People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) calls itself the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than 3 million members and supporters. PETA focuses on preventing animal cruelty in factory farms, the clothing trade, in labs (animal testing), and in the entertainment industry. The organization also focuses on preventing the killing of wild animals which are considered to be pests.
The organization was formed in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco. Its first significant case was the Silver Spring monkeys case, in 1981. PETA campaigned against a laboratory in Silver Spring, Maryland, where 17 macaque monkeys were being experimented on. The case resulted in the first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter in the U.S. on charges of cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused laboratory animals, and the first U.S. Supreme Court victory for animals in laboratories.
PETA is an animal rights organization, which means it objects to any use of animals for human pleasure. In 2002, Ingrid Newkirk stated, “If anybody wonders ‘what’s this with all these reforms?’, you can hear us clearly. Our goal is total animal liberation, and the day when everyone believes that animals are not ours to eat, not ours to wear, not ours to experiment [on], and not ours for entertainment or any other exploitive purpose.” This is different from an animal welfare position, which aims to prevent animal suffering but believes that under certain circumstances animals may be used for human gain.
According to PETA, the concept of humans keeping pets is detrimental to animals. The breeding, sale and purchase of animals as pets causes pain to innumerable animals. PETA believes the domestic animal population should be reduced by spaying and neutering and that pets should only be adopted from shelters. The organization takes in ill and homeless pets. Since these animals are in pain, 85% of them are euthenized.
Some animal rights activists have criticized PETA for working with industries that use animals, in order to alleviate the suffering of these animals. Feminists have complained about the use of scantily clad women in PETA’s anti-fur campaigns. Others have criticized the media stunts the organization pulls as cheapening the cause of animal rights.