History and Debate of PETA
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an animal rights group that has often been the center of controversy over animal rights issues. Centered in Norfolk, Virginia, PETA has advocated a worldwide agenda of ensuring that animals receive proper treatment. Their approach to animal rights is often considered extremist and they have been linked to groups like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which are known for violent attacks on organizations they suspect of mistreating animals; however, PETA's official stance on methods suitable for protecting animal rights states that the organization does not condone violence.
The PETA Debate: Confrontational Advocacy
PETA's approach relies on highly confrontational, visible events that highlight the injustices they perceive toward animals. In addition to governmental lobbying and direct work with companies to ensure better treatment of animals, PETA has been known to stage vocal and sometimes graphic protests against specific groups. Often their members wear skimpy clothes to events protesting those who wear fur, and they have been known to throw red paint at those wearing fur to symbolize the blood of the animals. They distribute literature that many find inflammatory, as it includes graphic depictions of animals being killed and is sometimes directed at children. PETA organizes boycotts against a wide range of companies suspected of mistreating animals, either directly or indirectly.
PETA strongly advocates neutering all pets and offers discounted or free neutering at their headquarters in Virginia, where they neuter thousands of animals each year. They oppose breeders as they argue people should adopt homeless animals in shelters rather than breeding new pets. However, unlike many other animal rights organizations, PETA does not support the no-kill movement, which argues that animals should never be euthanized. Rather than try to prolong the lives of animals suffering from major diseases or maintain huge numbers of animals in inadequate facilities, PETA endorses euthanizing these animals and offers this service in a number of areas across the country.
Beyond their beliefs on pets, PETA strongly opposes the use of fur as a clothing source, advocating wearing synthetic or plant-based materials instead. Their attack on the fur industry has included a number of highly publicized attacks against the fashion industry, including demonstrations in the U.S., Europe and Asia. They also adamantly oppose the use of animal testing, whether for research or industrial purposes. Their argument against animal testing goes beyond concern for the animals' welfare, but also posits that animal models are insufficient, as the human biological system does not perfectly mirror that of the animals being studied. As such, they worry that tests conducted on animals are unnecessary and unenlightening. Indeed, despite their policy of non-violent protest of animal rights abuses, their president has endorsed the use of illegal direct action to remove animals from testing facilities.
While many critics involved in the PETA debate believe that the organization's approach to animal rights is extreme and often offensive, the organization also faces complaints from other animal rights groups that their methods are not extreme enough. Their use of public advocacy, willingness to negotiate with industries and non-violent approach has been characterized as too weak to effect true changes in animal welfare. Though PETA represents the most highly publicized of animal rights groups, they are far from the most extreme in terms of their methods and positions.