PETA in the US and abroad
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2000:
NORFOLK, Va.; NEW DELHI–– Sacred cows really have little in common with real cows.
Real cows give milk, are increasingly often factory-farmed in the U.S., frequently wander the roads in India without enough to eat, and in either nation follow most of their own offspring to slaughter as soon as they are economically unproductive––although in India the slaughtering tends to be illegal.
Sacred cows stand between real cows and public perception. They occupy billboards, pushing an image of health and contentment, between depictions of children and celebrities wearing white “mustaches.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals founder Ingrid Newkirk and People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi during spring 2000 each tried to erase the “mustaches,” on behalf of suffering real cows––and were each promptly accused of atrocity.
A PETA “Got beer?” brochure parodying National Dairy Council “Got milk?” theme ads drew more attention, faster, than even the “Jesus was a vegetarian” billboard campaign and sidewalk demonstrations featuring the same message.
Now two years old, the “Jesus was a vegetarian” ads and protests rarely fail to generate heated public discussion––even when billboard companies refuse to post them, as occurred in April 2000 in Omaha, Nebraska; occurred in both February and April in Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama; and occurred in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during October 1999.
Each refusal brought news coverage, exchanges of letters to the local papers, and discussion on radio talk shows. PETA spokespersons were then able to point out the many Biblical passages which inveigh against meat-eating, and sometimes got a chance to discuss why meat production is inhumane.
The sidewalk protests, begun more recently, are renewing public notice.
Apparently hoping to generate similar discussion of milk, PETA sent 2000 copies of the “Got beer?” brochure to college activists and college-based media a week before St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), and offered 1,000 bottle opener key chains to students who took a pledge against milk-drinking.
The key chains bore the slogan, “Drink responsibly. Don’t drink milk.”
The parody was subtle enough that Mothers Against Drunk Driving seemed to take it as a serious incentive to teenagers to indulge in binge drinking on spring breaks ––and dairy spokespersons were happy to let MADD take fulminating full advantage of the opportunity to gain free publicity.
Animal protection groups other than PETA were mostly silent, in public. ANIMAL PEOPLE was told, however, that PETA was denounced––in absence of PETA participation––at the Summit for the Animals, an annual meeting of animal rights group heads held on March 16-18 in Los Angeles.
On March 16, PETA vegetarian campaign coordinator Bruce Friendrich announced that the “Got Milk?” campaign had been withdrawn and replaced by a parody of the “missing child” posters often printed on the sides of milk cartons. Instead of a child’s face, the parody posters show a veal calf’s face, with text stating that the calf was “Last seen crying as he was being taken from his mother on a dairy farm and put on a truck headed for a torturous veal crate.”
That parody drew markedly less response from any direction.
Partly, it was upstaged by far-right New York radio talk show host Mike Gallagher, who as a gesture of protest against PETA on March 23 shot a steer named Old Blue during a broadcast from a remote rural slaughterhouse near Cameron, West Virginia.
“I don’t want to look,” Gallagher said, looking away as he pulled the trigger, wrote Vicki Smith of Associated Press.
The American Humane Association joined PETA in pleading unsuccessfully for Old Blue to be spared.
“For 60 years, the AHA has worked with the film and television industry to ensure that animals used in entertainment are not harmed,” said AHA western regional office director Gini Barrett. “Clearly Gallagher used the slaughter of a cow to entertain his listeners. While our jurisdiction does not cover radio broadcasts, I can assure you that under AHA guidelines for the use of animals in film and TV, this act is absolutely unacceptable.”
But actress Shirley Jones, star of many National Dairy Council “Got milk?” promotions and an AHA board member since mid-1998, apparently said nothing.
PETA remained in the news with a hoax announcement––from purported staffers “April Phule” and “Jo Kizonu”––that it would somehow tranquilize the waters of 25,000-acre Lake Palestine, Texas, to prevent fish from biting during the April 1-2 Red Man Cowboy Division Fishing Tournament.
By the time anyone realized it was an April Fool’s Day prank, some unsuccessful tournament fishers were reportedly already complaining that the fish had been sedated.
PETA goes to India
In India, PETA joined People For Animals and other Indian groups in fighting the mostly illicit growth of the Indian beef export, leather, and gaushala-based dairy industries. An essay by Newkirk herself in PETA’s Animal Times spotlighted the brutal treatment of cattle who are hauled or driven on foot for long distances to illegal slaughter.
