryland, until 1996, when it moved to Norfolk, Virginia.[24] It opened a Los Angeles division in 2006[24] and also has offices in Washington, D.C., and Oakland, California.[25] In addition, PETA has international affiliates.

Philosophy and activism

Two young women from PETA, body painted to look like foxes, protesting against the fur trade next to the Three Smiths Statue in Helsinki, Finland on March 25, 2010.


PETA is an animal rights organization that opposes speciesism, and the abuse of animals in any way, such as for food, clothing, entertainment, or research.[4]

In 2020, PETA's website claimed they had 6.5 million supporters,[4] and received donations of $49 million for 2019.[26]

Campaigns and consumer boycotts

PETA's trademark "Lettuce ladies" in Columbus, Ohio

The organization is known for aggressive media stunts, combined with a solid base of celebrity support—in addition to its honorary directors, Paul McCartney, Alicia Silverstone, Eva Mendes, Charlize Theron, Ellen DeGeneres, and many other notable celebrities have appeared in PETA ads.[27] Every week, Newkirk holds what The New Yorker calls a "war council," with two dozen of her top strategists gathered at a square table in the PETA conference room, with no suggestion considered too "kooky or unkind".[5] PETA also gives an annual prize, called the Proggy Award (for "progress"), to individuals or organizations dedicated to animal welfare or who distinguish themselves through their efforts within the area of animal welfare.[28]

Many of the campaigns have focused on large corporations. Fast food companies such as KFC, Wendy's, and Burger King have been targeted. In the animal-testing industry, PETA's consumer boycotts have focused on Avon, Benetton, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, Chesebrough-Pond's, Dow Chemical, General Motors, and others. The group's modus operandi includes buying shares in target companies such as McDonald's and Kraft Foods to exert influence.[29] The campaigns have delivered results for PETA. McDonald's and Wendy's introduced vegetarian options after PETA targeted them; and Polo Ralph Lauren said it would no longer use fur.[30] Avon, Estée Lauder, Benetton, and Tonka Toy Co. all stopped testing products on animals, the Pentagon stopped shooting pigs and goats in wounds tests, and a slaughterhouse in Texas was closed down.[8]

As part of its anti-fur action, PETA supporters have infiltrated hundreds of fashion shows in the U.S. and Europe and one in China, throwing red paint on the catwalks and unfurling banners. Celebrities and supermodels have posed naked for the group's "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign—some men, but mostly women—triggering criticism from some feminist animal rights advocates.[31] The New Yorker writes that PETA activists have crawled through the streets of Paris wearing leg-hold traps and thrown around money soaked in fake blood at the International Fur Fair.[5] They sometimes engage in pie-throwing—in January 2010, Canadian MP Gerry Byrne compared them to terrorists for throwing a tofu cream pie at Canada's fishery minister Gail Shea in protest of the seal slaughter, a comment Newkirk called a silly chest-beating exercise.[32] "The thing is, we make them gawk" she told Satya magazine, "maybe like a traffic accident that you have to look at."[33]

PETA has also objected to the practice of mulesing (removing strips of wool-bearing skin from around the buttocks of a sheep). In October 2004, PETA launched a boycott against the Australian wool industry, leading some clothing retailers to ban products using Australian wool from their stores.[34] In response, the Australian wool industry sued PETA, arguing among other things that mulesing prevents flystrike, a very painful disease that can affect sheep. A settlement was reached, and PETA agreed to stop the boycott, while the wool industry agreed to seek alternatives to mulesing.[35]

In 2011, PETA named five orcas as plaintiffs and sued SeaWorld over the animals' captivity, seeking their protection under the Thirteenth Amendment.[36] A federal judge heard the case and dismissed it in early 2012.[37] In August 2014, SeaWorld announced it was building new orca tanks that would almost double the size of the existing ones to provide more space for its whales. PETA responded that a "larger prison is still a prison."[38] In 2016, SeaWorld admitted that it had been sending its employees to pose as activists to spy on PETA.[39] Following an investigation by an outside law firm, SeaWorld's Board of Directors directed management to end the practice.[40]

PETA supporters campaign against Burberry in an anti-fur protest in 2007

In 2011, Patricia de Leon was the Hispanic spokesperson for PETA's anti-bullfighting campaign.[41]

