PETA at 25: Animal Rights Activists Are Defended, Deplored

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.  I'm Faith Lapidus.

And I'm Steve Ember.  Our subject this week is activism for animals.

Pet animals live in millions of American homes.  People keep cats, dogs, birds, fish, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice -- even snakes.  People spend thousands of millions of dollars every year on animal food, health care, equipment and toys.  Some Americans care so deeply for their pets that they brave hurricanes and floods to stay with these animals.

Animal welfare organizations operate throughout the nation.  They provide services for all kinds of creatures, both owned and wild.

But some people believe that improvements are needed in the treatment of animals.

For this reason, two activists named Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco decided in nineteen eighty to establish an animal rights organization.  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, usually called PETA, has headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.  It marks its twenty-fifth anniversary this year.

Some animal lovers praise PETA.  They say its work has saved and improved the lives of millions of animals.  But the group angers other people.  It performs secret investigations and targets individuals for sometimes shocking demonstrations.  These actions have caused strong criticism and even legal action.

Still, PETA has survived and grown.  Today, it claims more than eight hundred fifty thousand members internationally.  PETA says it is the largest animal rights group in the world. 

The group became the subject of dispute soon after its formation.  In the early nineteen eighties, PETA secretly placed an investigator in a Silver Spring, Maryland, research laboratory.  Mr. Pacheco offered to work without pay in the laboratory of scientist Edward Taub.  He did not tell Mr. Taub his reason.

The scientist's research involved cutting nerves in one forepaw, or arm, of monkeys.  The short-term goal was to see if the monkeys could be taught to re-use the arm without feeling.  The long-term goal was to help human patients unable to move parts of their bodies.  Mr. Taub wanted to find out if people could learn to re-use these areas after brain injuries or other damage.

While the scientist was away, Mr. Pacheco took pictures in the laboratory.  It looked dirty.  Some of the monkeys seemed to be suffering.

Police raided the laboratory when Mr. Taub returned from a vacation, and he was arrested.  He was found guilty of cruelty to animals.  The media made public the pictures.  They were shown in Congress.  The federal government suspended financing of Mr. Taub's research.

He denied any wrongdoing.  He accused PETA of planning the pictures and police raid to gain public notice.  He said that while he was away, Mr. Pacheco purposely let the laboratory get dirty.

All judgments of guilt against Edward Taub later were canceled on appeal.  In recent years, he has won several highly valued scientific awards.  He won honors for the research he was working on in Maryland.  It has resulted in development of a method now being tested by some victims of strokes.

The incident involving Mr. Taub's laboratory became known as the "Silver Spring Monkey Case."  It made PETA well known.  Many Americans who had never thought about treatment of laboratory animals began to do so.


PETA disapproves of the use of animals for medical research.  But many research scientists say this position could prevent development of treatments and cures for serious and deadly diseases.

Wesley Smith is a lawyer allied with the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit educational group.  He has written extensively about science and ethics.

Mr. Smith points to the Silver Spring Monkey Case as an example of harmful policy.  Last year, he wrote on the subject for the online publication of the National Review.  His article was called "A Monkey for Your Grandmother."

He noted the suffering of victims of Alzheimer's disease.  This disease strikes mainly older people.  It steals their ability to think and care for themselves.  Animals are often used in research on such brain diseases.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is an organization of doctors who care for animals.  The A.V.M.A. agrees with some positions taken by animal rights groups.  But the association also says it cannot accept policies that conflict with what it calls responsible animal use for human purposes.  It says this includes using animals for research on both human and animal disease.  But the A.V.M.A. says conditions and care for laboratory animals must be humane.


PETA also concerns itself with other issues besides animals in medical research.  It also disapproves of using animals for experiments for beauty and personal care products.  It opposes hunting, fishing, trapping and what is calls harmful uses of animals in sports.

For example, it criticizes the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.  Dog teams pull sleds about one thousand eight hundred kilometers in this yearly race in Alaska.

PETA criticizes the use of animals for entertainment, as in the circus.  And it wants to stop the killing or causing of pain to animals for their skin or fur.  PETA has organized demonstrations against the wool-growing industry in Australia over the treatment of sheep.

Some of PETA's best-known campaigns involve protesters in almost no clothes.  The campaign against the fur industry is known as "I'd rather go naked than wear fur."

Years ago, model Elle Macpherson promised not to be photographed in sales messages for fur clothing.  But in July, the marketers of Blackglama furs announced that Ms. Macpherson had agreed to appear in an advertising campaign.  She changed her plans again after she received a letter from a PETA official.

It is not clear at this time if Elle MacPherson has succeeded in canceling her agreement with Blackglama.  But she is trying.

The letter said Ms. MacPherson was making herself a top target of PETA and animal activists around the world.  It asked her to think about what has happened to actress and singer.

Jennifer Lopez has a clothing company called Sweetface.  Some Sweetface designs use fur.  PETA members have demonstrated at the openings of Ms. Lopez's films and other public events.

In March, protestors demonstrated outside an eating place that she owns in California.  They showed pictures of animals being skinned alive.

People often react strongly to PETA statements and actions.  A group official has stated that eating meat is murder.  Some people say animals are the equals of humans.  Others disagree.  And they deplore the actions that groups like PETA have taken against industry and scientific research.


In addition to activist groups like PETA, the United States also has many traditional animal welfare organizations.  These groups provide shelters, health care and other animal services.

The Humane Society of the United States seems a combination of both kinds of groups.  The society calls itself America's largest animal protection agency.  It performs traditional animal care.  And it also takes positions on issues.

Humane Society workers operate a center in Dallas, Texas.  Animals there are neutered so they cannot reproduce.  Humane Society veterinary doctors, students and other workers also provide a traveling health service for animals in poor areas away from cities.  They serve in places from the American state of Kentucky to the countryside of Bolivia.

The Humane Society also is supporting legislation in Congress proposed by Representative Tom Lantos of California.  The measure would require a plan for removing animals as well as people from endangered areas.

Supporters point to the fact that many people chose to stay in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the recent Hurricane Katrina.  They say that some remained behind because there was no government plan to rescue pet animals.  The storm killed some of these people.

The society estimates that tens of thousand of animals were left behind in New Orleans.  But under very difficult conditions, the Humane Society of the United States rescued about six thousand animals.



Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver.  I'm Faith Lapidus.

And I'm Steve Ember.  Please join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.