PETA also took on the rising global demand for Indian leather goods, which are often sold with the claim that the leather comes from cattle who died “naturally” at cow-shelters called gaushalas and gosadans.
In addition, PETA hit the use of milk products, a target previously prominently attacked within India only by Maneka Gandhi.
“The issue of cow protection has been agitating the minds of the entire Indian nation not only since independence, but even before that, when it was declared one of the major objectives of our freedom struggle,” commented attorney R.K. Joshi of the Vinyog Parivar Trust, in the Animal Welfare Board of India magazine Animal Citizen.
“It is a symbolic issue,” Joshi continued, “and must encompass the protection of the entire cattle wealth of the nation, including buffalo, sheep, goats, and various other draft, pack, and milk animals.”
The Bombay High Court, in response to a lawsuit brought by former customs commissioner N.W. Alimchandani, even ruled at one point that while poultry may be slaughtered, they too are otherwise covered by animal protection clauses written into the Indian national constitution. But the ruling has not been enforced.
The biggest part of the problem, for hooved stock, may be simply that economic pressure is relentlessly reducing the Indian need for cattle and work animals. Motor vehicles, more productive milk cows, and more intensive cultivation of field crops are all displacing cattle. Busier streets, more pavement, and the gradual introduction of refrigeration to reduce the volume of food waste are also combining to make life shorter and harder for street cattle, who traditionally made up much of the Indian herd.
Only two Indian states, West Bengal and Kerala, permit cow slaughter. Yet slaughter is the only profitable or even selfsustaining destination for most of the cattle who are pulled off the streets as a hazard to traffic. Officials are accordingly easily bribed to look away as otherwise unwanted cows and other livestock are sent to their deaths.
Cow-slaughter contradicts Hindu teaching––as does killing any animal or eating any meat, among members of the upper castes. About 90% of all Indians are Hindu. Among the major religious minorities, all Jains are supposed to be strict vegetarians, and Indian Buddhists are also primarily vegetarian.
The Islamic and Christian minorities, on the other hand, are mostly meateaters. Thus the political struggle against cowslaughter has at times crossed over into religious and ethnic violence––most recently in Ahmedabad, where 2,125 animals bound for slaughter were rescued during a January/ February crackdown, including 641 cattle. One hundred eighty people were arrested, and 58 vehicles were impounded At least one person was killed when anti-cow-slaughter vigilantes tried to lend a hand.
Violence also broke out in Visakhapatnam, where the Visakha SPCA has aggressively prosecuted illegal cattle slaughter.
“I am now on the cattle traders’ hit list, but will not be cowed by threats or be deterred by bribes,” Visakha SPCA founder Pradeep Kumar Nath wrote in the March 2000 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“On April 2, at two a.m., our cow shelter was completely destroyed by fire,” Nath wrote in his next letter. “This is undoubtedly the work of the butchers.”
Nath did not mention whether any of the rescued cattle there were killed or stolen.
[Rebuilding help for the Visakha SPCA may be sent c/o 26-15-200 Main Road, Visakhapatnam, India 530 001.]
Commitment to the principle of a multicultural India with a secular government caused the Congress Party to back away from firm opposition to cow-slaughter during their 49 years in power, 1949-1998.
The Bharatija Janata Party-led Hindu nationalist coalition controlling the Indian parliament since 1998 is more willing to crack down. The BJP-dominated assembly in Gujarat state, for instance, on March 30 voted unanimously to place prohibition of cowslaughter under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act, which makes it an offense equivalent to inciting a riot.
On January 5, however, the Supreme Court of India ruled that similar legislation in Rajasthan, extended to the slaughter of bulls and bullocks, improperly deprived butchers of their right to earn a living.
How to handle surplus cattle is a problem more than 3,000 years old in India, where cows have been revered and cowslaughter forbidden for at least 5,000 years.
Already, by the time of the Buddha and Mahavira, who was the last of the 24 Jain founding teachers, gosadans and gaushalas existed. Then as now, some were public institutions. Others were underwritten by wealthy families or individuals. Monks ran some. Others hired labor, and became economic engines for whole communities.
Originally there were important distinctions made among them.
