In this exclusive interview, we speak to Ingrid Newkirk (Co-Founder and President of PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). We discuss the relationship of our species with the animal kingdom. Animals are fascinating, and to see why take a look at Octolab.tv. Here, we look at issues ranging from animal rights, to the use of animals for food, clothing, entertainment experimentation and more.
“…In 2009 alone, more than 60 billion land animals – nearly nine times as many as the human population – were slaughtered for food. (This number included approximately 52 billion chickens, 1.34 billion pigs, 656 million turkeys, 521 million sheep, 403 million goats, and 298 million cattle.) In addition, around 1.18 trillion eggs were produced for food that year.” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012). This astonishing figure doesn’t even include the numbers of animals used for experimentation, entertainment and entertainment.
Throughout our history, discrimination has been the source of much brutality, causing the deaths of millions of people. From race to religion and even gender, any number of arbitrary differentiators have been used to justify the treatment of individuals as if they were almost part of a different species. Peter Singer wrote that, “…discrimination on the basis of sex, it has been said, is the last universally accepted form of discrimination, practiced without secrecy or pretence even in those liberal circles that have long prided themselves on their freedom from prejudice against racial minorities. One should always be wary of talking of ‘the last remaining form of discrimination.’ If we have learnt anything from the liberation movements, we should have learnt how difficult it is to be aware of latent prejudices in our attitudes to particular groups until this prejudice is forcefully pointed out.”
“If humans are to be regarded as equal to one another,” Singer continued “…we need some sense of ‘equal’ that does not require any actual, descriptive equality of capacities, talents or other qualities. If equality is to be related to any actual characteristics of humans these characteristics must be some lowest common denominator, pitched so low that no human lacks them – any such set of characteristics which covers all humans will not be possessed only by humans.” It is in this spirit that the philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that one must look at the ability of a being to suffer as being the determinant of our actions toward them. A view further elucidated byMarian Stamp Dawkins who wrote that, “…for most of us, perhaps the most important curb on inflicting damage on another person: the belief that the damage would cause pain and suffering and that it is morally wrong to cause those experiences in other people…..”
This belief is achieved largely through our ability to empathise with members of our own species with whom we share (at the very least) commonalities in anatomy, physiology and behaviours. Where these similarities break down at the boundary of our species, we begin to defend our position by utilising precepts such as dignity, respect and worth. Fine phrases which, as Singer noted, are “…the last resource of those who have run out of arguments…” So why does our species continue to mistreat animals?
In this exclusive interview, we speak to Ingrid Newkirk (Co-Founder and President of PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). We discuss the relationship of our species with the animal kingdom. We look at issues ranging from animal rights, to the use of animals for food, clothing, entertainment experimentation and more.
Ingrid Newkirk is an animal rights activist, an author, and the co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). As PETA’s president, Ingrid has spoken internationally on animal rights issues—from the steps of the Canadian Parliament to the streets of New Delhi, India, and from the drowning tanks of Taiwan to the halls of the U.S. Congress.
Ingrid was born in Surrey, England, and lived in Europe until she was 7 years old, when she and her parents moved to New Delhi, where her father worked as a navigational engineer and her mother volunteered for Mother Teresaand various charities. Ingrid’s early volunteer experiences—packing pills and rolling bandages for people who were suffering from leprosy, stuffing toys for orphans, and feeding stray animals—informed her view that anyone in need, including animals, is worthy of concern. Until she was 21, Ingrid had given no thought to animal rights or even vegetarianism. In 1970, however, when she and her husband were living in Maryland and she was studying to become a stockbroker, a neighbour abandoned some kittens and Ingrid decided to take them to an animal shelter. This was a life changing-experience for Ingrid and led to her first job working in behalf of animals—cleaning kennels and investigating cruelty cases. Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation and Ingrid’s experiences in that job and later on—including finding a fox and a squirrel caught in steel traps, finding a pig left to starve on a farm, and inspecting laboratories and circus acts for the government—made her realize that there needed to be an organization like PETA.
