Heidi StephensonAnimal Rights Poetry and Prose By Heidi Stephenson From All-Creatures.org

For the love of animals:
An interview with Ingrid Newkirk, president, CEO and founder of People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals
February 2023

Ingrid Newkirk

“We shouldn’t just be being kind to animals, within the context of using them; they’re other nations! They’re just like us. We are animals. We need to stop seeing them as hamburgers and handbags and tools for research; we need to see them as other individuals and treat them with respect, leave them in peace.”

“People say they don’t have a voice, they have a voice! Humans just don’t listen to it! They don’t understand it. They don’t hear it! But some people have to speak for them because of that.”

“It’s not as if humans are alone in having emotions like love and fear and loneliness and grief…All those are shared emotions.”

“Since PETA’s inception, we have always been against all discrimination, all needless violence, all oppression, all domination, against all injustice. We say “There’s a principle here.” It doesn’t matter who the victim is; it’s that they’re victimized.”

HS: Were you always an animal lover, even as a child? What woke you up? What were the galvanizing moments for you? You must have seen some terrible things growing up in India, and in those last years of the Raj.

Ingrid Newkirk: When I was born, there was a dog, Seanie, in my home and he and I grew up together as brother and sister really. He slept in my bed, I slept in his wicker basket; we played and did everything together, and even were car sick at the same time. I loved him to pieces, but only much later connected the dots to all living beings. In India, because I “loved” animals, I always rode the horse carriage, rode an elephant named Rani - who was in service near my home - whenever I could, and had a favorite hat made from wild cat fur. I loved the “pet” ducks I won at the fair, and, in India, my mother always took in waifs and strays, human or not, so I had a good grounding. It wasn’t, however, until I was in my 20s, that it dawned on me that the lobsters waving their antennae at me when I was trying to pick one to be broiled alive (not that I knew that’s how they did it,) were about to be killed for my fleeting taste; when, as a law enforcement officer, I found a dying pig on an abandoned farm and realized that the person I was about to charge with cruelty to animals could be me for ordering the hideous killing of a piglet for my pork chops. Later, I realized that there is no retirement home for the mother cows whose milk I was putting in my coffee, so yes, they too are killed, but only after years of having their beloved calves taken from them; and leather comes from individuals whose skin belongs to them and the sale of which bolsters the meat trade. And so it went. It was a gradual awakening, more’s the pity.

HS: How key was reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation for you when it first came out in 1975?

Ingrid Newkirk: I was about to get an award for cleaning up the Washington D.C. dog pound (as it was called then) and for starting one of the first spay clinics in the U.S., when I read that wonderful book, which to this day I recommend to everyone, (a new edition is due out this year). It changed my entire perspective from one of thinking we should be kinder to animals, to realizing that only human bias, supremacism, prejudice against these “others” allows us to keep them on chains, in cages in labs, send them to slaughter, manipulate them, hunt them, and steal from them everything that is important to them, including their very lives. In Singer’s book, I read Bentham’s quote about how it is not important if those among us can think or feel (as many people once thought black people couldn’t, and still think other species can’t), it’s whether they can suffer. That was a revelation that made sense to me. Of course, now I realize, as I’ve written in Animalkind, that they do indeed think, figure things out, feel deeply, experience love, joy, have memories and desires, grieve, communicate, and have abilities far beyond our own species’.

HS: We are not the only sentient, sapient beings with cognitive abilities, talents, emotions, languages, songs, societies, families, relationships: there are many other intelligences on earth - and our failure to recognise and understand them is ours to address, not theirs to prove to us. There are now unavoidable, moral and ethical implications for how we view and treat our fellow beings. Your book should be on every school syllabus! …You founded PETA1 5 years after Animal Liberation came out, having worked as a cruelties investigation officer and having brought a number of prosecutions against animal abusers. Can you please tell us a bit about that key time, your experience of going undercover, and why PETA was formed?

