In 2015, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit against photographer David Slater. Four years earlier, Slater traveled to Indonesia, where he spent a few days photographing macaques—or rather, letting them photograph themselves. PETA argued that Slater should not be allowed to own the copyright on the image, because it legally belongs to the monkeys that took them.
This lawsuit bankrupted poor Mr. Slater, who in 2017 wasn’t even able to afford a new camera, let alone pay his attorney. PETA pursued this lawsuit to the benefit of no one: The animal could not benefit from the copyright because it had no concept of money and no use for it. Yet, guided by a fringe animal rights philosophy and an unchallenged, self-righteous arrogance, PETA believed that it was morally right and good to drive an innocent man to the point of bankruptcy. (The Guardian, “Monkey selfie photographer says he’s broke: ‘I’m thinking of dog walking,’” 06.12.2017).
PETA is a dangerous organization that poses a threat to those that oppose its insensitive, backwards beliefs. What makes PETA different from other more “moderate” animal rights organizations is its radical commitment to complete human-animal equality. Their motto is “Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way” (PETA, “What PETA REALLY Stands For”).
Essentially, PETA’s goal isn’t merely to abolish animal abuse or improve conditions in farms, zoos or slaughterhouses; it is to eliminate the exploitation of animals in every conceivable way. In their view, animals are not inherently different from humans and are therefore entitled to the same rights, including, apparently copyright (PETA, “RZA: We’re Not Different in Any Important Way,” 01.17.2018).
Because PETA fervently believes that the value of an animal’s life equates to that of a human, they have resorted to extreme measures to get their message across while simultaneously justifying their actions as morally righteous. For example, in 2004, PETA launched a campaign titled “Holocaust on Your Plate,” directly comparing the consumption of animals to the murders committed by Nazis during the Holocaust. (PETA, “PETA Germany’s Holocaust Display Banned,” 03.27.2009).
Then in 2016, PETA put forward an advertisement that compared sexual assault to the consumption of meat and dairy. It began with women sharing their stories of being sexually assaulted, only to end with them holding up pictures of cows and saying, “Because I am you, only different” (The Huffington Post, “Outrageous New PETA Ad Compares Cows With Rape Victims,” 11.04.2016). I do not intend to delve into the specifics regarding the validity of their claim, because such a conversation is irrelevant. Even if PETA’s claims about the meat and dairy industry contain aspects of truth, comparing sexual assault to eating cows is morally unacceptable.
However, if PETA’s attitude towards the Holocaust and rape seems tasteless, the organization’s attitude toward disabled people is particularly hypocritical and egregious. In a 2003 interview with The New Yorker, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said that she believes that the use of Seeing Eye dogs are an abdication of human responsibility and that she completely opposes their use. She even admitted to taking away at least one person’s Seeing Eye dog (The New Yorker, “The Extremist: The Woman Behind the Most Successful Radical Group in America,” 04.14.2003).
PETA has also delegitimized the struggles of autistic people by putting up billboards that read “Got autism? Studies have shown a link between cow’s milk and autism” (Time, “Got Credibility? Then You’re Not PETA,” 05.30.2014). First, PETA is misleading the public by implying that milk causes autism, when in fact, the study they cited makes no such claims. Second, PETA misread the scientific data. PETA claims that milk is associated with symptoms of autism and that giving up dairy products helps alleviate symptoms of autism.
However, as Time Magazine points out, the studies they used don’t really show that to be the case either. What it does show is that avoiding dairy may help alleviate certain gastrointestinal issues. These issues are closely related to certain symptoms of autism. Thus, there is a correlation between not consuming dairy and the alleviation of certain autism symptoms, but only tangentially. By promoting this idea, PETA further contributes to the stigmatization of autistic people. PETA has clearly demonstrated that they would much rather prioritize the well-being of animals over that of disabled people.
However, the most obvious evidence of hypocrisy lies in the fact that PETA kills a lot of animals. Since 1998, PETA has killed about 38,190 animals, or 85.2 percent of the animals in its care. Dr. Daniel Kovich, an investigator with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, found in 2010 that 84 percent of the animals PETA cared for were killed within 24 hours. He even noted that PETA’s shelters in the state did not meet their own guidelines for operating a humane animal shelter.
Why do they do this? While good old-fashioned incompetence may partly clarify this enormous discrepancy, one explanation may have to do with Newkirk’s own beliefs, since she believes in the abolition of pet ownership and she probably doesn’t want to see any animals adopted. After all, her position on the matter equates to “[I]f people want toys, they should be inanimate objects. If they want companionship, they should seek it with their own kind” (Peta Kills Animals, “Proof PETA Kills”).
PETA is a terrible organization that deserves the support of absolutely no one. Anyone who knowingly supports them despite their callousness and hypocrisy should feel ashamed of themselves. Newkirk has exposed herself as one of the most disreputable, pathetic people on the planet with her words and her actions. There are good animals rights organizations out there, such as American Humane, that take reasonable positions and legitimately commit to doing the right thing. PETA is not one such organization. If you want to support animal welfare, I would highly recommend taking your time and money elsewhere.