On May 7, Cheryl Bachelder, president of Kentucky Fried Chicken, crawled to the offices of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to petition its leader, Ingrid Newkirk, for an end to the animal-liberationist organization’s “Kentucky Fried Cruelty” advocacy campaign.
It didn’t take much to break the national chain’s will. PETA had threatened to disrupt the appearance of Jason Alexander (KFC’s television pitchman, best known as George from Seinfeld) in The Producers. Soon, the actor was pulling a real-life George Costanza: begging KFC to get PETA off his back. (Alexander and KFC have since parted company.) Then, when PETA announced plans to picket Bachelder’s own home, it was Munich time.
Bachelder “jumped on the corporate jet and flew to PETA’s hometown of Norfolk,” PETA’s website crowed, acquiescing to five of PETA’s eight demands. According to the organization’s victory report, among other matters, Bachelder pledged to install cameras in all of KFC’s 29 slaughterhouses by the end of next year, with a plan to audit the tapes monthly. KFC also agreed 1) to ensure that its suppliers would add stimulation devices to the perches in the chicken sheds; 2) to move quickly to kill chickens in electric stun baths rather than merely immobilizing them; 3) to implement humane mechanized chicken-gathering systems; and 4) to provide increased space for chicken housing. KFC promised to report back to PETA on a regular basis to verify its compliance.
In return, PETA didn’t have to agree to do much of anything. The anti-KFC campaign would continue, though with a 60-day suspension. PETA would not picket the 2003 annual shareholder meeting. It agreed to modify its website assertions about KFC, and suspended “all planned billboards.” And it promised not to undertake further “step-ups” in the anti-KFC campaign for 60 days — meaning that it would be at least 61 days before protesters returned to picket Bachelder’s home.
The promised reforms may all be fine, appropriate, and humane changes in the raising and slaughter of chickens. Indeed, it is an important human obligation to treat food animals properly and to kill them as humanely as is practicable. But it shouldn’t take pressure from fanatics for corporate executives to do the right thing. Indeed, acting under such pressure merely adds to the power of animal-rights liberationists, making them an ever-greater threat to the legitimate use of animals.
If KFC thought that it had bought peace and security from PETA by so clearly and publicly caving in to the organization’s threats and intimidation, it didn’t know its enemy. I use the word enemy in its literal sense. PETA’s goal is not to reform KFC’s practices. It isn’t ultimately seeking a universal standard for humane treatment of chickens by food producers. These goals are mere tactical efforts on the way to PETA’s ultimate goal: driving KFC — and all other meat-serving fast-food restaurants — out of business.
Indeed, in a follow-up five-page “Dear Cheryl” letter, PETA’s Newkirk warned darkly that the Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign would continue more energetically than ever unless KFC agreed to the rest of PETA’s demands. Not only that, Newkirk more than hinted that PETA’s current demands are merely the “bare minimums” of what they will ultimately seek from KFC now that the animal liberationists believe they have gained the upper hand against the corporation. In a preview of coming attractions, Newkirk served notice that PETA will one day require that KFC’s chickens be “given sunlight, fresh air, the ability to dust, bathe or raise their families — in other words to be the animals nature intended them to be” (Emphasis added).
This would mean nothing less than the end of the chicken-restaurant business. After all, from PETA’s perspective, nature intended chickens to be allowed to run wild without any interference from people; particular those who might want to eat them.
What are the unmet demands that PETA will continue to press? The primary one is that KFC implement “gas killing” of its chickens.
When I first read this, I almost spat out my morning coffee. PETA ideologues believe that killing animals for food is the moral equivalent of genocide. Indeed, PETA minions have for several months traveled the country promoting vegetarianism on college campuses in the “Holocaust on Your Plate” campaign. Holocaust on Your Plate explicitly equates animal husbandry and meat-eating with the death camps and the genocide of Jews in the Holocaust. To illustrate its thesis, PETA crassly juxtaposes photographs of a pile of dead pigs with a pile of the bodies of dead concentration-camp inmates and claims that “the leather sofa and handbag are the modern equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of the people killed in the death camps.”
It must be understood that PETA-type fanatics do not see Holocaust on Your Plate as hyperbole or metaphor. For them, it is a literal truth. Down to the bone marrow in their vegan bones, they believe that KFC’s cooking of chickens is morally equivalent to SS guards’ herding of Auschwitz inmates into the showers. One can only imagine the future potential for demagogic advertisements should KFC’s suppliers begin the gas slaughter of birds.
For anyone with any knowledge of PETA’s tactics and ideology, it is clear that KFC will find no lasting peace even if it agrees to gas chickens instead of using other means of slaughter. Even before the moratorium was up, a PETA activist poured fake blood over David Novak, the CEO of Yum! Brands (the parent company of KFC) while he was visiting Germany. And now, with the 60-day ceasefire having passed, PETA has filed a lawsuit in California superior court seeking an injunction against KFC and Yum for making “false” statements on its websites about the welfare of its chickens.
Winning the injunction may not be the primary point of the lawsuit. In our legal system, litigants are entitled to search their opponents’ files looking for evidence to prove their claims. Thus, if the court allows the case to proceed to trial, PETA’s lawyers will be allowed to happily rummage through the corporations’ files looking for anything they can use to pursue their vendetta against the chain. In this sense, the lawsuit could be a win for PETA regardless of whether the injunction ever issues.
As history so clearly teaches, appeasement against totalitarians, far from bringing an end to conflict, results in an ever-escalating set of demands. KFC and other businesses that use animals must understand that they can never treat animals humanely enough to satisfy the animal-rights/liberationist absolutists. Their only hope is to treat their animals humanely before PETA pounds on the door (it’s the right thing to do regardless of the PETA threat) and then to stand firmly against activists’ intimidation whenever and however it occurs — even if it means that their presidents’ homes are picketed, their stockholder meetings disrupted, and their executives’ business suits stained by fake blood and pies in the face.
Pursuing a less courageous course will bring KFC and other industries peace all right — but it will be the permanent peace of the corporate grave.
— Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. He is working on books about human cloning and the animal-rights movement.