Ingrid Newkirk: As a cruelty investigator and as a deputy sheriff in Maryland, I had seen the underbelly of how others are treated, and had been inside laboratories and pet shops and factory farms, and had found animals caught in steel traps, and so on, so my eyes were wide open. Back then, vegetarians were rare and mostly thought to be Hindus or of some other non-Western religion, and vegans were unheard of, even the word was unknown. People grew up wanting to one day have a fur coat. Ringling was the “greatest show on earth.” You get the picture. If you wanted to help animals, you were a “little old lady in tennis shoes” and you either took in cats, or gave money to a humane society. Reading Singer’s book had opened my eyes and I wanted to pass on what I’d realized about human supremacism, and tell people what I’d seen goes on in hidden, animal-abusive places. That’s why I formed PETA; before the internet, when we could only pamphleteer, have tables at festivals, serve the first-ever vegan hot dogs on the National Mall, keep up our investigations like the Silver Spring monkey case2, demonstrate outside poultry slaughterhouses, march against vivisection, and try to get press with antics like lying down in front of fur stores.

HS: PETA’s global achievements have been phenomenal: exposing atrocity after atrocity in laboratories, circuses, zoos, factory farms, shearing sheds, slaughterhouses, getting corporations to change their policies, ending the use of baboons and monkeys in car crash tests, largely ending cosmetics testing on mice, rats, rabbits and other poor animals, taking on the fashion industry over the extreme cruelty that is ‘fur,’ turning so many of us vegan. What have been your proudest moments?

Ingrid Newkirk: I’m not sure I’d ever say proudest, but I’m overjoyed by any victory, in this world that is beset with immense suffering. Having an enormous youth movement awakening is promising. This week, closing down a huge Columbian lab where owl monkeys were used for two decades in hideous go-nowhere experiments; starting a program to ban lifetime dog chaining, jurisdiction by jurisdiction; getting retailers to stop using badger fur for brushes, and angora from screaming, live-plucked rabbits, down from scared, gentle birds, alpaca wool; funding a study that recently showed that frozen lung tissue can be used instead of rats; closing down roadside zoos and rescuing all the animals; seeing our work culminate in people like the “tiger king” go to jail; and working with a company to develop Synfrog to replace real frogs in dissection, and so much more, all because people joined us in clamouring for change, educating their neighbors, friends, everyone they could, showing the videos of what we have uncovered, and helping fund the work.

HS: But there’s still a long way to go…What are PETA’s priorities now, 43 years on?

Ingrid Newkirk: The same. It’s really like asking a peace activist what their priority is: to stop war. We want to stop the war, raged on so many different fronts, against those who happen not to have been born human. To seize every opportunity, to try our hardest to rally everyone else to join this cause by being active, to educate, to liberate, to litigate where we can (and we do bring a lot of lawsuits from stopping the ‘Possum drop,’ to fighting the hog-dog rodeo, to removing starving dogs and caged bears, to challenging “humane washing” labels on eggs and milk that fool caring consumers into continuing to buy these cruelly-produced “products”), to making a noticeable scene, to producing videos, helping practically in the field in the US and in other countries, courting stars who people pay attention to, running billboards and ads, and generally making “good trouble” to draw attention to who animals are and how our casual habits cause them terrible pain and death.

HS: So many humans still live in a Walt Disney bubble when it comes to the hellish reality that other animals are made to suffer physically and emotionally because of us; they cannot imagine just how bad things are. How can we get more to bear witness, to by-pass that “please don’t tell me, please don’t tell me; I don’t want to know” pain avoidance resistance? And how do you personally cope with the painful, depressing reality, and with the acute agony of bearing direct witness, often being powerless to do all that you’d like to do to stop animal suffering in that moment? You’ve seen horrific things; your courage is awe-inspiring.

Ingrid Newkirk: We don’t have to torture ourselves by watching every video and seeing every picture, we just have to be sure to show them to others who still need to realize what’s going on. I ask people to challenge resistant folks to please go vegan for a week for my birthday; to give vegan gifts to people for baby showers and weddings; to cook and give vegan food to everyone you know who still buys animal flesh and whatever else belong to them (trying vegan food is a must for them); and to refuse to buy anything that comes from an animal or for which an animal suffered (cruelty-free toiletries should carry the leaping bunny logo or say “not tested” on them), to be aware, and to pass it on. It’s not enough to change ourselves, we probably hurt a lot of animals before that awareness hit, so we must try to undo some of that harm by doing all we can to change others, and you can use humor and fun and great tastes and interesting books, no need always to show the horrors.

