[EXCERPT: PETA has also run "McCruelty," "MurderKing" and
"WickedWendy's" campaigns to assail fast food chains for the way
animals used in their products are treated.]
Animal activists PETA raise corporate America's ire
Tue Jul 12, 2005 9:08 AM ET
By Carey Gillam
NORFOLK, Va., (Reuters) - With a cat snoozing on her desk and clad in
a rumpled "Love Animals" T-shirt, Ingrid Newkirk hardly looks like a
woman who could make corporate titans tremble.
As the founder and the passionate force behind People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals, Newkirk says her organization is made up simply
of "kind people" who want only to end animal abuse and exploitation.
But try telling that to the corporate retail and food giants who have
seen -- and felt -- PETA's claws.
Using tactics that sometime make even avid animal lovers squirm, and
backed by nearly $30 million yearly in private contributions, PETA
has become known worldwide as a radical but formidable foe of big
retailers and food companies.
At a May protest at a KFC restaurant, also known as Kentucky Fried
Chicken, PETA protesters dressed as Grim Reapers and carried a coffin
with a human-sized chicken in it while decrying the fast food giant
for "live scalding and painful debeaking" of the chickens it serves.
PETA has also run "McCruelty," "MurderKing" and "WickedWendy's"
campaigns to assail fast food chains for the way animals used in
their products are treated. The group has picketed the homes of
executives, dispatched undercover investigators to videotape animal
mistreatment at laboratories and on farms and run stomach-turning ad
campaigns with bloody images of abuse and slaughter.
"Sometimes sadly, you have to look quite scary and carry a big
stick," Newkirk says of the tactics.
Industry leaders say the campaigns are embarrassing but do little to
deter customers. But few deny PETA campaigns were the catalysts
behind a range of animal welfare reforms made in recent years by
McDonald's Corp. <MCD.N>, privately held Burger King Corp. and
Wendy's International Inc. <WEN.N>.
"They've got $29 million a year, you can do a lot of massaging of
public opinion with that kind of money," said Rick Berman, executive
director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, whose membership
includes restaurant and food companies. "PETA is very good at
HOW TO KILL A CHICKEN
This summer, as PETA celebrates 25 years of largely successful
campaigns, the group has set its sights on one of its toughest
challenges yet as it seeks sweeping change in the $29 billion U.S.
PETA wants the estimated 9 billion chickens slaughtered each year in
the United States to first receive a mixture of gas and oxygen to
make them unconscious, a method used in Europe, but one that would
require costly overhauls of U.S. poultry slaughterhouses.
Current U.S. systems shackle live chickens, hang them upside down and
run them through electrified baths to stun them before their throats
are slit and they are put into scalding defeathering tanks. PETA
cited USDA reports as evidence that millions of chickens annually are
conscious through most if not all of the process.
"I don't understand how anyone with a conscience can learn about the
horrifically cruel conditions for chicken slaughter and not want to
do anything about it," said PETA campaign director Bruce Friedrich.
Under pressure from PETA, McDonald's issued a report on June 30
saying it was studying the matter. Restaurant operator Applebee's
International Inc. <APPB.N> is also confronting the issue, thanks to
National Chicken Council spokesman Richard Lobb said the current
slaughter system is both "effective and humane," and PETA's latest
reform requests are efforts to drive up costs and put chicken
companies out of business.
"They're just trying to come up with things that will be costly for
food companies as part of their overall desire to move to a strictly
vegan world," Lobb said.
Because of the issue, KFC, a subsidiary of YUM! Brands Inc., <YUM.N>
of Louisville, Kentucky, and one of the world's largest fast-food
purveyors of chickens, is emerging as one of PETA's staunchest foes.
Having seen PETA protesters smear fake blood on its restaurant walls
and smear the company name with gory undercover videos of alleged
abuse at its suppliers, KFC officials have dubbed PETA's actions
"corporate terrorism" and have cut off communications with PETA
KFC officials are loathe to discuss anything having to do with PETA
publicly. But the Center for Consumer Freedom is backing KFC and its
brethren and is running anti-PETA ads, including a billboard in New
York's Times Square.
"We are taking the fight to PETA," said Berman. "They've hit a
roadblock with the chicken industry." Critics accuse PETA of lying
and other misdeeds including a range of deceit and misbehavior,
including financially aiding acts of violence and unfairly claiming
PETA officials say they have no intention of letting up on KFC, after
staging 8,000 protests against the company so far.
Indeed, PETA's highly successful track record shows that some
campaigns run for years, the longest, which put an animal trainer in
Las Vegas out of business, lasted 16 years, according to Newkirk.
Other notches in PETA's belt include persuading General Motors <GM.N>
to stop using animals in crash tests, convincing Abercrombie & Fitch
<ANF.N> and J. Crew Group Inc. clothing retailers to boycott
Australian wool and pressuring Revlon <REV.N>, Avon Products Inc.
<AVP.N> and more than 500 other cosmetic companies to stop animal
Over the 25 years since PETA was founded in Newkirk's suburban
Maryland home, the organization has grown to include more than
800,000 members and about 200 employees with offices in the United
Kingdom, India, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Wealthy benefactors help fund sophisticated multi-faceted marketing
and secret investigations.
Stray animals are given homes in PETA's headquarters, and cat-sized
holes are cut into the bottoms of many office doors so the animals
can move about freely.
Newkirk says PETA's ultimate goal is a world where humans don't eat,
wear or exploit animals.
"We are the pit bulls of animal protection," Newkirk said in a recent
interview. "Don't mess with us. We will win."
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