Springtime for PETA

Debra J. Saunders

5/7/2003 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

In its latest grab for publicity, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals threatened to picket "The Producers" in Los Angeles because star Jason Alexander moonlights for Kentucky Fried Chicken. PETA has dubbed May its "KFC Month of Action," with the catchy slogan "Kentucky Fried Cruelty -- We Do Chickens Wrong."

The threat led to a meeting between Alexander and PETA top dog Ingrid Newkirk. According to PETA spokesman Bruce Friedrich, PETA has decided not to picket "The Producers," as Alexander subsequently complained to KFC about its abusive practices.

KFC spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer wouldn't comment other than to say, "You'd have to talk to Jason Alexander's people" about the conversation. I tried, but I only got as far as Alexander's publicist's assistant, who offered no information.

PETA's Friedrich said that Newkirk discussed misinformation on the KFC website, such as the company's claim that its "guidelines and audits are designed to manage and monitor each step of the process to ensure that all birds are handled humanely and suffer no pain."

It's true: "No pain" has no truth. As Joy Mench, director of the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California at Davis, noted, poultry producers have developed strategies that make chickens grow to 20-week size in six weeks, which can make chickens lame, and "there is evidence that lameness can cause pain."

Mench clarified, however, that this is a poultry-producer issue, not KFC's problem.

Which leads to the issue of misinformation on the PETA website, with its list of eight "key demands" of KFC, including that KFC stun chickens with gas, not electricity.

Mench agreed that gas-stunning would be preferable to electric-stunning of chickens but noted that the USDA has yet to clarify that gas-stunning is kosher.

But even where PETA seems to be right on gassing, its other demands don't quite wash. The group also demands machine handling of chickens before they're killed. (Mench agrees that chicken-handling is "not pleasant work," but noted that some mechanized methods result in "more birds that are dead on arrival" at the processing plant.)

In the course of our talk, a hurt-and-perplexed Friedrich confessed that he has been quite

unhappy with my criticism of PETA, an organization that, he claimed, simply wants to lessen cruelty in the world. People who are kind to animals, he added, tend to be kinder people.

That claim doesn't fit with PETA's apparent sympathy with violent animal-rights activities.

I went to the Southern Poverty Law Center's website and searched for PETA. Lo and behold, the center quotes Friedrich at an animal rights conference: "If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then of course we're going to be blowing things up and smashing windows. ... I think it's a great way to bring about animal liberation, considering the level of suffering, the atrocities. I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories and the banks that fund them exploded tomorrow."

So nice people believe it's wrong to shock chickens but OK to bomb places where human beings work. Hmmm. Maybe that's why I can't help but consider PETA to be the Sinn Fein of the animal rights movement.