The five worst PETA campaigns of all time

PETA’s new advertisement linking autism and consuming dairy.

PETA’s new advertisement linking autism and consuming dairy.

Some are calling it ‘PETA’s worst campaign ever.’ An old, but resurrected ad by the animal rights group, is drawing a link between milk and autism.

PETA claims to be backed by scientific evidence but, as others have discussed, these seem to be just two small, old, and largely discredited studies.

Despite the accusations they are demonising those with autism to make their point, PETA is as PETA does, so they are refusing to apologise or remove the ad from their website.

As is so often the case with PETA, they are undermining their own message. There are actually some very good reasons not to consume dairy –the presence of nanometals for instance, as well as the fact that countries with high levels of dairy and meat consumption actually also have higher rates of bone fractures due to osteoporoses.

But PETA being PETA, they seem to think their intention (ending animal exploitation) justifies their behaviour (picking on already marginalised groups to make a point).

But as awful as this particular campaign is, it is not even close to being Peta’s worst. So why do they insist on portraying themselves as scientifically illiterate, attention-seeking nobheads? PETA says they have to be outrageous as it’s the only way people will take any notice. To be fair, they have a point. Politely asking people to substitute tofu for T-bone is never going to get the kind of clicks that photoshopping the bloody, disembodied torso of a beautiful woman onto a meat hook will.

But there is attention and then there is simply advancing one cause at the expense of another. A look into PETA’s campaign archives reveals there is almost no marginalised group they are unwilling to throw under the bus in the vain hope it will compel the world to stop treating animals like commodities.

And so I am compiling this list in my own vain hope that realises that perpetuating the dominant culture of objectification and white privilege not only doesn’t help animals, it actually sets back the cause.


Lose the Blubber

5. Save The Whales

Who would have thought that comparing fat women to whales and using the term ‘blubber’ isn’t going result in a mass conversion to vegetarianism?

Not only does this fat-shaming billboard perpetuate oppressive standards of beauty, it promotes unrealistic images of vegetarianism. Not all vegetarians are skinny, and given that you can now get veganised versions of everything from Bounty bars to baby back ribs, it’s actually not enough just to ‘go veg.’ If you want to be healthy on a plant based diet, you still have to put a little effort into it.


 4. Dog Shows Are Just Like The KKK

Back in 2009, PETA thought it would be a neat idea to get young white people to dress up as Ku Klux Klan members and hand fliers outside a New York dog show. Their reasoning? The Westminster Kennel Club promotes pure-breeding and, as such, is just as bad as the KKK with their belief in the purity of the white race.

Here is the thing: I get what PETA thought it was doing. Like many animal advocates (myself included) PETA operates on the presumption that there is no excuse for animal exploitation. They view animal suffering as no less distressing than human suffering. I understand that. What Peta doesn’t get is that we do not live in a post-racial world, and so dressing up in the very uniform of those who have caused (and still do) so much suffering to black Americans is blind white privilege at its most pure (pun intended).

This white privilege has left PETA either unable or unwilling to see how the campaign could affect people of colour, who are still dealing with the traumatic legacies of slavery, segregation and lynchings. All they are doing is turning black people away from their cause. Renee, at the Womanist Musings blog explains it best:

Who wants to associate themselves with a movement that continually creates the vulnerable as “other.” What this campaign tells me, is that to PETA I am less than a dog.

3. Leave Your Dog At Home

Speaking of dogs, no PETA campaign has aroused as visceral a reaction in me than the video featuring model Elisabetta Canalis pretending to be a dog trapped in a car on a hot day.

I’ll be clear that comparing humans as a whole to animals does not bother me one iota since we are all animals anyway. The problem is that PETA, blind as it is to the history and nature of oppression, only seems to equate with animals those groups that have historically been dehumanised precisely in order to permit their oppression.

Not only does the video exhort us to ‘leave (our) dog at home’, it ensures that Canalis also looks ‘hot’ in an altogether different sense. At one point the car is shown rocking and the viewer is left wondering exactly what is going on in there. Who thought dying from heat exhaustion could be so damned sexy?

2. The Chicken Holocaust

Many people have made genuinely insightful comparisons between the Holocaust and how animals are treated in factory farms.  The quote PETA uses in this ad is actually from Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Jewish novelist (and vegetarian), whose character in The Letter Writerwas simply asking for us to picture things from the perspective of animals.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about the psychology of oppression that links animal abuse and human atrocities. Does our blindness to the suffering of animals desensitise us to suffering in humans? Has animal cruelty normalised violence? If we starting respecting the right of animals to live, will this lead us to be less tolerant of violence amongst humans?

PETA doesn’t go into any of that. This juxtaposition, without any accompanying explanation simply appears to be equating the chickens themselves with Jews, rather than drawing comparisons with the violence enacted against each. In a world that has already given lower status to animals, then it simply serves to dehumanise Jews, rather than ‘humanise’ chickens, which I assume is what PETA was intending.

1.     1  BWVAKTBOOM

The absolute crowning jewel in PETA’s treasure trove of crimes against basic human decency is surely this contrived campaign: Boyfriend Went Vegan And Knocked The Bottom Out of Me. Ostensibly about the ‘tantric pornstar’ powers of virility that scrawny men magically accumulate when they ditch animal products, it features a heavily bruised woman limping down the street after a night of brutal sex.

And so PETA advances well beyond its usual terrain of objectifying women and straight into promoting domestic violence territory. Because apparently sex isn’t worthwhile unless you put your partner in a neck brace. And then send her out in her underwear to fetch dinner.

Distasteful Mentions:

All Animals Have The Same Parts

Again, all this does is continue the time-honoured patriarchal tradition of equating women with animals and using that as an excuse to oppress both.


Fur Trim: Unattractive

Outdated patriarchal standards of beauty, anyone?


Sitarist Anoushka Shankar asks people to boycott zoos

Exotic Animals

While its certainly true that PETA promotes white standards of beauty, never let it be said that they ignore women of colour altogether. When drawing attention to the plight of ‘exotic’ wild animals, you know who PETA is going to call on.