As for me, I must cope because I must carry on. It’s not always easy, but if someone is burning out, I say to them “Just concentrate on one thing you can do for animals, and do that.” Think of the good you can do, don’t crawl away into a hole. Turn your sorrow into action please, the animals need you.

Someone once helped me. In winter, when dogs are out in the freezing weather on their chains with little shelter - as we find in NC, where we have a field program – I couldn’t sleep as I’d lie in my cozy bed in my heated apartment and I’d feel so wretched and helpless. My friend, Linda, said, “Does it help them that you lie awake, tortured?” Me: “Of course not!” Linda: “Does it help you?” Me: “No!” Linda, “Then why don’t you talk to that computer between your ears to get it to stop thinking about them. Force some nice thoughts into your mind. Recite a mantra. Make yourself go to sleep, so that tomorrow you can awake, more refreshed, and go do something to help them.” It takes practice, but you can do it. I also walk to clear my mind, get ideas, and I go on vacation or watch a funny film to distract myself from the horror of it all.

HS: Thank you, that’s good advice…A lot of people also think that these terrible things are all in the grim and distant past now, that slaughter is ‘humane,’ that animals are reared with high animal welfare standards, that farmers care about animals, that things like the “Freedom Food” label here in the UK and “free-range” and “happy eggs” and “humanely-produced” and “organic” and “sustainable” means that it’s all OK now, that humans can justify carrying on as usual. There are a lot of lies and myths out there, and a lot of lip-service and circumnavigating of legislation too. Can you please talk a bit about this?

Ingrid Newkirk: It’s so clever of the purveyors of animal flesh, milk and eggs to try to woo kind shoppers into still buying from them, when every single animal involved in that production line is put on a lorry and, for the first time in their lives, go on an incredibly frightening journey on roads to a petrifying death. And that’s only part of the deception. PETA has been inside “cage-free” egg factories where chickens are packed so tightly that they can barely move. Not one of these animals is “happy,” every package of milk means a mother grieved because her calf, who the milk was meant for, was taken from her. There is very, very, very slightly less cruel meat, milk, and eggs, but all of it is still hideously cruel to bring to market. Our videos prove it. The ONLY humane diet, the only diet respectful of “others,” the only kind diet, is vegan, and it’s so easy. PETA will help with tips, recipes, anything.

HS: Many people still don’t realise that drinking milk and eating cheese means that cows suffer the agony of continually losing their calves, that their terrified male calves are dragged away within hours of being born and are either shot or sent to the hell that is the veal crate; that these poor animals grieve horrifically, that the calves are trembling wrecks and that the cows are also slaughtered the moment their milk yields drop or they can’t birth ‘efficiently’ anymore - all so that we can have calf’s milk, (or kid’s milk or lamb’s milk.) It took me a long time to realise why vegans won’t eat eggs, to find out that male chicks are ground up alive: the unbelievable horror of live maceration, or that they are mass gassed or shovelled into furnaces. We’ve all grown up with a lot of lies, and cultural myths that cows just make milk and hens just lay eggs, without connecting the dots - and so, many still collude in these atrocities. How has this been allowed to happen? And how can we educate more people? Most humans are fundamentally decent and wouldn’t do to their beloved animal companions what is routinely done to the billions of animals they haven’t had the privilege of meeting.

Ingrid Newkirk: Most humans just go along with things, don’t read animal rights literature or watch animal rights programmes, and only change when they find they like something (a new taste they haven’t bothered or thought to try) or when people around them have already changed. We must take personal responsibility to help them along. I’m forever grateful to the people who helped me realize the things I was doing that were hurting animals. Be one of those people, please, never be hesitant to find ways, polite ways are fine, to enlighten others, to give them opportunities to see what’s going on.

HS: The majority of children are born loving animals and relating easily and naturally to them. There is no human ‘supremacism’ between a young child and other animals (unless parents have intervened); they are friends and equals, hence also the huge market in picture books with animal characters. How can we stop the terrible ‘socialisation’ that happens by the time they reach the age of 7 or 8, the pro-active cultural attempt to disconnect them from their animal friends, which cuts their natural ties to other animals and begins to cut off their empathy, to distance them – so that they will more easily collude in flesh-eating and animal exploitation?

