PETA doesn’t bite the hand that feeds it

Posted by OFAC (This article first appeared in OFAC’s February, 2010 newsletter)

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is well known for its outrageous and attention-grabbing antics, “behind the scenes” pressure tactics and for capitalizing on the efforts of others. At the same time PETA (and other animal rights groups) use more subtle methods to exert their influence and line their pockets.

Merchandizing and affinity programs are a common and accepted means to raise money for non-profits, including agriculture and food organizations. But PETA has turned this practice into both a weapon and a tool. It does this with its ever-expanding PETA products catalogue and through its online mall - a listing that contains hundreds of private merchants. And by providing consumers with alternatives, not only does the group profit financially but it also gains influence with Corporate America (and Canada).

The PETAMall website offers the predictable array of vegan dog foods, holistic practitioners, “cruelty-free” cleaners, and vegetarian vacation and dating services. Through its “Business Friends” program each business in the mall pays its “rent” by giving PETA a cut of its sales. PETA describes “Business Friends” as “an innovative partnership for compassionate companies willing to assist in PETA’s groundbreaking work to stop animal abuse and suffering.” And for $500 (Silver level), $1,000 (Gold level) and $5,000-plus (Platinum level), PETA will grant companies access to its two million members and their money.

PETA also enters into sponsorship arrangements that include customer discounts and affinity programs. Kick-backs can, it is rumoured, add up to as much as 20%. Unveiled in 2005, the PETA VISA credit card, “which showcases your dedication to PETA” gives a 1% royalty back to PETA. Card subscribers are also encouraged to shop at where vendors return even more money to PETA with every sale. These payments, according to PETA, will help PETA to fund “educational programs designed to teach children and young adults to respect and show compassion for living beings.” It is the creative use of these perfectly legal pay-to-play marketing schemes that has helped PETA balloon to a $34 million organization.

And through these corporate level marketing strategies, PETA also helps to drive the market. PETA campaigns encourage the public including “Business Friends” customers and potential customers to boycott competitors for their alleged transgressions and to support PETA’s offering of merchants and products instead. But some of these relationships are questionable. PETA allies with groups and businesses that could be considered opponents to their animal rights goals while it makes enemies of others that should be natural friends. In one instance, PETA castigated a credit card company for backing a circus that uses animals; yet it promotes and protects its own credit card company which sponsors and services companies, events and habits that PETA also rails against.

A favoured PETA tactic is to call for boycotts and to publicly malign third parties that support something PETA does not. VISA supports a myriad of PETA no-nos, yet remains immune to such PETA campaigns. For one, VISA is a major sponsor of the Kentucky Derby, the world’s most famous horse race. And while PETA has made direct criticism of the Derby and lobbies the public to avoid supporting this “exploitative sport’” it does not directly confront VISA, one of its funders.

Meanwhile, PETA has gone after VISA’s main competitor, MasterCard, on the sponsorship issue. In 2003, after PETA uncovered the alleged abuse of elephants by the Ringling Brothers Circus (for which Ringling was eventually vindicated) it launched a national campaign against MasterCard for its Ringling Bros. ticket promotion. Under the title “NastyCard, the campaign has been credited for forcing the company to cut ties with the circus and for driving customers to VISA.

A current PETA campaign is to pressure the Canadian government to end the annual seal hunt. One of PETA’s tactics has been to publicly urge the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee “to use its clout to help stop the Canadian seal slaughter.” A request flatly refused by the OOC. Yet PETA has not called for similar action by the 2010 Winter Olympic sponsors, a major one of which is VISA.

PETA appears willing to overlook indiscretions when partnerships have the potential to impact their bottom line. As one American pundit has noted; that would be fine if they had not attacked MasterCard for employing the same type of strategic partnerships. “I think what they were doing was trying to shake down MasterCard,” said Steven Milloy, publisher of “Where do we start with PETA…The circus employs animals and probably treats them very well … [PETA is] in bed with VISA, not MasterCard.”

In another instance PETA has recently accused former Aussie Rules player Sam Kekovich of accepting “blood money” for an ad campaign in which he urges people to eat more lamb. The campaign is on behalf of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA). Yet, in 2008 PETA stopped attacking KFC spokespeople here in Canada after the company capitulated to the group’s demands.

The deal which was seven months in the making and which included the introduction of a meat-free menu item was described as a business decision by the then KFC Canada President Steve Langford. Matt Prescott, PETA’s assistant director of corporate affairs, (now with HSUS) crowed, ”[i]t appears as though our [five-year] campaign affected the bottom line to the point where the company finally had enough.” PETA went even one step further and mass distributed KFC-supplied discount coupons for the company’s new ‘vegan faux-chicken sandwich’. An arrangement undoubtedly suitable to both parties but one for which PETA might accuse itself of accepting “blood money”.

Subscribing to PETA’s worldview then, VISA or KFC should also be seen as a partner, and therefore an accomplice, to companies and activities that support and profit from animal exploitation. The consistent conclusion would be that VISA [and others] is not worthy of support. In which case, PETA should be viewed as another example of a group that wears its ideals on its sleeve — until you show them the money.

By: Leslie Ballentine, Ballentine Communication Group

Posted by OFAC on May 19th, 2010 :: Filed under Activism, Consumers, Family vs factory farming, Media, PETA, Vegan, Vegetarian
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