“Gosadans or pinjarapoles , ” explains People for Animals representative Rita Vazirani, of Mumbai, “were facilities where stray or abandoned cattle were sent to be looked after for the rest of their lives. Gaushalas were similar facilities where young, healthy cows were kept and reared for breeding and milking. The males from these shalas, or schools, were either sold or rented out for working in the fields, for providing stud service, or for pulling carts.”
In concept, gosadans and gaushalas sold animals and byproducts obtained by nonlethal means only for self-sustainance. But the idea became corrupted over the centuries.
“Now there is a thin line between the two, or no line at all,” continues Vazirani, “in the sense that we have pinjarapoles which operate like commercial dairies,” while many and perhaps most gaushalas long since ceased doing any sheltering. Municipally owned gosadans and gaushalas, obliged to accept all stray cattle, are often either overburdened and underfunded, or rife with corruption, or both. Private counterparts may operate more for profit than as charities. Even those that are honestly managed rarely can to absorb more than a handful of the cattle found in need.
The worst abuse commonly alleged against gosadans and gaushalas, often voiced by Maneka Gandhi among others, is that some operators may deliberately allow cattle to starve or die of disease, to escape the cost of feeding them, and to sell their hides.
Massive protests against cowslaughter have been underway for years. In December 1997, for instance, 20,000 Indians led by nude Jain sky-monks marched through New Delhi demanding enforcement of existing laws against cow-slaughter. Outside India, however, the event seems to have been noticed only by ANIMAL PEOPLE.
The involvement of PETA, however, brought global notice, sustained by celebrities. Rock-and-roller Christie Hynde, 48, led protests against Indian leather goods outside Gap stores in Vancouver and Toronto. Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney wrote in protest to Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, wrote from his home in the U.S.
PETA also raised the stakes by opening a Mumbai office specifically to promote veganism, in the belief that the consumption of dairy products continues to drive Indian cattle owners to breed a surplus.
Maneka Gandhi seized upon the chance to amplify her denunciations of officials who condone cattle-slaughter, corrupt gosadans and gaushalas, and milk-drinking.
“According to the Cattle Act, it is forbidden to transport cows for slaughter,” she told reporters on February 26. “Yet gangs operating in collusion with railway officials smuggle animals from western and northern India by train, claiming they will be milked or used for ploughing. You can make out the route by the trail of blood they leave behind.”
Gandhi told reporters than she had asked federal minister of railways Mamata Bannerjee to stop the slaughter traffic, but had been refused because it “yielded billions of rupees in bribes for corrupt officials.”
Reported A.B.D. Abdi of the South China Morning Post, “The trade in cattle and cow products is run largely by rich Hindu businessmen, who contribute to the coffers of the ruling Hindi nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Ms. Gandhi said.”
The political establishment counterattacked on March 15 through the Times of I n d i a. “A Delhi government committee has detected mortality of 70% among cows sent to gosadans during the past five years,” asserted an otherwise anonymous “Staff Reporter”–– who according to Gandhi’s staff may actually have been a politician’s press agent.
“As a result,” the article continued, “the committee has recommended that the license deed of five of the seven gosadans, run by non-governmental organizations, should be cancelled. ‘Of the 38,739 cows sent to gosadans since 1995, as many as 29,932 died before September 1999,’ committee head Ramakant Goswami said. Goswami said that the gosadan, run by Union minister Maneka Gandhi’s mother, had reported a very high mortality rate. ‘Of the 14,349 cows sent to this gosadan, as many as 11,196 died before September 1999,’ he added.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE e-mailed five questions to several different Times of India senior editors, but got no answer:
• Why was the identity of the reporter concealed?
• Since cows normally live about 10 years, and the typical cow taken to a gosadan is past her prime, why should 70% mortality over five years be surprising?
• Why were the allegedly bad gosadans not named, to avoid impugning the innocent?
• Mortality at the gosadan run by Gandhi’s mother was 78%, compared to 77% among the rest. Why was this called “very high,” and why was this the only identification offered of any of the alleged offenders?
The article acknowledged the real problems at the gosadans several paragraphs later: “Goswami said the mortality rate of cows was so high because the majority were old, infirm, diseased and malnourished. ‘Many cows sent to these gosadans died due to choking of their digestive system by polyethylene bags consumed by them,’ Goswami said.”