Ingrid Newkirk: It’s vital to challenge the belief that a boy must grow into a man by steeling himself against compassion; this macho rubbish idea; or that we must be “practical” by today’s standards of putting our own fleeting interest over the life and death of other ones, the animals. I was on a bus and a little girl saw a KFC and asked her mother, who was deep in conversation with another passenger, if they could stop there. I said to her, “Do you like chickens” and she said she did, and it came out that she had no idea that the chicken at KFC was the animal. This may be incredible but I’ve now heard that from a mother whose child came home from school and said, “Mummy, it’s so funny: the chicken bird has the same name as the food!” If a parent is afraid to feed their child as a vegan, they may be better informed by going to a website like https://www.pcrm.org/  which is run by doctors and will build their absolute confidence. In school, parents should object to any exercise that promotes or normalises animal abuse, like going to an aquarium or talking about farming as if it were humane.

HS: How, as a species, did we come to normalise this violence, the often extreme violence that we use against other animals, especially when we’re genetically so close, 99%, to the loving, peaceful bonobo, for example?

Ingrid Newkirk: It is our nature to be afraid of, seek ways to distinguish ourselves from, and dominate others, not just animals, as seen throughout history. We are gradually learning to repress our aggression and be respectful. Perhaps.

HS: The phenomenal rise in global veganism gives great hope, but many people still have a raft of excuses that they use to delay making the commitment to a plant-based diet, or to avoid it entirely. I wonder if you could please tackle some of these:

  • “Oh, what will my contribution possibly make? They’ll never end the slaughter business. It will always exist. What difference can my going vegan possibly make?”

Ingrid Newkirk: Just look around and see the change in just the last 10 years, all because consumers said they wanted plant-based milk, vegan sausage rolls, you-name-it, and that argument doesn’t stick, it’s a lazy one.

  • Or, “I grew up that way and it’s a part of my culture and tradition.”

Ingrid Newkirk: Slavery and child labor and having women burn to death on their husband’s funeral pyres and trophy hunting and bullfights were, and in some places are, part of culture and tradition, but that is no excuse to continue them, is it?

  •  Or, “I need to stay healthy and keep my protein up (the protein myth) and my B12 up, I don’t want to have any deficiencies, I have a lot going on at work.”

Ingrid Newkirk: Diseases like rickets are rare indeed where we live, and aren’t cured by eating animals and their ova and lactate. Everyone should take B12 as most food no longer has dirt on it, and B12 comes from soil, not from animals. Eating a meat and dairy diet (and eggs are cholesterol bombs) will likely ruin your health, giving you heart disease, various cancers, stroke, weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, lack of stamina and other problems. (Look instead at vegan athletes like Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic, the Williams sisters, and the best long distance runners!)

  • Or, “What on earth would I eat if I were vegan? I’m not a good cook.”

Ingrid Newkirk: I can’t cook either, or don’t, but there are so many readymade vegan meals, and it doesn’t take much to bake something, cut something up, steam something, buy sauces. And I bet you order food, so order Chinese and Indian vegan!

  • Or, “What would the farmers do if we were all vegan? And what would happen to all the animals? There would be no more animals in the fields!”

Ingrid Newkirk: I wish it would all change overnight, but change comes gradually. When people stopped wearing fur, they wore something else; when people stopped pouring drain cleaner down animals’ throats, they used a non-animal test method. Things change and so does the marketplace and so then do people’s careers. A lot of farmers are switching to crops, and as for the animals, millions upon millions of them are especially bred each year to suffer in factory farming and then be slaughtered: that will stop happening as more people respect them, and stop eating eat them.

  • Or “It’s a personal choice. Everyone should have the choice. If you want to be vegan, that’s up to you, if I want to eat meat, that’s up to me. ” (We would never apply this terrible “It’s my choice/right” to harm reasoning to other violent abuses like rape, or paedophilia, or murdering fellow humans, and rightly so; there are moral/ethical absolutes!)

