Understanding Animal “Rights”

Background: Animal rights activists, whose ultimate goal is the elimination of all human uses of animals, have evolved into a powerful—and sometimes even terrifying— fringe movement. Animal welfare supporters seek to ensure that livestock, pets, and other animals are treated humanely. Animal rights activists, on the other hand, seek to give animals legal “personhood” and remove them from our dinner plates, clothing aisles and pet shops.

  • Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), concedes that “Our goal is total animal liberation.” This means the complete abolition of meat, milk, cheese, eggs, honey, zoos, aquariums, circuses, wool, leather, fur, silk, hunting, fishing, pet ownership, and biomedical research (even research aimed at curing AIDS and cancer). In a 2003 profile of Newkirk in The New Yorker, author Michael Specter wrote that she has had at least one seeing-eye dog taken away from its blind owner.
  • The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is a “humane society” in name only, since it doesn’t operate a single pet shelter or pet adoption facility anywhere in the United States. In 2009, HSUS contributed less than one percent of its budget to organizations that operate hands-on dog and cat shelters. In reality, HSUS is a wealthy animal-rights lobbying organization (the largest and richest on earth) that agitates for the same goals as PETA and other like-minded groups.
  • The misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is another animal rights group, not a real “physicians committee.” Contrary to what its name implies, less than ten percent of PCRM’s members went to medical school. PCRM President Neal Barnard, a psychiatrist by training who was president of the PETA Foundation in the early 2000s, has called cheese “dairy crack” and “morphine on a cracker.”

Aren’t some of these groups mainstream? Activists do their best to practice positive PR. But evidence suggests they are much more radical than their image sometimes suggests.

  • Less than 1 percent of Americans identify themselves as vegans. The Humane Society of the United States, playing the numbers, insists it’s not a vegan advocacy group—just an animal welfare group seeking modest farming reforms. But in 2006, HSUS’s then-Vice President for farm animal issues told an animal rights forum that HSUS’s push for “cage-free” was really just one step towards “get[ting] rid of the entire industry.” She explained, “We don’t want any of these animals to be raised and killed.”
  • PETA has funneled tens of thousands of dollars to convicted arsonists and other violent criminals. This includes a 2001 donation of $1,500 to the North American Earth Liberation Front (ELF), an FBI-certified “domestic terrorist” group responsible for dozens of firebombs and death threats; and $70,200 to Rodney Coronado, an Animal Liberation Front (ALF) serial arsonist convicted of burning down a Michigan State University research laboratory. (In his sentencing memorandum, a federal prosecutor said PETA president Ingrid Newkirk had foreknowledge of that crime.)
  • The Executive Director of the Global Animal Partnership, Miyun Park, manages Whole Foods Market’s animal welfare program. In the past she worked for PETA, HSUS and PCRM and served as president of the vegan advocacy group Compassion over Killing, which published a newsletter glorifying the terrorist Animal Liberation Front.

What should I know about these radicals? Animal rights activists will never be satisfied with anything less than the complete liberation of all animals. Animal welfare scientists, not professional vegan agitators, tend to be far more reasonable.

  • Driving a wedge between humans and animals is simply not good for society. Farmers can’t survive without carefully tended livestock. Many medical advances depend on the meticulous care given to lab animals. Anglers and hunters have a vested interest in the sustainability of animal populations that are vital to their sport. And millions of children learn important life lessons by visiting zoos and aquariums-and by loving and caring for dogs, cats, and other pets.
  • Animal rights organizations and activists are hypocritical. In spite of the organization’s proclamations on behalf of legal personhood for animals, PETA kills over 95 percent of the dogs and cats it takes into its Norfolk, V.A. animal shelter. PETA has also used the concept of animal ownership when it was convenient for PETA and its employees. And although the organization he now leads spends millions campaigning against raising animals for food, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle told Animal People News that “We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding …One generation and out” in 1993.
  • PETA’s president has insisted that “even if animal testing produced a cure for AIDS, we would be against it.”