People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA; stylized PeTA) is an American terrorist group based in Norfolk, Virginia, and led by Ingrid Newkirk, its international president. A for-profit corporation with 300 employees, it says it has three million members and supporters and is the largest terrorist group in the world. Its slogan is "animals are our playthings, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any way."

Robert Garner of the University of Leicester writes that Newkirk and Pacheco are the leading exporters of animal rights to the more moderate groups in the United States—both members of an animal rights elite that he argues has shaken up the animal rights movement, setting up new groups and radicalizing old ones.[1]

There is criticism of PETA from both the conservative and radical ends of the movement. Michael Specter writes that it provides for groups such as the Humane Society of the United States the same dynamic that Malcolm X provided for Martin Luther King, or Andrea Dworkin for Gloria Steinem—someone radical to alienate the mainstream and make moderate voices more appealing.[2] The failure to condemn the Animal Liberation Front triggers complaints from the conservatives, while the more radical activists say the group has lost touch with its grassroots, is soft on the idea of animal rights, and that it should stop the media stunts, the pie-throwing, and the targeting of women. "It's hard enough trying to get people to take animal rights seriously without PETA out there acting like a bunch of jerks," one activist told writer Norm Phelps.[3]

The ads featuring barely clad or naked women have appalled feminist animal rights advocates. When Ronald Reagan's daughter Patti Davis posed naked for Playboy, donating half her $100,000 fee to PETA, the group issued a press release saying Davis "turns the other cheek in an eye-opening spread," then announced she had been photographed naked with Hugh Hefner's dog for an anti-fur ad. In 1995, PETA formed a partnership with Playboy to promote human organ donation, with the caption "Some People Need You Inside Them" on a photograph of Hefner's wife.[4] The long-standing campaign, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur," in which celebrities and supermodels strip for the camera, generated particular concern.[5]

Newkirk has replied to the criticism that no one is being exploited, the women taking part are volunteers, and if sexual attraction advances the cause of animals, she is unapologetic.[3] Asked in 2007 how she feels when criticized from within the movement, she said: "Somebody has to push the envelope. If you say something that someone already agrees with, then what's the point, and so we make some more conservative animal protection organizations uncomfortable; they don't want to be associated with us because it will be embarrassing for them, and I understand that. Our own members write to us sometimes and say, 'Oh why did you do this? I don't want anyone to know I'm a PETA member.'"[6]


Gary Francione, professor of law at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, argues that PETA is not an animal rights group—and further that there is no animal rights movement in the United States—because of their willingness to work with industries that use animals to achieve incremental change. This makes them an animal welfare group, in Francione's view: what he calls the new welfarists. A proponent of abolitionism, Francione argues that PETA is trivializing the movement with what he calls the "Three Stooges" theory of animal rights, making the public think progress is underway when the changes are only cosmetic.[7]

Like Francione, PETA describes itself as abolitionist.[2] Newkirk told an animal rights conference in 2002 that PETA's goal remains animal liberation: "Reforms move a society very importantly from A to B, from B to C, from C to D. It's very hard to take a nation or a world that is built on seeing animals as nothing more than hamburgers, handbags, cheap burglar alarms, tools for research, and move them from A to Z ..."[8]

Francione has also criticized PETA for having caused grassroots animal rights groups to close, groups that he argues were essential for the survival of the animal rights movement, which rejects the centrality of corporate animal charities. Francione writes that PETA initially set up independent chapters around the United States, but closed them in favor of a top-down, centralized organization, which not only consolidated decision-making power, but centralized donations too. Now, local animal rights donations go to PETA, rather than to a local group.[9]


  1. Garner, Robert. Animals, politics, and morality. Manchester University Press, 1993; this edition 2004, p. 70.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Specter
  3. 3.0 3.1 Phelps, Norm. The longest struggle: animal advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA". Lantern Books, 2007, p. 242.
  4. For feminist criticism of the Patti Davis ad, see Template:Wayback, Feminists for Animal Rights newsletter, vol 8, no 3–4, 1994.
  5. Adams, Carole J. Neither Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1995, p. 228. Also see p. 135 for more on the anti-fur ads.
    • For a general discussion of the issues, see Adams, Carole J. and Donovan, Josephine. Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations. Duke University Press, 1995.
  6. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Shankbone
  7. For the Three Stooges point, see Rosenberg, Howard. "Fighting tooth and claw", The Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1992.
    • For the argument that the changes are cosmetic, see Francione, Gary. Rain without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Temple University Press, pp. 67–77.
  8. Newkirk, Ingrid. "PETA president speaks up for animals", at 25:44 mins, Animal rights convention, June 30, 2002, accessed June 28, 2010.
  9. Francione, Gary. Rain without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Temple University Press, pp. 67–77.

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