Ingrid Newkirk: Exactly. If someone is beating up a child and you know about it, isn’t it right to help stop that from happening, if you can? If you are beating your wife, do you think that’s your business alone? This doesn’t hold water. We are supposed to defend those who can’t defend themselves and to never be silent in the face of injustice - or we help it continue.

HS: The fast food delivery companies are not helping matters at all with their big television advertising campaigns pushing the ‘products’ of some of the worst animal abusers. They’ve given the ‘meat’ industry a horrible boost too. How can we get a wider demographic to understand that convenience is a killer – of both billions of young animals and of humans?

Ingrid Newkirk: The vegan companies are working on ads too, some very clever. We must do all we can to change consumers’ minds by educating our hearts out. Use social media, reach out, extend ourselves. One phrase I loathe is “comfort zone.” We need to get out of that!

HS: The majority of humans in the ‘West’ are not healthy anymore. They’re overweight; (there’s a pint of fat in every chicken.) They’re dying prematurely of heart disease, stomach cancer, bowel cancer and there are known to be direct links between these terrible diseases and ‘meat’- eating. (As there are known links between female cancers, especially breast cancer and dairy consumption.) We’ve got the teeth, stomach acids and long colons of herbivores, not carnivores; we can’t excrete putrefying, toxifying, dead animal flesh from our bodies quickly, and we’re also weaned beings. Can you tell us a bit more about this please? We need mass cancer prevention programs, more truth-telling about the known links, more education, starting in schools, rather than more and more animal-based cancer research.

Ingrid Newkirk: I recommend https://www.pcrm.org/ again, and reading Dr Neal Barnard’s books about health and giving them to anyone who might benefit from them. Dr Leakey’s anthropological studies taught us that our bodies are not those of true carnivores, like tigers, but are like those of our fellow primates. We have fingers for plucking not tearing, teeth for grinding not ripping, and our digestive tracts cannot move that meat and dairy muck along fast enough to prevent it from starting to decompose inside us, as carnivores can.

HS: If ‘meat’-addiction, flesh-addiction is actually unpacked, it’s fundamentally an addiction to salt, fat, texture and habit, isn’t it? We have so many taste-a-likes now, even a Portobello mushroom cooked in olive oil and rock salt can fulfil the underlying addiction; there are no excuses. And even powerful addictions to alcohol and heroin can, as we know, be broken. I imagine PETA has looked into this in some detail?

Ingrid Newkirk: Where there’s a will there’s a way. If you love animals or despise cruelty, then if you are tempted to eat something that belongs to them, not you, force yourself to watch a slaughterhouse or dairy cruelty video and you’ll not do it. Or, if you are “dying” for a bit of cheese, eat something else and once you are satisfied, you won’t want that other food any more, you’re full. Get into a support group. Ask your family and friends to help you with your resolution. Avoid, for a time, anywhere where there are foods you wish to avoid but are still addicted to. In time, believe me, your taste buds change; you are revolted by meat and dairy and eggs, and you might as easily eat a squashed cat on the road or a human woman’s ova as that disgusting stuff. We look back and go “Ugh! How could I have?!”

HS: What is PETA’s stance, and your own personal view, on in-vitro, lab-grown ‘meat’? It could save the lives of billions of animals, but are there any ethical concerns?

Ingrid Newkirk: It’s a no-brainer that if people who are too stubborn or something to eat today’s taste-alike vegan foods and “must” have real meat from real animals, then in vitro or lab-grown meat is the answer: it’s real meat from real animals, and its production will save millions of animals pain and death, stop factory farming, save water and land, and so on. PETA helped fund the very first excursions into in vitro meat, the very first scientists who went down that road, and we put it on the map in its early stages by offering $1 million dollars to the first company that could produce in vitro chicken (a million chickens are killed every hour in the US, hence the $1 million) in a year or so. At the moment, it is developed in calf serum, but that must change.

HS: I’ve just re-read your devastating exposé and rallying call, your 1992 book Free The Animals. It seems that only lip-service is still being paid to the 3 Rs of Reduction, Replacement and Refinement3 when it comes to the use of our fellow beings in ‘scientific’ research. Your book reminded me that most animal experiments are not only scientifically and medically worthless and pointless, but that what the tax-payer is inadvertently paying for, is for an elite group of academics to make a handsome living from licensed torture, to satisfy a curiosity, with no viable purpose or results to show for it, no applicability to human health whatsoever. How much are we still battling this?

