When Good Causes Go Wrong: 7 Utterly Outrageous PETA Stunts


Image: striatic

Let’s pretend we have a mutual friend. We’ll called him Peter.

There’s a lot to like about Peter: he’s deeply concerned about his impact on the environment, he donates time to local community projects, he’s thoughtful, charismatic and likeable. But there’s something odd about Peter, something deeply Out To Lunch – and every so often, this weirdness springs out of him. He builds a floodlit shrine out of recycled credit cards outside the local Walmart and surrounds it with pictures of flowers and animals. He paints all the streetlights green within a 20-mile radius. He throws miniature wooden oil-derricks at cars as he cycles to work. In short, Peter would be an admirable, inspiring pillar of the community…if he didn’t behave like an utter fruitcake.

It’s how we feel about People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their investigations into animal testing and cruelty deserve our respect and our support. PETA’s principles? We admire them. PETA’s methods? Well, not so much. The organization has run more stunts than Evel Knievel – and while it’s always a blast to see what heights of lunacy they’ve scaled recently, we rather wish they wouldn’t. (Their work is just too important to be discredited by something ill-judged).

With that in mind, let’s look at 7 of their most notoriously awful publicity stunts.


Image: XWRN

A Grave Error: Playing Chicken With KFC (January 2008)

Upon discovering where Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders (above) is buried, PETA did what any of us might have done in a heartbeat, which was to purchase a plot of land within the cemetary, erect a fake headstone dedicated to someone who is in fact alive and well, and inscribe a poem on the stone which secretly spells out “KFC Tortures Birds“. Unsurprisingly this ruffled a few feathers: KFC described it as “a disgustingly disrespectful way to disgrace the resting place of the departed”. We sympathize. (Still, you have to admire their pluck).

Bull in a china shop: Winning New Friends in India (January 2008)

“PETA blindfolds Ghandi.” There’s a headline to make you spit your drink. Bypassing diplomatic channels and cultural respect, PETA went straight for the jugular in their protest against the Tamil practice of jallikatu or bull-taunting. While everyone was looking the other way, three PETA protesters leapt up and flung a blindfold round a statue of Mahatma Ghandi in Coimbatore‘s Ghandi Park. Local authorities took a dim view, throwing the book at PETA and blaming them for “creating religious ill-feeling, defaming the national leader, trespassing and also [infingements of the] Tamil Nadu Open Places Prevention of Disfigurement Act.” Meanwhile, the real issue (and there is a real issue) gets associated with fringe activists. Way to bring it to the table, guys.


Image: tanakawho

The Fur Flies: Coats Sent To Iraq and Given To The Homeless (2004 to Present)

While they’re most famous for their anti-fur stance, PETA have adopted the practice of giving away the fur that is donated to them. In 2004 this included fur coats sent to suffering people in Iraq. A similar measure – one deplored by other anti-fur protest groups – is PETA’s “fur kitchens” which give away coats to homeless people. You could argue this is a caring, humanitarian measure – until you factor in the following quote from PETA’s President Ingrid Newkirk: “When the homeless are wearing fur, you know fur has hit rock bottom.”

Streaking Ahead: PETA’s Naked Ambition

One of PETA’s trademarks is nudity. Nary a month goes by without somebody famous donning their birthday suit to highlight the cause célèbre of PETA vs. fur clothing. It’s a bit of fun, a bit of titillation and a lot of exposure (as it were) for the person stripping off for the public eye. It’s expected of them – and when it doesn’t quite happen, as in the recent case of Amanda Beard, it raises eyebrows. But for potential eyebrow height, it’s difficult to top the sight of naked PETA members lying in flower-lined coffins to protest against Avian Flu. However, this manages it.


Image: OiMax

Milking Controversy: PETA’s Ice-Cream Boob (September 2008)

Three months back, Swiss restaurant owner Hans Locher announced he would be preparing dishes using human breast milk. Spotting a bandwagon with room to sit, PETA then sent a public letter to Ben And Jerry’s asking why they can’t follow suit by replacing the cow’s milk in their ice cream with human milk.  Suspecting that their sales might suffer, B & J’s refused (known as the Ross Geller response).

Interning with PETA: It’s A Wrap (June 2008)

To work for PETA, you have to be ready to take life on the chin. In the case of an intern and a volunteer in June of this year, you have to be ready to be liberally spattered with fake blood, shrink-wrapped to a cardboard sheet and endure an hour in the baking (80 degrees+) midday sun. No animals were harmed during the production of this stunt, but volunteer Shawn Herbold noted that she was “in pain and feeling nauseated” halfway through her shift. Some people just love to complain.


Image: MikeLicht:NotionsCapital.com

$1 Million: A Chance to Shmeat New People? (2008 onwards)

Taking a firm stance against the way animal meat is produced for consumption (and we’re right beside PETA on this), the organization has offered a $1 million prize to anyone who can create vat-grown meat as an alternative (er…PETA, you go that way and we’ll go this way). It’s claimed that it will act as a catalyst for developing truly viable in vitro “shmeat”. Salon nicely outlines why this is sloppy thinking…and anyway, isn’t it yet another example of the curse of Things That Look Like Other Things?

PETA – please, enough.

(Oh, we’re not naïve. Articles like this one are exactly why PETA members make fools of themselves – all to get their message across. But do you think antics like these are helping that message – or hindering it?)

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.