by M-K Jones
There are many animal welfare concerns with the conditions and processes currently employed in livestock production operations. In response, there are countless organizations attempting to address these issues. One animal rights group in particular is constantly making headlines with their aggressive allegations. There are many words to describe their tactics: bold, passionate, moving…. disturbing, misleading, inaccurate, extreme….. PETA has infinite propaganda claiming their organization is vital to saving the organisms of our world. I’m about to present the argument that is clear to those involved in agriculture: that your support is far more useful when invested in educated, realistic catalysts for change rather than radical extremists.
The first issue with PETA’s message is that they are often disturbingly incorrect. I don’t want to assert (or even believe) that such an influential organization is willing to intentionally mislead the general public. However, the information they present is sometimes so blatantly imprecise that the only explanations are purposeful deception or a painfully low level of education about the processes they speak on. I don’t know which is worse to think; that the institution as a whole blatantly lies to achieve goals, or that it lacks the thought to fact check the simplest of statements.
One particular ad I recently saw (posted in September of 2014 on PETA’s facebook page) is a perfect example. It shows a woman wearing a knit sweater, followed by a bloodied ewe, the text reading “when you buy this, you support this”. I was sitting in a study lounge when I saw it on my news-feed and my sudden “Are you kidding me!?” reaction was passionate enough to startle the stranger sharing my table.
PETA’s facebook ad
The issues start with the ewe itself. Anyone with even a modest knowledge of sheep production knows the animal pictured is a Suffolk. Suffolks have been bred for meat production. They are a fast-growing breed with large frame size and excellent muscling. Unlike wool or dual purpose breeds their fiber is of such poor quality that it is virtually useless- certainly not the breed any producer would choose when making wool clothing products. Second, obviously the animal was sheared improperly. I’ve sheared several sheep myself and seen it done by professional shearers many times. Shearing, when properly done, is in no way painful or even stressful to the animal. While a small nick here or there is common, the scene depicted above is not. Unfortunately, this poorly crafted ad is not an unusual PETA message. Their marketing strategy follows that of many product-pedaling companies: heavy on catch-phrase flare and light on facts.
The other main issue with PETA is the organization’s radicalism. PETA is not an animal welfare group, they are an animal rights group. As I explained in a previous post about vegetarianism, there is a huge difference between animal welfare and animal rights. Most welfare advocates state that they seek to prevent cruelty, reduce unnecessary stress and suffering, and implement humane treatment/slaughter standards. Animal rights, however, is a huge leap above this ideal. The latter is most commonly defined as the belief that any and all human use of sentient living organism should end. This includes but is not limited to hunting, livestock production, entertainment, laboratory animals, and even ownership of companion animals like your family dog.
Eliminating all “use” of animals- to stop our domestication process and to simply set them “free”- is not only an unrealistic ideal, it’s a downright deadly one for animals and humans alike. Our species and society relies heavily on animal products, and to remove them would mean implementing extreme changes in almost every aspect of our modern lifestyle. Maybe these are convenient for college girls following the latest “no leather” fad, but imagine the implications for those living in third world countries, or even those in our own society who struggle below the poverty line. That’s not to mention the unimaginable economic suffering due to job loss and the death of industrial giants. In addition, domesticated animals have been bred to the point of human dependency (hence the fact that they are domesticated) and releasing them from farming or family homes would ensure a death toll of massive proportions of the animals themselves.
When people hear of my anti-PETA stance, I am often accused of being anti-animal welfare, and am reminded of the necessity of whistle-blowers. In contrast, I adamantly support animal welfare and the presence of regulatory institutions in every industry. However, a frighteningly misinformed and ill-planned agenda like PETA’s distracts from the possibility of realistic and mutually beneficial changes by spreading misleading propaganda. So ironically, it is the fact that I AM an animal welfare supporter that makes me unable to support PETA.
A ram being happily sheared at Checkmate Farm