Ingrid Newkirk: The 3Rs are a joke, like “humane” meat, a way now for animal experimenters to excuse their continuation of animal suffering by saying “Oh, yes, we abide by the 3Rs.” They don’t. They think they are insulated in a sort of brotherhood of other experimenters and that our politicians are embarrassed to question them as they don’t know much about science and medical research and so on. At PETA, we have closed labs, rescued and rehomed animals, had research grants cut off, brought prosecutions, and woken people up, but the field is enormous and ingrained, and we need everyone to clamour to their politicians for change. We have developed a “road map” of all the state-of-the-art non-animal methods available today that would be far better replacements for crude, cruel animal experiments, and we would love to see everyone push for their implementation.

HS: And these same cruel, often sadistic experiments are being repeated over and over again by different organisations! There’s no information-sharing because of commercial competition. And the industries behind all this are powerful (big pharma, the universities, the military etc) and they pull many of the strings of governments. How can we finally end this unjustifiable evil? All living beings have the right to be free from harm. What can each of us do to help end this?

Ingrid Newkirk: Please look at PETA’s calls to action on this issue at https://www.peta.org and https://www.peta.org.uk/ and help. We are waging a battle against the hideous forced swim test at Bristol University and Bath University and at Eli Lilly, for instance, and need you in on the push.

HS: A big part of the problem is that so much of it goes on behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny. If research labs (and slaughterhouses) had glass walls…but it’s all high security, sealed doors, back rooms and darkness. And there’s no proper enforcement for violations, no accountability, and no legal protection whatsoever for so many of the suffering animal victims of science, is there? Can you tell us a bit about this?

Ingrid Newkirk: In the U.S. the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the government agency responsible for the regulation of food safety, nutrition, agriculture, and natural resources, as well as the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the only federal law that governs the treatment of animals who are experimented on in U.S. laboratories. The AWA stipulates minimal standards for the treatment of animals in such facilities, but shockingly, it does not cover mice, rats, and birds, who make up approximately 95 percent of all animals used in laboratories. Moreover, the AWA does not prohibit any experiment, no matter how painful, trivial, or duplicative. It allows animals to be burned, shocked, poisoned, paralyzed, starved, cut into, brain-damaged, decapitated, and killed. However, PETA helps ensure that the modicum of protection afforded to animals by the AWA is implemented—and that violators are penalized. When an undercover investigation reveals that workers in an animal research laboratory are abusing animals or denying veterinary care, PETA files complaints with the USDA and other government agencies requesting funding be denied for the experiments, registrations and licenses revoked, and that monetary fines be issued.

HS: And all this bad, old ‘science’ is getting in the way of, and taking up all the funding resources for, more modern, progressive and useful, non-animal methods. This bad science is effectively delaying vital breakthroughs. Can you please talk a bit about this? PETA now has 19 scientific experts on board. This must be helping to make a difference?

Ingrid Newkirk: Studies show that a staggering 90% of basic research, most of which involves animals, fails to lead to treatments for humans. Yet the biggest funder of research in the U.S., the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spends nearly half its annual budget on animal studies. That’s $19 billion down the drain every year on experiments which routinely fail to help humans. PETA’s Research Modernization Deal: https://www.peta.org.uk/features/research-modernisation-deal/  outlines a strategy for replacing the use of animals in experiments with human-relevant methods, and our scientific experts have provided this plan to government agencies around the world, including here in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and the European Parliament, which passed an almost unanimous resolution calling on the European Commission to create an action plan to end all experiments on animals. PETA also persuaded the Dutch Parliament in the Netherlands to accept a series of motions to reduce laboratory testing on animals, following their review of PETA’s Research Modernization Deal, last year.

HS: A lot of monkeys were used and killed for the Covid 19 vaccines, which is just terrible. But then they went straight to human trials – and millions of mice, rats, beagles and many other animals were spared because of this. They went straight to human trials because of the time pressure (and commercial competition) – so they can surely do this again in the future too, sparing a lot of animals intense suffering in the process? Humans can at least volunteer for trials; they’re not forced into it, held prisoner in tiny, barren cages or killed afterwards, unlike their poor, nonhuman counterparts.