But Goswami reportedly also said that “the cows at all of the gosadans were not properly fed,” and that most of the operators “had failed to provide veterinary aid.”
Two different PSA spokespersons responded––separately––to questions ANIMAL PEOPLE asked of Gandhi. The gist was that the gosadan run by Gandhi’s mother was said to be the only one which accepts all animals brought to it by the New Delhi authorities; it and PFA have a running dispute with the city animal collectors over rough handling; necropsies on dead cattle indicate that ingesting plastic bags causes about 90% of all the deaths, a finding echoed by probes in other parts of India; and, to protect cattle and other street animals, Gandhi, PFA, the Animal Welfare Board of India, and most other Indian environmental and animal welfare groups are seeking to ban plastic bags.
During a March 27 visit to Ahmedabad, Gandhi raised another uproar by reportedly telling a conference of the Jiv Daya trusts and gosadans run by Jains that “drinking milk is equivalent to drinking the blood of animals,” that “whatever comes out of an animal is blood whether it is red in color or white,” and that neither her ministry nor People for Animals would fund gaushalas that sell milk.
Her remarks were prominently denounced in The Times of India during the next four days by at least 14 Jain and Hindu religious leaders, dairy industry spokespersons, medical authorities, and political figures, most of whom seemed to take literally the equation of milk with blood.
“All she really said,” Rita Vazirani told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “was that our practices of calf-rearing should return to those of the pre-industrial era, when cows really were considered sacred, calves were allowed to drink their mothers’ milk to their hearts’ content, and no draft animal was slaughtered.”
Gandhi allegedly also linked milkdrinking with cancer. Opponents countered that no study had ever made that link.
But Gandhi was a few days ahead of them. The Physicians Health Study, conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health, questioned 20,885 physicians about their diets in 1982-1984, and has monitored their health ever since. On April 4, Harvard epidemiologist June M. Chan confirmed to the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research that the study shows men who consume more than two servings of dairy products per day are 30% more likely to develop prostate cancer than those who average less than half a serving a day.
More bad news about milk appeared in the March edition of the scientific journal Autism, which reported that an inability to digest exorphin proteins found in milk and milk products appears to cause autism and schizophrenia. Exorphins are component proteins within casein, a basic milk protein.
University of Florida at Gainesville researchers J. Robert Cade and Zhongjie Sun found that if a particular intestinal enzyme malfunctions, casein is improperly broken down, and exorphins collect at an abnormally high rate in the neurological centers associated with vision, hearing, and communication.
This, Cade told the Reuters Health news service, “could result in the person seeing something that’s not really there; either a visual or auditory hallucination could occur.”
Cade and Sun confirmed their initial studies made with rats by placing a number of autistic and/or schizophrenic children on a milk-free diet. About 80% improved.
Showdown at the Bombay corral
Founding organizations of easily confused title in 1981 and 1983, respectively, Newkirk, 50, and Gandhi, 44, are often compared––and likenesses are many.
Newkirk grew up in India; Gandhi has traveled extensively in the west. Each borrows rhetoric and concepts from militant feminism. Each is known for flamboyant tactics, strident speech, and vitriolic temper.
Yet they have differences which could flare up fast if PETA tries to transplant the whole PETA philosophy to India.
Newkirk, an ex-animal control officer, with no children, makes little secret of her belief that humans are an aberrant species. PETA has rarely participated in electoral politics. And PETA from inception has strongly advocated aggressive catch-and-kill animal control, often attacking no-kill shelters and neuter/return programs, both for feral cats in the U.S. and for street dogs abroad.
Gandhi, fundraising for no-kill shelters and street dog neutering projects all her life, is mother of an almost-grown son by a husband she still mourns, 19 years after his death in a plane crash. Holding a seat in the Indian parliament for 12 of the past 15 years, Gandhi has been cabinet minister for social welfare and empowerment since August 1998, her third cabinet post, and is nearly as famous in India for helping women, children, and the poor as for her animal work.
She argues that animal rights are a first priority because if humans learn to treat animals with consideration, respect for human rights will come as part of the package.
Gandhi has called Newkirk “the person in the world whom I admire the most,” yet has already criticized PETA at times when the show hasn’t been backed to her satisfaction by practical projects. Yet to be seen is whether India, with a billion people, will be big enough for both.