Some campaigns have been particularly controversial. Newkirk was criticized in 2003 for sending a letter to PLO leader Yasser Arafat asking him to keep animals out of the conflict, after a donkey was blown up during an attack in Jerusalem.[42]

To reduce milk consumption, it created the "Got Beer?" campaign, a parody of the dairy industry's series of Got Milk? ads, which featured celebrities with milk "mustaches" on their upper lips. When the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, PETA ran a photograph of him with a white mustache and the words "Got prostate cancer?" to illustrate their claim that dairy products contribute to cancer, an ad that caused an outcry in the United States.[43] After PETA placed ads in school newspapers linking milk to acne, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and strokes, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and college officials complained it encouraged underage drinking; the British Advertising Standards Authority asked that the ads be discontinued after complaints from interest groups such as The National Farmers' Unions.[44]

In August 2011, it was announced that PETA will be launching a soft pornography website in the .xxx domain. PETA spokesperson Lindsay Rajt told the Huffington Post, "We try to use absolutely every outlet to stick up for animals," adding that "We are careful about what we do and wouldn't use nudity or some of our flashier tactics if we didn't know they worked." PETA also used nudity in its "Veggie Love" ad which it prepared for the Super Bowl, only to have it banned by the network. PETA's work has drawn the ire of some feminists who argue that the organization sacrifices women's rights to press its agenda. Lindsay Beyerstein criticized PETA saying "They're the ones drawing disturbing analogies between pornography, misogyny and animal cruelty."[45]

PETA has approached cities to pressure them to change their names, including Fishkill, New York in 1996,[46] Hamburg, New York in 2003,[47] and Commerce City, Colorado in 2007.[48]

PETA sometimes issues isolated statements or press releases, commenting on current events. After Lady Gaga wore a dress made of meat in 2010, PETA issued a statement objecting to the dress.[49] After a fisherman in Florida was bitten by a shark in 2011, PETA proposed an advertisement showing a shark devouring a human, with the caption "Payback Is Hell, Go Vegan". The proposed ad drew criticism from relatives of the injured fisherman.[50] After Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer admitted that he had killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in 2015, PETA's president, Newkirk, issued a statement on behalf of PETA in which she said:

Hunting is a coward's pastime. If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.[51]

Undercover work

PETA sends its staff undercover into industries and other facilities that use animals to document the alleged abuse of animals. Investigators may spend many months as employees of a facility, making copies of documents and wearing hidden cameras.[8]




Ag-gag laws

Various U.S. states have passed ag-gag laws to prevent animal rights and animal welfare groups from conducting undercover investigations of operations that use animals. In response, PETA has been involved with other groups bringing lawsuits, citing First Amendment protections for free speech.[87]

Legal proceedings

Two PETA employees were acquitted in 2007 of cruelty to animals after at least 80 euthanized animals were left in dumpsters in a shopping center in Ahoskie, North Carolina, over the course of a month in 2005; the two employees were seen leaving behind 18 dead animals, and 13 more were found inside their van. The animals had been euthanized after being removed from shelters in Northampton and Bertie counties. A Bertie County Deputy Sheriff stated that the two employees assured the Bertie Animal Shelter that "they were picking up the dogs to take them back to Norfolk where they would find them good homes."[93][94] During the trial, Daphna Nachminovitch, the supervisor of PETA's Community Animal Project, said PETA began euthanizing animals in some rural North Carolina shelters after it found the shelters killing animals in ways PETA considers inhumane, including by shooting them. She also stated that the dumping of animals did not follow PETA's policy.[95][96]

In November 2014, a resident of Accomack County, Virginia, produced video evidence that two workers in a van marked with a PETA logo had entered his property in a trailer park and taken his dog, who was then euthanized. He reported the incident to the police, who identified and charged two PETA workers, but the charges were later dropped by the commonwealth attorney on the grounds that it was not possible to prove criminal intent.[97] The trailer park's manager had contacted PETA after a group of residents moved out, leaving their dogs behind, which is why the workers were on the property. The state later determined that PETA had violated state law by failing to ensure that the Chihuahua, who was not wearing a collar or tag, was properly identified and for failing to keep the dog alive for five days before euthanizing the animal. Citing a "severity of this lapse in judgment," the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued PETA a first-ever violation and imposed a $500 fine. The contract worker who had taken the dog was dismissed by PETA.[98]