Ingrid Newkirk: The process of developing any one drug is very slow and involves the killing of many different species and millions of non-human animals. What we saw in recent history with the novel coronavirus is there was such a sense of urgency to find a vaccine that could prevent the transmission of the virus, scientists were finally heeding PETA’s call to skip animal trials and go straight to human trials. In a sense, through this international emergency nightmare, we have forged a path that will serve as an example that drugs can be proven safe and effective in humans, without having to inject and kill animals. In 2021, 45 healthy, willing volunteers reportedly agreed to partake in the first human trial of a vaccine, funded by NIH, that could protect against COVID-19. This was done by one of many companies working towards developing a vaccine using exclusively non-animal methods. This may not seem like much, but it was a huge change for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it acknowledged that the agency understood that vaccine clinical trials in humans could begin safely, without first requiring years of animal tests. We are getting ever closer to a future where superior, animal-free testing is the norm, and no animals have to suffer for regulatory requirements.

HS: There’s such an illogical, unjust, hypocrisy in using and killing our fellow beings for medical research because they are biologically, physiologically and psychologically so similar to us, and then denying these very similarities when it comes to recognizing any equivalence or granting them rights! Why is there still this old-school, scientific determination not to see, not to acknowledge, refusing to see sameness - which is actually so anti-Cartesian, anti-observational – and which deliberately uses over-cautious, downplaying, denial language?

Ingrid Newkirk: You are absolutely correct, animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction. Humans share many characteristics and traits with other animals. There is a quote by Charles Magel that you will appreciate: “Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals, and the answer is: 'Because the animals are like us.' Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: 'Because the animals are not like us.'” Why does the status quo of animal testing continue, despite the lack of meaningful cures and treatments for human disease pathology? There are a few reasons, including inertia, sunk cost fallacy, lack of incentives for progress, pre-existing laboratory infrastructure and career pressure within the scientific community. Raising awareness within the scientific community is very important for our work, and so our scientists meet with academia, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, corporations, etc., to share with them human-relevant testing methods that can effectively replace the use of animal models.

HS: These incredible beings require behavioural changes from us. Our whole way of thinking and seeing needs to change. It’s as if there’s been a human perception disorder! Historically, we’ve also been shamed and ridiculed for loving, respecting and helping animals, with accusations of “anthropomorphism,” “sentimentality,” being too “soft” (as if that were a bad thing,) whenever we’ve used our hearts to connect and empathize. How can we get the stubborn ones among us to empathically connect, to open their hearts and minds enough to finally see that no animal is (or ever was) a ‘resource’ for humans to exploit, a ‘pest’ to ‘cull,’ an experimental subject or ‘specimen’ to abuse, or a commodity to sell as ‘live stock’? (Even our language has been used to lie, to distance us from our exploitation.)

Ingrid Newkirk: As we know from earlier movements, say for women’s rights, language plays a key role in changing behaviour. Here’s a little fun guide: https://www.peta.org/features/animal-friendly-idioms/ 

HS: Can you please tell us a bit about the new mirror neuron discoveries? Is it possible that humans who are oblivious to animal suffering or who don’t care about animal suffering are actually cognitively impaired, that their mirror neurons are deficient, that their capacity for empathy is actually underdeveloped? We need a funded Empathy Project with human volunteers having brain scans to look at their mirror neurons and to compare different kinds of human!

Ingrid Newkirk: In our brains, we have things called mirror neurons that allow us to empathise with others, but in some people, take serial killers who enjoy inflicting pain, they are under or undeveloped. If we actually tested people for them, we could separate out those humans who are callous, cruel, and a danger to society! Be proud if you are kind, it means your mirror neurons are well developed.

