Whatever one thinks of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), you have to tip your hat at their ability to market themselves and their propaganda. Their use of sexuality, shock language, movie stars, and protests provide an effective campaign that regularly gets the attention of the media. One of their more recent attempts to raise the public’s consciousness about the plight of turkeys was through a television advertisement. The ad shows a family sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner (with turkey of course) and the little girl is asked to give thanks. The child begins (I am paraphrasing) by thanking God for turkeys and the feces they contain and how their heads get stomped. You can view the 30 second video for yourself at http://www.peta.org/FeatureGrace.asp
PETA tried to have the ad run on the NBC network but the corporation turned it down. The video, like many claims of the animal rights protest industry is true to a point. But when making a claim, context is everything. For example, consider the feces claim. I have no doubt that turkey meat does (from time to time) get contaminated with excrement. Slaughtering and packaging livestock is not a perfect activity (just ask a hunter or fisherman), particularly when done on an industrial scale. But that is a different statement than suggesting that all turkey meat is contaminated by feces. This is just one of my problems with animal rights protest industry claims. They emphasize certain activities be they disgusting or possibly cruel, and then suggest that every turkey farm practices this way. You also need to consider that farm animals are not pets. I am not defending all the practices I witnessed at https://secure.peta.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=1692 (a PETA investigative video; I must also state that I can’t vouch for the video’s accuracy as again context is everything, just ask any defense lawyer) but we must distinguish between acts that appear unpleasant from those that are actually cruel.
I encourage people to avoid the universalizing fallacy regularly used by animal rights protest industry activists. If industrial farming is the source of animal cruelty (as claimed by activists), then perhaps the solution is to adopt local or small farming. Reducing alleged animal suffering doesn’t require going vegan. (See my other blogs showing how vegetarianism also harms animals). That type of argument is like saying, cars kill people, so ban cars. Regrettably, animal rights activists make this kind of claim all the time. It is for that reason that I believe animal activists use alleged cruelty to hide their real goal, of ending meat consumption and other human-animal interactions. But I digress.
I would point people to Polyface Farms http://www.polyfacefarms.com/ , the farm spotlighted in the best selling book, The Omnivores Dilemma. There you can slaughter your own turkey or watch it being done. I think the experience would help ground many people to the realization that to live is to kill. Find a local farmer and buy from him/her. You will probably pay more but you will possibly avoid alleged problems caused by industrial farming if that is problematic for you.
Stephen M. Vantassel is tutor in Theology at Kings Evangelical Divinity School
Copyright 2009 Stephen M. Vantassel