How to verify/falsify PETA's claims?
May 4, 2010 5:13 AM   Subscribe

How to verify/falsify PETA's claims?

Specifically, I want links to websites where I can get reliable information about how animals are treated.
posted by Eiwalker to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Humane Society of the United States has lots of articles. I trust that organization enough to donate money to them.

Try Googling "factory farming."
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:23 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check YouTube for the documentary Earthlings. It's on there in full broken up into multiple parts. I'm not going to link to it directly because the very thought of it upsets me sufficiently.

If you provide more specifics we may be able to respond more accurately. There is a wealth of material out there. While PETA serves a function, it can't exactly be relied on.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:02 AM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: You can watch Earthlings in its entirety here. Draw your own conclusions. Earthlings changed my life.
posted by srrh at 6:11 AM on May 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

Here's an article that attempts to grapple with this subject.
posted by schmod at 6:59 AM on May 4, 2010

How animals are treated where? In what circumstances? Which PeTA claims? Animal agriculture? Companion animals? Wildlife/conservation claims? Analyses of the ethical grounding for their arguments? Are you starting from a similar philosophical perspective on any or all of those subjects, and you would like to look for careful analysis/scholarship done within that framework? (I myself don't agree with the ARA framework--I am firmly on the side of animal welfare--but I don't deny that if you accept the basic premises, there are organizations that provide less...unhinged commentary than PeTA. But it depends on what exactly you're addressing/asking.)

Personally, I don't trust the HSUS any farther than I could throw their combined staff members, but that's because I know how they siphon the goodwill people feel towards their local humane societies, and because in my line of work I have to address their distortions on a daily basis. I can't specify, unfortunately, because unlike the HSUS, I am not a disguised lobbying group: I have concrete and defined responsibility to protect the welfare of people and animals, and I take it seriously.

posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:40 AM on May 4, 2010

I know how they siphon the goodwill people feel towards their local humane societies

That's a vaguely inflammatory charge... They siphon the goodwill into what? I'd stop giving them my money if I thought they were doing anything wrong, but I don't really know what you mean.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:44 AM on May 4, 2010

The Humane Society of the United States doesn't actually operate any shelters or give any money to local Humane Societies

posted by thylacine at 8:05 AM on May 4, 2010

You won't find the information you're looking for. Just as with human rights, there is no 'objective' source for information about this, no National Weather Service for animal welfare.

If your concern is determining the veracity of their claims, from an ethical stand point, you're better off assuming that where a claim of harm is being made, it's true or at least possible.

For example, if PETA claims that factory farmed birds (fish, lobsters, cows, whatever) suffer horribly, and they actually don't, you won't be ethically compromised by acting based on the assumption that they do suffer. However, if they do in fact suffer, and you act based on the assumption that they don't, you will have contributed to the suffering of another living being.

If on the other hand you, for any reason, don't believe that non-human animals are worthy of moral consideration - then you shouldn't have any problem with whatever might be done to them and there is no need to verify or falsify the claims made by PETA. In which case, there's no need to ask the question you asked above.

So, barring the ability to actually determine the veracity of their claims, and because you asked how you might go about this - it makes the most sense for you to give those claims the benefit of the doubt and act as though the claims are true. At least from an ethical standpoint.
posted by jardinier at 8:17 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thylacine has it. An incredible number of people believe that they are supporting shelter animals and shelter medicine/supplies buy contributing to the HSUS. In no way are they doing so. If you are donating because you wish to support ARA causes, that's understandable and your right, but it's confusingly named for a reason, and it's certainly not doing much for actual shelter animal causes or direct interventions.