In 2015, PETA sued British nature photographer David Slater in US court as a next friend for a wild macaque monkey, whom they named Naruto. PETA argued that the monkey was entitled to the copyright of a selfie it had taken while handling Slater's camera, and naming themselves to be the administrator of any copyright revenue. The monkey selfie copyright dispute was originally dismissed by Judge Orrick who wrote there is no indication that the Copyright Act extends to animals and a monkey could not own a copyright.[99] PETA appealed,[100] but the Court of Appeals found in favor of Slater saying that "PETA's real motivation in this case was to advance its own interests, not Naruto's." The decision cited Cetacean v. Bush (2004) that says animals cannot sue unless Congress makes it clear in the statute that animals can sue, and added that "next friend" representation cannot be applied to animals.[101] The court also wrote:

"Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that 'animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way,' PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals."

Video games

PETA has created a number of satirical video games with such names as How Green Is My Diet? and KKK or AKC? Spot the Difference. PETA uses these games to spread attention about animal rights and animal welfare and to advocate vegetarian and vegan diets. PETA's head of online marketing Joel Bartlett said "We've found that parody games are extremely popular. By connecting our message with something people are already interested in, we're able to create more buzz."[102]

In 2017, Ingrid Newkirk sent a letter of complaint to Nintendo about their video game 1-2-Switch, during which players get to milk a cow. In her letter, Newkirk called the game "unrealistic" and wrote "you've taken all the cruelty out of milking". She also suggested that "instead of sugarcoating the subject, Nintendo switch to simulating activities in which no animals suffer."[103]

In March 2020, PETA issued a "Vegan Guide to Animal Crossing" for the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.[104]

Person of the year

Each year, PETA selects a "Person of the Year" who has helped advance the cause of animal rights.

PETA India



PETA certifies beauty and cosmetics companies with "Beauty without Bunnies" bunny labels in two tiers. In the first tier ("Animal Test-Free"), the entire company does not use animal testing. The company may still produce non-vegan products. In the second tier ("Cruelty-Free"), the company may not produce non-vegan products. The company is animal test-free and also vegan, i.e. does not use any animal-derived ingredients. If a company carries the PETA "animal test-free" or "cruelty-free" label, it must also have signed agreements with its suppliers that they do not use animal testing.[149]

PETA also awards a "Vegan" label to clothing and furniture products (instead of entire companies), which means that the products are free from animal-derived ingredients, but the companies can still produce non-vegan products.[150][151]

PETA labels
Label PETA Animal Test-Free[149] PETA Cruelty-Free[149] PETA Vegan[151]
Visual label PETA Cruelty free logo
Object certified Beauty and cosmetics companies Beauty and cosmetics companies Clothing and furniture products
Meaning All of the company's products animal test-free All of the company's products animal test-free

All of the company's products vegan

Product vegan


Direct action and the ALF

Newkirk is outspoken in her support of direct action, writing that no movement for social change has ever succeeded without what she calls the militarism component: "Thinkers may prepare revolutions, but bandits must carry them out."[152] Newkirk is a strong supporter of direct action that removes animals from laboratories and other facilities: "When I hear of anyone walking into a lab and walking out with animals, my heart sings."[8] Newkirk was quoted in 1999, "When you see the resistance to basic humane treatment and to the acknowledgment of animals' social needs, I find it small wonder that the laboratories aren't all burning to the ground. If I had more guts, I'd light a match."[153]


PETA is a strong proponent of euthanasia. They oppose the no-kill movement, and rather than adoption programs, PETA prefers to aim for zero births through spaying and neutering.[154] They recommend not breeding pit bulls, and support euthanasia in certain situations for animals in shelters, such as those being housed for long periods in cramped cages.[155]

Pet as a derogatory term

PETA considers the word pet to be "derogatory and patronises the animal", and prefers the term "companion" or "companion animal". "Animals are not pets," Newkirk has said.[156]

Hearing-ear and seeing-eye dogs

PETA supports hearing dog programs when animals are sourced from shelters and placed in homes, but opposes seeing-eye-dog programs "because the dogs are bred as if there are no equally intelligent dogs literally dying for homes in shelters, they are kept in harnesses almost 24/7".[157]

