For those who are familiar with PETA’s game plan — and if you’ve been in animal agriculture for more than five minutes, you’re no doubt very familiar — what would you say is their calling card, the tactic that distinguishes them most prominently?
Other than dreaming up absurd and un-ethical promotional campaigns (“Got Beer?” “Jesus Was a Vegetarian”), exploiting women willing to pose nude to attract attention to anti-fur and Meat is Murder protests, and proclaiming that humanity must distance itself from the entire animal kingdom, that is.
I’d say the distinguishing trait of the self-proclaimed crusaders at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is their penchant for taking credit for any and all developments in the veggie-vegan movement they consider as marginalizing animal agriculture and demonizing meat-eating.
Case in point — and the venue for this screed is infuriating: a recent op-ed in Newsweek, which handed Ingrid Newkirk, the shameless, egotistical founder and reigning Charlatan-in-Chief of PETA, some 700 words to promote her group’s (alleged) leadership in the development of so-called in-vitro meat, aka, shamburgers, faux fowl and test-tube factory foods.
“In vitro meat is becoming big business,” Newkirk’s valentine to herself began. “Recently, China signed a $300-million trade deal to import slaughter-free meat technology from Israeli firms, including SuperMeat and Meat the Future. Similarly, Bill Gates and Richard Branson joined a consortium, which is pumping $17 million into San Francisco-based Memphis Meats.”
Okay, anyone’s who’s so much as glanced at the “World’s Richest People” list lately knows that Bill Gates is the richest guy on Earth, with a net worth of more than $86 billion.
Which means he has a name for investments like Memphis Meats: Brunch.
Gates, Branson and the other billionaires eager to park a couple million in some sexy start-up can certainly position their involvement as an eco-friendly decision they made because they care so much about environmental sustainability, but like all multi-millionaires and billionaires, the first cut is always, “How much can I make?”
In other words, they’re as much or more concerned about ROI as they are about saving either animals or the planet.
Trying to Cash In
But like all celebrity mongers, PETA is quick to try to capitalize on the brand-name power of the bigshots tossing what for them is some spare change at a start-up that aims to sell expensive foods to an upper-income niche, with Newkirk claiming that, “In the 1990s, I read a blurb in the New Scientist about the late Dutch researcher and entrepreneur Willem van Eelen, who, sickened by the bloodshed of war, began to explore the possibility of growing edible meat without having to slaughter animals.
“PETA was one of the first organizations to fund research into the development of in-vitro meat,” she wrote, “and the amount of money and variety of investors continues to skyrocket.”
Being first, as she claims PETA allegedly was, certainly carries some status. But of course, PETA’s leadership is never satisfied with partial credit. They never do anything with modesty or class.
“In 2008, when PETA announced a $1 million prize for the first laboratory to use chicken cells to create in-vitro meat if the product were commercially viable, few people believed that there would ever be such a thing,” Newkirk wrote in her column. “Now, everything has changed. PETA’s contest put in-vitro meat on the map, spawning thousands of news stories and creating a buzz that resonated around the world.”
Yeah, I’m sure Bill Gates was idly sitting around 10 years ago, wondering how he could possibly find an investment that would end all animal suffering and alter the way the entire world eats, when he came across a news story about PETA’s contest.
“Get my checkbook,” he likely shouted to one of his assistants, quickly forking over a couple hours’ worth of earnings.
But for her capper, Newkirk asked the rhetorical question (ignoring the reality that in-vitro anything’s going to be awfully costly for an awfully long time): “Will consumers eat this stuff?”
You can imagine her response.
“If you’ve ever seen the offal, blood and guts and manure mixed together on the slaughterhouse floor, or the worms inside animals’ stomachs as they are cut open, and you still eat meat, then surely you’d prefer a version which has been manufactured in a lab?”
One might counter with an observation along the lines of, “If you’ve ever seen the blood and mucus and feces, or heard the screams of agony from patients on the maternity floor, then surely you’d prefer a birthing process conducted in a lab, wouldn’t you?”
But trust me: If some scientists ever do figure out how to birth babies in a clean, sterile laboratory — just like those factory-fresh shamburgers now under development — you can bet PETA will try to take the credit for “eliminating infant suffering.”
And Newsweek will hand over its op-ed pages for Newkirk to crow about it.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.