Local humane societies and the American Humane Association actually provide support for intervention services.

jardinier, that is a false dilemma. The ethical choices are not divided into holding

(a) non-human animals have no moral rights/are unworthy of moral consideration
(b) non-human animals ARE worthy of moral consideration (which covers a HUGE range of definitions)

Anyway, back on-topic: OP, it would be great to know what you ARE looking for, exactly. American Humane Association--as I mentioned above--may have some resources available with regard to companion animal treatment, especially. Bernard Rollins is a well-known veterinary ethicist/philosopher who addresses some of these issues. Temple Grandin is another well-known agricultural scientist who works on issues of humane treatment (however, you'll only be interested in her work if you accept the premise that there are valid reasons for non-human animals to be utilized for human purposes, and animal agriculture is among those purposes).

posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 9:00 AM on May 4, 2010

For issues specific to how factory farmed animals are raised and killed, Jonathan Safran Foer's new book Eating Animals seems to be pretty fact-based and not overly sensationalist.
posted by Jeanne at 9:33 AM on May 4, 2010

jardinier, that is a false dilemma. The ethical choices are not divided into holding

(a) non-human animals have no moral rights/are unworthy of moral consideration
(b) non-human animals ARE worthy of moral consideration (which covers a HUGE range of definitions)

How is that a false choice? I don't understand what you're referring to. Logically, those would seem to be the two available positions. Animals either are or aren't "worthy of moral consideration."
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:11 AM on May 4, 2010

Jaltcoh, you're right. I spoke incorrectly, because I was at lunch and in a hurry, and (sincerely) sadly, the years of analytic philosophy and bioethics are rusty now that more of my day is consumed getting extremely fresh with domestic animals. jardinier is arguing that if you accept non-human animals deserve moral consideration, the most ethically sound answer is to act as if PeTA's claims are true.

That elides the fact that there is an entire spectrum of belief and philosophical holdings lumped under (b). I also accidentally erased my next sentence about PeTA's hypocrisy w/r/t ethical considerations for companion animals and euthanasia. Which means that even if you accept that holding (b) as true means the 'purest'/'best'/'strongest'* form of (b) is represented by ARAs, and therefore to do the least harm, you should follow their recommendations, it still would not follow that assuming PeTA provides a guide to action that inflicts the least suffering on animals.

Look, I've stepped faaaaaar over the OT line, and I wish I hadn't. Jaltcoh, please feel free to MeMail if you want to follow up this part of the discussion. I don't see us reaching a consensus.

OP, I hope you find what you're looking for. I do recommend Rollins in particular, for matters of animal welfare in society, no matter what your position is, although he's kind of--well, he's a philosopher, so sometimes his practical advice is...not in line with actuality. Of course, I'm sitting here with a text cross-checking surgical approaches I've cited in the past, and realizing that I'm hardly innocent of coming up with intriguing but totally unlikely hypotheticals.

*here I mean 'strongest' as in most defensible, not 'strongest' in the pure philosophical sense, as ARAs do take the strongest philosophical form.

posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2010

I think this little detour does speak to the question because, as Uniformitarianism Now! implies, it's necessary to work this out before you can make a determination about the veracity of the claims made by PETA. In a sense, the veracity of the claim depends on your standard for veracity.

If you're interested in reading more arguments about the moral consideration issue I'd recommend Mark Rowlands. Especially Animals Like Us.

And Gary L. Francione who also has a web site here.

Both of these philosophers argue for abolitionism. They would likely agree with Uniformitarianism Now!'s statement that: it still would not follow that assuming PeTA provides a guide to action that inflicts the least suffering on animals
posted by jardinier at 11:46 AM on May 4, 2010

You can read USDA animal welfare reports here. And you can search the USDA animal welfare library here. But, it's worth considering that these are published by a branch of the government that gives billions of dollars in subsidies to the animal food industry.

Also, I should clarify that I didn't mean to suggest you should take PETAs recommendations, but only that based on the ethics argument you should take their claims about how animals are treated into consideration when making decisions. Thanks for pointing that out Uniformitarianism Now!.
posted by jardinier at 11:57 AM on May 4, 2010

Hopefully not an off topic question here, but how graphic does Earthlings get?

I once started watching a documentary about the founder of PETA, thinking it would stick to the subject of her life and not get too far into the PETA stuff, when the shots of cruelty started and I saw an animal being skinned alive.