Animal testing

PETA opposes animal testing—whether toxicity testing, basic or applied research, or for education and training—on both moral and practical grounds. Newkirk told the Vogue magazine in 1989 that even if animal testing resulted in a cure for AIDS, PETA would oppose it.[158] The group also believes that it is wasteful, unreliable, and irrelevant to human health, because artificially induced diseases in animals are not identical to human diseases. They say that animal experiments are frequently redundant and lack accountability, oversight, and regulation. They promote alternatives, including embryonic stem cell research and in vitro cell research.[8]

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/White Coat Waste Project

The White Coat Waste Project, a group of activists that hold that taxpayers should not have to pay $20 billion every year for experiments on animals,[159] said that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases provided $400,000 in taxpayer money to fund experiments in which 28 beagles were infected by disease-causing parasites.[160][161] The White Coat Project found reports that said dogs taking part in the experiments were "vocalizing in pain" after being injected with foreign substances.[162] Following public outcry, PETA made a call to action that all members of the National Institute of Health resign effective immediately[163] and that there is a "need to find a new NIH director to replace the outgoing Francis Collins who will shut down research that violates the dignity of nonhuman animals."[164]


High euthanasia rates

PETA's euthanasia practices have drawn intense scrutiny from lawmakers and criticism from animal rights activists for years. The consistently high percentage of animals euthanized at PETA's shelter has been controversial.[165][166]

In 2008, meat industry lobby group the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) said in a news release that "[a]n official report filed by PETA itself shows that the animal rights group put to death nearly every dog, cat, and other pet it took in for adoption in 2006," with a kill rate of 97.4 percent.[167] In 2012, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said that it had in the past considered changing PETA's status from "shelter" to "euthanasia clinic", citing PETA's willingness to take in "anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won't do that."[168] PETA acknowledged that it euthanized 95% of the animals at its shelter in 2011.[168]

PETA calls their shelter in Norfolk, Virginia a "shelter of last resort", claiming they only receive old, sick, injured, badly behaved, and otherwise unadoptable animals. Operating as open admission, they take in animals "no one else will", and consider death "a merciful end". In 2014, PETA euthanized over 80% of the shelter's animals and justified its euthanasia policies as "mercy killings".[169][170]

Fueled by public outrage from a 2014 incident where PETA workers took a pet chihuahua from its porch and euthanized it the same day, along with documentation that of the 1,606 cats and 1,025 dogs accepted by the shelter that same year, 1,536 cats and 788 dogs were euthanized, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1381 in 2015 aimed at curtailing the operation of PETA's shelter. The bill defines a private animal shelter as "a facility operated for the purpose of finding permanent adoptive homes for animals."[165][171]

Though risking their legal access to euthanasia drugs, PETA has continued their practices.[165][166] In the chihuahua case, PETA paid a fine and settled a civil claim with the family three years later.[172]

Child targeted messaging

PETA has also been criticized for aiming its message at young people. In the past the company has passed out pamphlets such as "Your Daddy Kills Animals", and "Your Mommy Kills Animals",[173] both warning children from letting their "addicted to killing" parents have contact with their pets. The pamphlet was criticized by the Center for Consumer Freedom, who said "There's going to be long-term psychological damage from these kids being exposed to the material that PETA puts in front of them on a regular basis."[174]

As part of its 1999 "McCruelty" campaign, PETA attempted to distribute "Unhappy Meals" to young audiences: a parody of McDonald's Happy Meal. When describing the box, they explained that "PETA's spoof of a McDonald's chicken sandwich box features the image of a knife-wielding Ronald McDonald, along with pictures of birds who have been mutilated and scalded alive. The inside of the Unhappy Meal box is stained with blood and contains a blood-filled packet urging McDonald's to "Ketchup With the Times," a paper cutout of a menacing Ronald McDonald with PETA's parody "I'm Hatin' It" logo, a bloody plastic chicken, and a "Chicken McCruelty" T-shirt wrapped up like a sandwich."[175] The violent imagery was decried by parents who stated "I don't want my son to be around something like this."[176] As part of the same campaign, PETA attempted to place a large statue of a crippled, scalded chicken in front of a McDonalds's in Little Rock, but were denied,[177] and released a short comic book titled Ronald McDonald Kills Animals, in which Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and the Hamburglar unite to kill Birdie's parents, feed them to her unknowingly, then eat her as well.[178]

