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Five Minutes With Ingrid Newkirk
I can hear the comments now, even before I finish writing this story and posting it online. “You’re talking with INGRID NEWKIRK! Isn’t that like dancing with the devil? Fraternizing with the enemy? A Longhorn befriending a Sooner?” There are certain lines that just can’t be crossed.
So make your mark in the sand, if you must. I’m jumping across and asking one of the most prominent people in the animal welfare “movement” what she’s got up her animal cruelty free 100% cotton sleeve.
Look at this interview like a scouting report, the equivalent of Texas A & M watching tapes of Texas football games before they meet on Thanksgiving. If you’re in animal agriculture, you know Newkirk and her friends are up to something that you’re probably not going to like. Rest assured there will be another tape of abuse released at a time most advantageous to her cause. If they don’t already have it, they’ll get it soon enough.
It might help to read PETA’s mission statement: “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with more than 2.0 million members and supporters, is the largest animal rights organization in the world.
PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on factory farms, in laboratories, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry. We also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of beavers, birds and other "pests," and the abuse of backyard dogs.
PETA works through public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.”
And it also might help to know that PETA promotes it work through shrewd marketing tactics that include attacking the March of Dimes for their reputed involvement in animal testing done by pharmaceutical companies; lots of sex – Lettuce Ladies in faux lettuce bikinis handing out hot dogs at the Rayburn Building in Washington; semi-nude photos of starlets like Alicia Silverstone, Eva Mendes and hard-core porn star Jenna Jameson promoting vegetarianism and deploring the use of leather and animal fur, and their infamous “8 Second Ride” anti-rodeo poster.
It’s a well-funded, worldwide organization with active chapters in Europe and Asia. They know their business and they pursue their mission with a true believer’s zeal. And now, Five Minutes with Ingrid Newkirk:
Q. Let’s talk about Ingrid Newkirk pre-PETA. Who were you before you founded the organization and what events led you to your current calling?
A. Since I’m almost 60, half my life has been lived pre-PETA. In a nutshell, I have always related to animals and been able to see what they are going through because I grew up with them, first on a farm in Cornwall in England, and later rescuing them from the streets in India with my mother (who took in human refugees too).
However, like most people, my thinking about animals was compartmentalized: I ate them and had my first fur coat when I was 19, although my family rescued strays and thought ourselves kind to animals. I was studying for the New York Stock Exchange brokerage exam when I visited my first animal shelter in the US and was shocked at the conditions there, quit my job and started work cleaning kennels and learning how to care for large numbers of dogs, cats, wildlife, and so on. I went to police academy and became a government laboratory inspector and a deputy sheriff so as to learn how to prosecute cruelty to animals cases. I founded PETA with an associate in 1980.
Q. There are people in animal agriculture that see PETA as an organization pushing animal rights at the expense of human rights. How do you compare the two?
A. I think that’s the same misconception and scared idea that men used when faced with the women’s movement and whites used when faced with black emancipation. Change takes adjustment but can be very much for the better. Human beings are certainly capable of expanding our narrow idea of whom to protect and whom to exclude from protection and it shouldn’t be based on expediency, convenience and things like familiarity and “cuteness.”
I see animal liberation, if you will, as human liberation, a release from our own sometimes pathetically ignorant and restricted view. Not eating animals is better for our health, e.g. a diet rich in vegetables, grains and fruits contains lots of fiber (absent totally in meat and dairy), no cholesterol (which meat and dairy are full of), and does not harden our arteries, causing high blood pressure and stroke; it’s good for the environment as well (not causing deforestation for grazing land, not draining the aquifers for water for raising animals, not polluting the rivers and ground water with offal, not as resource intensive) in addition to reducing the suffering of the animals themselves.
Q. Some of your promotional efforts - billboard designs that are refused as tasteless by municipalities and never get posted outdoors, for instance - seem to be created mostly for maximum shock value and subsequent pick up by the press who inevitably point out the sensationalism. Is that the intent? And do you see those ads as helpful or possibly damaging to your cause?
A. We’d love to have them all run, and mostly they are not run because billboard companies are beholden to other business interests. Shocking someone out of a harmful behavior, like blocking their arteries and getting so obese they can’t walk without difficulty, and feeding their children so that they get fat and unhealthy, is a public service, really.