I can't un-see that, and it haunts me to this day. I'd rather not see something like that again. But I am interested in seeing the film if it doesn't go too far. Voice overs telling me something horrible is ok, I just can't handle the visuals.
posted by wwartorff at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: Hi. I'm the one who made the original post. I'd like to be more specific, and clarify a couple of things.

First, I've seen the documentary Earthlings and it changed my life. I ate meat for 31 years prior to seeing it and I haven't eaten any meat since. With that said, much of the footage in the Earthlings documentary is PETA footage, and I consider that documentary to be on par with PETA as far as possible bias/distortion goes.

Second, my main interest is the treatment of so-called "food animals", and "fur animals".

Example: in Earthlings, and PETA, you can see a cow that has already been bled, hanging upside-down from a chain around one of its legs, moaning like a frantic Chewy from Star Wars, and its whole body is wriggling wildly. Then it gets put in a machine and they cut it some more by the neck, and the cow gets dumped onto the floor. Then it tries to stand up a couple of times, and it's standing almost completely up, and its guts are hanging out its neck, and it's still moaning like crazy. Question #1: how typical is that in cow slaughter? Evidence that it's not typical: I have a vet school friend who said they just shoot the cow in the head, and it falls over dead.

Another example: in Earthlings and PETA, there's footage of what they do to baby pigs, such as cutting their testicles out, cutting their tails off, and cutting off the tops of their ears, all without anesthesia. How typical is that?

Another example: sometimes chickens are improperly inserted, or they're wriggling so much, that the spinning blade doesn't properly cut their necks, so they're not bled by the time they get dunked into the scalding water. What percentage of the time does this happen, and what percentage of the time is it allowed to happen, at the various chicken slaughterhouses? There is a PETA video of an interview with a guy that worked at one, and he gave his slaughterhouse's permissible percentage. How many chicken slaughterhouses are there, anyway, and what are their rules about this?

Another example: when animals get their skins stripped off of them, how often of the time, for each kind of animal, is this performed without killing them first? They skin a dog alive in the Earthlings video, and in certain PETA videos.

Another example: Earthlings claims that most cow skins don't come from cows we eat, but instead come from cows from India that nobody eats. How to verify/falsify this?

This should be enough examples to get us going with a more productive discussion.
posted by Eiwalker at 12:17 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

American universities have to work with IACUC draft their animal care protocols. They would have information about how research animals should be treated and how facilities are inspected.

In Canada there is the Guide to Care and Use of Experimental Animals and some information about other kinds of animal care available at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

In both countries, if university or government-funded researchers are found to be mistreating their animals, they can be shut down immediately or be given time to fix things.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:38 PM on May 4, 2010

Oh sorry, just saw your clarification and the research-based stuff doesn't seem to be what you're looking for.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:40 PM on May 4, 2010

Response by poster: hydrobatida: thanks for the links! I am interested in animals being used for scientific research. It's okay to talk about it on this thread, as far as I'm concerned.

What I'm not interested in are questions like, "Supposing they suffer: is that bad? Or: supposing they suffer unnecessarily if we do x: do we then have a moral obligation to refrain from doing x in so far as it doesn't hurt us much to refrain from doing x?"

I'm a grad student in philosophy, but I don't want to talk about philosophy!
posted by Eiwalker at 12:55 PM on May 4, 2010

In that case, you might enjoy a discussion at Science Blogs that started with a blogger wanting to address some of PETA's claims: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

It starts off kind of philosophical (the author is a philosophy professor with a PhD in chemistry) but she does get into some specifics about using animals in research.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:33 PM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: I would check the legislations and policies and regulations outlined by your region's primary industries political body. Unless it is explicitly disallowed by law - and even then you have to factor in the fact that it is barely policed, at least in my experience - then as far as your food and fur animals are concerned, you can just about guarantee that it's happening to them.

Example: in Earthlings, and PETA, you can see a cow that has already been bled, hanging upside-down from a chain around one of its legs, moaning like a frantic Chewy from Star Wars, and its whole body is wriggling wildly.

If I remember correctly, this was "kosher" slaughter, and not something found in your everyday Christian slaughterhouse.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:30 PM on May 4, 2010

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