A similar "Kentucky Fried Cruelty" campaign occurred in 2004, when PETA criticized KFC and distributed "Buckets of Blood" to children: the buckets (meant to mimic KFC's buckets of chicken) included a bag of fake blood, feathers, and bones; a bloody plastic chicken; and a cardboard caricature of a blood-spattered Colonel Sanders holding a butcher knife toward a terrified-looking chicken.[179][180]

A 2013 ad titled Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner from your Family Butcher,[181] was developed using lenticular technology to show parents a benign Thanksgiving promo, but show their children a mother stabbing a live turkey while her children look on in shock.[182][183][184]

"It's Still Going On" campaign

PETA's "It's Still Going On" campaign features newspaper ads comparing widely publicized murder-cannibalization cases to the deaths of animals in slaughterhouses. The campaign has attracted significant media attention, controversy and generated angry responses from the victims' family members. Ads were released in 1991 describing the deaths of the victims of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer,[185] in 2002 describing the deaths of the victims of serial killer Robert William Pickton,[186] and in 2008 describing the killing of Tim McLean.[187] In several cases, newspapers have refused to run the ads.

"Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign

In 2003 PETA composed the "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibition—eight 60-square-foot (5.6 m2) panels juxtaposing images of Holocaust and concentration camp victims with scenes of factory farming, battery cages, animal carcasses and animals being transported to slaughter, along with captions stating that "Like the Jews murdered in concentration camps, animals are terrorized when they are housed in huge filthy warehouses and rounded up for shipment to slaughter. The leather sofa and handbag are the moral equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of people killed in the death camps."[188]

The exhibition was quickly criticized by Abraham Foxman[189] and the Anti-Defamation League, who said, "the effort by Peta to compare the deliberate systematic murder of millions of Jews to the issue of animal rights is abhorrent" and "[r]ather than deepen our revulsion against what the Nazis did to the Jews, the project will undermine the struggle to understand the Holocaust and to find a way to make sure such catastrophes never happen again." Alex Herschaft had made similar comparisons in the past, but criticized PETA's use as "careless and reckless" and impersonal.[190] Elie Wiesel was appalled to find the campaign used his own image, calling it possibly the greatest disappointment of his life, and reiterating that "I am not afraid of forgetfulness, I am afraid of banalization, of trivialization and this is part of it."[191] Other detractors included the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum[192] and Wesley Smith.[193]

As a response to critics of the UK campaign asking for a ban or some form of censorship, PETA accused them of book burning to further imply Nazi mentality.[194] In 2004 a complaint was made by Paul Spiegel and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, asking the German court to order PETA to halt the campaign and threatening to sue.[189] In July 2009, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that PETA's campaign was not protected by free speech laws and banned it within Germany as an offense against human dignity,[195] before later upholding the ban in 2012.[196]

The exhibit had been funded by an anonymous Jewish philanthropist[197] and created by Matt Prescott, who lost several relatives in the Holocaust. Prescott said: "The very same mindset that made the Holocaust possible—that we can do anything we want to those we decide are 'different or inferior'—is what allows us to commit atrocities against animals every single day. ... The fact is, all animals feel pain, fear and loneliness. We're asking people to recognize that what Jews and others went through in the Holocaust is what animals go through every day in factory farms."[197] In addition, PETA claimed a direct influence by the prominent Jewish author Isaac Bashevis Singer,[198] whose grandson, Stephen R. Dujack, supported the exhibition when it traveled to New York, and quotations for the exhibit also pulled from the writings of German philosopher Theodor Adorno.[189] Karen Davis and Gary Yourofsky both voiced their support of the exhibition.