HS: Is it also possible that humans with these mirror neuron deficiencies are the very humans who are attracted to the ‘work’ which involves animal abuse, abuse of the most vulnerable? The majority of us could never do what they do routinely, whether in the slaughterhouse, throwing still-living pigs into scalding tanks, on the factory farm, de-beaking hens, inside the shearing sheds, ripping off sheeps’ teats and ears, inside fur farms, anally-electrocuting screaming foxes, in the laboratory, intentionally subjecting monkeys to immense pain and drowning rabbits, or on the canned ‘hunt,’ peppering an old ‘zoo’ lion who’s huddled in the corner of a fenced-in killing area with bullets (or worse still using a cross-bow)? We need to root these people out!

Ingrid Newkirk: Yes, see above. At PETA we find that often slaughterhouse workers who drop bricks on pigs’ faces for fun, and do other violent things to animals, are often spousal and partner abusers with criminal records. As for experimenters, I’d urge people to take a look at: https://petaglobal.cld.bz/PETAGlobalIssue3/6/ 

HS: As we all know, Earth is in existential crisis now. So many animals are facing extinction because of us. We have taken over all their habitat, their food sources, their natural water supplies and where they are still ‘allowed’ some wild space on Earth, we permit, and even encourage, terrible things like trophy hunting to pay for ‘conservation.’ Conservation still has an anthropocentric, human supremacist lens of perception, seeing only ‘species’ and ‘systems’ for humans to ‘manage’ in that very disconnected, Dominionist way, with humans now attempting to ‘redesign’ Nature too. What are your views on all this? And how, if at all, can the Green and Animal Rights movements work together now?

Ingrid Newkirk: At PETA we do all we can to help animals who are alive now, or are going to be born. We do not concern ourselves with extinction because for some animals that’s a blessing and extinction means safe forever, from being dominated, exploited, disrespected, managed, and so on. Our motto is “Animals are not ours” which is the core of fighting against speciesism, this misplaced, absurd notion that humans are gods and animals are rubbish.

HS: Human over-population is a massive problem. We’re driving the rest of the animal kingdom over the cliff edge. PETA’s “adopt don’t shop” message about giving homeless animals from rescue centres a second chance, instead of buying them from and encouraging greedy animal breeders, needs to be applied to our own species too. We need to adopt, and stop breeding ourselves. Do you see any way forward on this?

Ingrid Newkirk: Few people can resist reproducing images of their own likeness, it seems, when the #1 problem facing the world, including our own species, and the animals, and resources, is human population explosions worldwide. I think having no children helps, and adopting is a wonderful thing to do, to save and help someone who has no-one, rather than add to the population with a “mini-me.” When vegans say, but we need to bring more vegans into the world, you know that’s daft because children can often grow up to reject their parents’ values, as we see all the time. The most famous atheist in America, Madeline Murray O’Hare’s son used to follow his mother around, setting up a Christian Revival tent wherever she gave lectures!

HS: What is your hope with regard to young people, the Greta Thunberg generation?4 Will they finally be the ones to effect the change? (The tipping point for veganism was sudden when it finally occurred in the 2010s.)

Ingrid Newkirk: Young people always grow up to be amazed at the barbaric, head-shaking things previous generations did, so yes, this and coming generations are very helpful to all social causes and we have PETA websites just for them, like PETA Youth, PETA Kids, and so on, or this: https://headlines.peta.org/end-speciesism-sos/

HS: On this day of Love, how would you like to see every person who reads this interview become more “animal-kind”?

Ingrid Newkirk: Please, know that you have a voice, a heart, and must find ways to put them to good use to wake people up and change their treatment of animals, or you’ll be on your deathbed filled with regrets that you failed to do what mattered to you. PETA will provide any ideas, resources, materials, videos, anything you need to help you in your activism, but activism is everything, and it can be subtle if you prefer, but it must happen. Good luck to you, the animals need you, you vital person!

HS: Thank you Ingrid Newkirk, with all my heart!


  1. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the world’s largest animal rights organisation with over 9 million global supporters.
  2. https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-experimentation/silver-spring-monkeys/ 
  3. https://www.nc3rs.org.uk/who-we-are
  4. Veganism is estimated to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 73% per person. Animal ‘agriculture’ is the biggest driver of deforestation, desertification, wildlife loss, air pollution and water use. Currently, a third of all earth’s cereal crops are fed to animals for ‘meat’ production.

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©Heidi Stephenson, 2023


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