And these days, as everyone realizes, it sometimes takes something amusing, shocking, sexy or otherwise provocative to get attention. But we’d rather run them than have them rejected, but of course we’ll take press for our cause however we can get it You can see many of them at PETA.org, including the famous banned Super Bowl TV spots.
Q. Let’s look at PETA over the last decade and examine its strategy and tactics. Would you define your main strategy and talk to me about the tactics that have succeeded? And failed?
A. We’ve pretty much been consistent in our strategy from the beginning. We were founded on the idea that people have the right to see what is being done in their name, our intention to show them what is going on, to then offer them compassionate alternatives to existing practices.
Our tactics have had to change over the years as the press has changed and the public thirst for sensationalism has increased. In the early days, you could go on a talk show and actually have a sensible discussion, both sides or more, could present their perspective, now it’s basically a shouting match, which is a pity as that doesn’t serve anyone well. We are pretty good at adjusting to a changing playing field, though.
Q. We’re heading into a new year. What are your goals for 2009?
A. What we are pushing for, among many other things, but in the meat industry specifically: KFC needs to switch to Controlled Atmosphere Killing (CAK). It might add a penny or two to each box or bucket of fried chicken, but there is no excuse for that company, and no excuse for McDonald’s either, which sells a comparable amount of chicken, to ignore the fact that this killing method would eliminate most of the pain and suffering of chickens who are right now being slammed alive into shackles, dragged from crates at the slaughterhouse (both actions breaking legs and wings), and often reach the scalding tanks alive.
We want screening procedures to get rid of violent and drug-taking employees in all animal agriculture facilities as they seem to be a major problem in taking out their frustrations on animals that have nowhere to escape them. Employees found abusing animals need to know they will be dismissed summarily. Video cameras, truly monitored by management, would be an improvement not only on the kill line, but in the farms. Those tapes could be pulled up and spot checked.
We would like to get the federations and trade groups for meat concerns to actually have meaningful animal welfare policies, unannounced audits by animal welfare and slaughtering experts, and transparency, as no one takes their useless word for it anymore. Farrowing and gestation crates have to go. More of our positions are on our website at peta.org
Q. There are many animal welfare organizations, spanning the political and socio-economic spectrum. Tell me about them and some of the people you admire.
A. I admire anyone who is working to make a kinder world, have a positive impact, hence my new book, “One Can Make a Difference,” which your readers will wish to buy cases of, no doubt, at petamall.org or through Amazon or their local bookstores! It isn’t only about people who have made a difference (although I admire Carol Buckley, she’s in it, who started the first elephant sanctuary in the US, a terrific place for retired formerly abused circus elephants; and Peter Hammarstedt, who works to help seals being bludgeoned on the ice in Canada), but people who have developed life-saving devices like Dr. Henry Heimlich, who collect shoes for underprivileged children in South America, medicine for kids in Africa, who help clean up despoiled areas, and much more.
Q. Thousands of people read Cattlenetwork.com. What would you like to say to them?
A. I think you might enjoy subscribing to PETA’s Animal Times, too! I guess the thing is that we are not all stereotypes, are we? And all of us are changing for the better as we get older, at least I hope we are. Sometimes we do things because we were taught to, because everyone around us does the same thing, because we’ve never challenged ourselves. I’m not just talking about the cattle industry, but in all pursuits in life.
It seems to me that being kind is, as we tell our kids, a virtue, it really is; and that, being powerful human beings, we can make sure we are open to the idea of seeing just how kind we can be, which, in my case, meant first buying bacon from Denmark as I discovered that they had actually passed laws that prevented some of the worst cruelties to pigs that still go on here, then realizing that I didn’t feel right still eating animals when it is an inescapable fact that pigs and cows and chickens experience fear and pain and want to feel the sun on their backs, as any other living being, including those dogs I saw strung up and being killed for winter soup in China.
I believe that we shouldn’t be afraid of change, positive change, because society is always improving and moving forward and if we are “thinking animals” we owe it to ourselves not to dig in our heels and fight to keep things as they are, but to grow. It is easy to hate, but that doesn’t get us anywhere in the end.
For more information, visit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals PETA.
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