"Are Animals the New Slaves?" exhibit

In 2005, the NAACP criticized the "Are Animals the New Slaves?" exhibit, which showed images of African-American lynching victims and slaves, Native Americans, child laborers, and women, alongside chained elephants and slaughtered cows. Lee Hall, the then director of Friends of Animals, supported the criticism, stating that, "While African-Americans have been systematically degraded by being compared with nonhuman beings, are we to think that angry responses to the pairing of man and monkey were unanticipated?"[199]

Vakiya Courtney, then executive director of America's Black Holocaust Museum, was outraged; images from the exhibit included one taken at the site of the attempted lynching of the museum founder James Cameron, and the successful lynching of his two friends. "How can you possibly compare the brutality that our ancestors experienced here, and the brutality that people like Dr. Cameron had to overcome, to animal cruelty?" Cameron, himself, had a similar response: "They may have treated us like animals back then, but there is no way we should be compared to animals today."[200]

"Got Autism?" campaign

In 2008 and in 2014, PETA conducted an advertising campaign linking milk with autism. Their "Got Autism?" campaign, a play on words mocking the milk industry's Got Milk? ad campaign that ran from 1993 to 2014, stated "Studies have shown a link between cow's milk and autism." PETA also claimed milk was strongly linked to cancer, Crohn's disease, and other diseases.[201][202] When pressed, PETA cited two scientific papers, one from 1995 and one from 2002 using very small samplings of children (36 and 20), and neither showed a correlation nor a causation between milk and autism. Newer studies from 2010 and 2014 came to the same conclusion.[202] Despite having been corrected, in 2014, PETA's Executive Vice President confirmed their position, and additionally stated that dairy consumption contributes to asthma, chronic ear infection, constipation, iron deficiency, anemia, and cancer.[203]

Steven Novella, a clinical neurologist and assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine, wrote "This is clearly, in my opinion, a campaign of fear mongering based upon a gross distortion of the scientific evidence. The purpose is to advocate for a vegan diet, which fits [PETA's] ideological agenda. They are likely aware that it is easier to spread fears than to reassure with a careful analysis of the scientific evidence."[201]

PETA's campaign has received backlash from the autism community. A 2008 PETA billboard was taken down by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. In 2017, British food writer, journalist and hunger relief activist Jack Monroe, demanded PETA remove their recipes from their website "with immediate effect coz I wrote them with my autism". PETA removed their recipes, but did not remove the "Got Autism?" article from their website until 2021. It has been argued that the frowny face in the campaign image negatively stereotypes autistic people.[204]

"KKK or AKC?" controversy

In 2009, PETA members dressed up in Ku Klux Klan robes and protested at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show where they passed out brochures[205] implying the Klan and American Kennel Club have the same goal of "pure bloodlines".[206] This protest was continued in the PETA video game KKK or AKC? Spot the Difference.[207]

Criticism of Steve Irwin

Steve Irwin at Australia Zoo

PETA has been critical of Australian wildlife expert and zookeeper Steve Irwin. In 2006, when Irwin died, PETA Vice President Dan Mathews said Irwin had made a career out of antagonizing frightened wild animals.[208] Australian Member of Parliament Bruce Scott was disgusted by the comments and said PETA should apologize to Irwin's family and the rest of Australia, and "Isn't it interesting ... how they [PETA] want to treat animals ethically, but cannot even think for a minute whether or not their outlandish comments are ethical towards their fellow human beings."[209]

In 2019, PETA criticized Google for creating a slideshow Google Doodle of Steve Irwin posthumously honoring his 57th birthday.[210] PETA started a Twitter campaign against Irwin, with several tweets criticizing Google for forwarding a dangerous message, and wrote that Irwin was killed while harassing a stingray and that he forced animals to perform.[211] A Washington Post editor wrote "PETA can add 'insulting a deceased cultural icon' to its infamous repertoire."[212]

Anti-carnivore sex strike

In 2022, PETA's German division called for a sex strike in which women would refrain from sexual activities with men who ate meat, and also called for men who ate meat to be banned from procreating.[213][214] When pressed on the ban, Laura Weyman-Jones (the Australian division's marketing manager) said that it was a "conversation starter", and not an actual request or threat.[215][216] The company did not reverse its position that meat consumption was a form of toxic masculinity, harmful to the environment, increased male impotency, and should be sin-taxed at an additional 41%.[213][216]

