Americans know the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for its wild publicity stunts in the name of protecting cows, chickens, and other eatables.
But a closer look at media-savvy PETA shows it also has become a corporate animal.
Its websites are full of invitations to corporate America to form partnerships, and in the process, cut PETA in on some of the profits. How else has the Washington-based group grown to a $34 million budget and displayed help-wanted ads for more employees in the time of a deep recession?
In one case, PETA castigates a credit card company for backing a circus; yet PETA promotes its competitor who sponsors horse racing and beef eating — two PETA no-nos it is trying to abolish.
PETA now operates a "Business Friends" program. For $500 (Silver), $1,000 (Gold) and $5,000-plus) Platinum, PETA grants access to its members and their money.
"PETA Business Friends is an innovative partnership for compassionate companies willing to assist in PETA’s groundbreaking work to stop animal abuse and suffering," the web site says.
Platinum members include what one might expect for a group that promotes a vegetarian, or more austere, vegan lifestyle. There is Harbor Candy Shop, which makes vegan candies and kicks back 20 percent of proceeds to PETA. And there is MooShoes Inc., which sells animal-free footwear.
Also on the list is VISA, the giant credit card company. The two boast a special relationship. There is the PETA VISA card, featuring a photo of a pig. Purchases on this card result in a 1 percent royalty to PETA. It urges customers to shop at its own mall, where vendors return even more profits to PETA on each sale.
The VISA-PETA alliance makes odd bedfellows. For one, VISA is a prime sponsor of the Kentucky Derby, the world’s most famous horse race.
Yet PETA wants to end thoroughbred racing. A PETA "fact sheet" states: "Help phase out this exploitative ‘sport’: Refuse to patronize existing tracks, work to ensure that racing regulations are reformed and enforced, lobby against the construction of new tracks, and educate your friends and family members about the tragic lives that racehorses lead."
After the filly Eight Belles collapse and died in finishing the 2008 Kentucky Derby, PETA launched a series of press statements and blogs complaining about the derby and horse racing in general. But there was no criticism of VISA.
VISA also has a relationship with Omaha Steaks. VISA offers a whopping 68 percent discount when you use the card to buy a mail-order sampler box. In other words, VISA is trying to entice people to begin eating prime beef.
Just this week, PETA’s vice president spoke at the University of Pennsylvania on the evils of meat eating.
A PETA press statement said, "At a forum at the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich will describe the horrifying abuse that animals face when they’re raised and killed for food. Friedrich will also discuss the massive environmental devastation caused by meat production as he makes the case for a vegan diet. "
PETA’s current major campaign is to pressure the Canadian government to end an annual seal hunt during which the animals are bludgeoned to death. PETA’s tactic is to urge the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee "to use its clout to help stop the Canadian seal slaughter."
A favorite PETA tactic is to call for a boycott. But it has not urged one for the 2010 winter Olympic sponsors, a major one of which is VISA.
The Washington PETA office did not respond to questions from HUMAN EVENTS.
PETA has gone after VISA’s major competitor, MasterCard, on the sponsorship issue. PETA uncovered the abuse of elephants by the Ringling Brothers Circus. Using the phrase "NastyCard," it launched a national campaign in 2003 to force the company to cut ties with Ringling, which it ultimately did.
Corporate partner VISA promotes horse racing and beef, yet is immune from such PETA campaigns.
"I think what they were doing was trying to shake down MasterCard," said Steven Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com. "Where do we start with PETA. I mean, PETA destroys how many animals every year. PETA kills way more animals than the circus. Circus employs animals and probably treats them very well … They’re in bed with VISA, not MasterCard."
The website Petakillsanimals.com reports that PETA killed 95 percent of the dogs and cats in its care in 2008 at a Virginia shelter, according to the group’s report to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Since 1998, PETA has opted to ‘put down’ 21,339 adoptable dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens instead of finding homes for them," the website says. In 2007, PETA took in 2,225 animals and killed 1,911. It said shelters in the area have a much better record of finding homes for pets, and notes it is less costly to kill a dog or cat than to foster it.
Correction: PETA did respond to Rowan Scarborough’s inquiry, contrary to what the story reports. On 29 September, at 6:45 pm, a PETA spokesman e-mailed Mr. Scarborough saying, “We are an equal opportunity critic: Visa ended its partnership with Ringling Bros. many years ago after we wrote to the company, and we were pleased that MasterCard followed suit in 2004 after learning that Ringling beats elephants and chains them around the clock. We encourage all companies to make more responsible decisions by not sponsoring or supporting animal abuse.”
However, PETA’s “response” is unresponsive to the story’s reports that PETA has special corporate relationships with one company that is involved in things such as horseracing and selling meat for human consumption both of which PETA considers “animal abuse” and wishes to abolish.
Mr. Scarborough’s question stands: Why does PETA refrain from campaigning against VISA if not because of its financial relationship with the credit card company, as it did against Master Card for sponsoring a circus in which PETA said animals were abused?