Human barbecue stunt protest

See also: Lent § Abstinence from meat and animal produce

During Holy Week in the Philippines, a PETA Asia member stripped down to her underwear and laid down on a grill to depict a "human barbecue" in front of Quiapo Church in Quiapo, Manila, calling Filipinos to abstain from eating meat even when not abstaining from meat during Lent. The stunt protest drew attention and controversy from churchgoers, and a complaint was filed by the church with the Manila Police District. No formal complaint was made, and as such, the members involved were eventually released.[217]

Domain name disputes

Main article: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Doughney

In February 1995, a parody website calling itself "People Eating Tasty Animals" registered the domain name "". PETA sued, claiming trademark violation, and won the suit in 2001; the domain is currently owned by PETA.[218] While still engaged in legal proceedings over "", PETA themselves registered the domains "" and "", using the sites to accuse Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Vogue of animal cruelty. PETA later surrendered the domains under threat of similar legal action over trademark infringement.[219][220]

Position within the animal rights movement

Newkirk on clashes with other animal rights organizations and her feelings about the Animal Liberation Front (3:31)

The more radical activists say the group has lost touch with its grass-roots members, is soft on the idea of animal rights, that it should stop the use of media stunts and nudity in its campaigning, and stop "hogging the spotlight at the expense of its allies in the movement".[221][8]

Robert Garner of the University of Leicester has written that PETA has shaken up the animal rights movement, setting up new groups and radicalizing old ones.[222] According to reviews at Philanthropedia, "PETA paved the way for other national organizations to delve into what used to be controversial issues and are now more mainstream concerns."[223] Michael Specter considers PETA to be the radical that helps the more mainstream message to succeed.[b]

Because of PETA's euthanasia rates at their "shelter of last resort", attorney Nathan Winograd, advocate for the No Kill movement, calls Newkirk of PETA "The Butcher of Norfolk".[224]

Gary Francione, professor of law at Rutgers Law School and a proponent of abolitionism, says that PETA is not an animal rights group because of their willingness to work with industries that use animals to achieve incremental change. Francione says PETA trivializes the movement with their "Three Stooges" theory of animal rights, making the public think progress is underway when the changes are only cosmetic.[225] "Their campaigns are selected more for media image than content."[8] Francione has criticized PETA for having caused grassroots animal rights groups to close, groups that were essential for the survival of the animal rights movement, and rejects the centrality of corporate animal charities. Francione wrote that PETA initially set up independent chapters around the United States, but closed them in favor of a top-down, centralized organization, which not only consolidated decision-making power, but centralized donations. Now, local animal rights donations go to PETA, rather than to a local group.[225]

See also


  1. ^ Some of the examples include eating meat, fishing, the killing of animals regarded as pests, the keeping of chained backyard dogs, cock fighting, dog fighting, beekeeping, hunting, animal testing, cruelty to pets, guide dogs, zoos, and bullfighting.[4]
  2. ^ "It has been argued many times that in any social movement there has to be somebody radical enough to alienate the mainstream—and to permit more moderate influences to prevail. For every Malcolm X there is a Martin Luther King Jr., and for every Andrea Dworkin there is a Gloria Steinem. Newkirk and PETA provide a similar dynamic for groups like the Humane Society of the United States, which is the biggest animal-welfare organization in the country and far more moderate than PETA. When I asked Newkirk why she didn't enter political campaigns for animal action and lobby more vigorously on Capitol Hill for her positions, she laughed: "Are you kidding? Dear boy, we are the kiss of death. If we are involved, the legislation is automatically dead. We have members yelling at us, 'Why are you not working on these issues?' But activists just beg us to stay the hell out.""[5]


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  3. ^ a b Schwartz, Jeffrey M. and Begley, Sharon. The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, Regan Books, 2002, p. 161ff.
    • Pacheco, Alex and Francione, Anna. The Silver Spring Monkeys, in Peter Singer (ed.) In Defense of Animals, Basil Blackwell 1985, pp. 135–147.
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  5. ^ a b c d Specter, Michael (April 4, 2003). "The Extremist: The woman behind the most successful radical group in America". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on March 9, 2020.
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  9. ^ Guillermo, Kathy Snow. Monkey Business. National Press Books, 1993, p. 18.
  10. ^ * For the "five people in a basement" quote, see Schwartz, Jeffrey and Begley, Sharon. The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. HarperCollins, 2002, p. 161.
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Further reading