Ingrid has also served as a deputy sheriff, a Maryland state law enforcement officer with the highest success rate in convicting animal abusers, the director of cruelty investigations for the second-oldest humane society in the U.S., and the chief of animal disease control for the Commission on Public Health in Washington, D.C. Under Ingrid’s leadership, legislation was passed to create the first-ever spay-and-neuter clinic in Washington, D.C. She coordinated the first arrest in U.S. history of a laboratory animal experimenter on cruelty charges and helped achieve the first anti-cruelty law in Taiwan. She spearheaded the closure of a Department of Defense underground “wound laboratory,” and she has initiated many other campaigns against animal abuse, including ending General Motors’ car-crash tests on animals. Since it was founded, PETA has exposed horrific animal abuse in laboratories, leading to many firsts, including cancelled funding, closed facilities, seizure of animals, and charges filed by theU.S. Department of Agriculture. PETA has also closed the largest horse-slaughter operation in North America, convinced dozens of major designers and hundreds of companies to stop using fur, ended all car-crash tests on animals, cleaned up wretched animal pounds, helped schools switch to alternatives to dissection, and provided millions of people with information on vegetarianism, companion animal care, and countless other issues. Read more about PETA’s history.
Ingrid is the author of Save the Animals! 101 Easy Things You Can Do, 50 Awesome Ways Kids Can Help Animals,The Compassionate Cook, 250 Ways to Make Your Cat Adore You, You Can Save the Animals: 251 Simple Ways to Stop Thoughtless Cruelty, Free the Animals, Making Kind Choices, Let’s Have a Dog Party!, One Can Make a Difference, and The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights. She has also written numerous articles on the treatment of animals in homes, slaughterhouses, circuses, and laboratories.
Q: Why should animals have rights?
[Ingrid Newkirk] To me the question is, why are we denying them the obvious rights they should have? They are flesh and blood, they feel pain as we do, they experience joy, they have their own behaviours and their own languages among themselves that they understand and we don’t. They have maternal instincts and look after each other as we do… it’s not an intellectual thing when a mother protects her child; it’s an instinctive behaviour. We value all those things in the human being because we are human beings! But that’s pretty short sighted and narrow minded and I think it’s down to what Jeremy Bentham said which is, “…the question is not can they reason? Or can they talk? …But can they suffer?”
They can talk, they certainly can suffer, and if we cause them gratuitous suffering? There’s something wrong with our ability to empathise and we are taught as children that kindness is a virtue so we should act on it.
Q: Why do we use animals for food?
[Ingrid Newkirk] If we look at this question from a health perspective and ask why do we drink? Why do we eat sugary food? You find that we are drawn to allsorts of things that are detrimental to our health.
If we look at it from an ethical perspective, it’s indefensible that we would take the most gentle animals … in fact, the vegetarian animals (chickens, cows, lambs and so on..) and while they are minding their own business, we kill them…. We kill them in appallingly bad ways because we are now so greedy that we have to intensively farm them to get cheap meat.
If we return to the question of why we eat animals… I think it’s because we’re used to it as a society! We’ve become addicted to it! We grow up with the taste of meat …which is a terrible disservice to a child. We rarely think of the connection between the live animal and the fleeting taste that we enjoy.
You actually see behaviours that show this when people say, “Oh don’t show me that photograph or film, I can’t bear to watch that because I love my steak!” When else would we say that? Would you hear people saying, “oh don’t show me those child labour photographs because I love my nighties!” These behaviours are an admission that we know something is wrong.
It’s hard for us to break the habit, but once we break it… taste buds adjust in about three weeks and we are fine.
Q: What are the concerns you have about the plight of animals in the meat industry, and what is the wider impact of this industry on communities?
[Ingrid Newkirk] Anyone who has looked or even glanced at intensive farming and factory farming knows that it’s a major contributor to environmental degradation. This is from many reasons including manure lagoons that leak from top-soil into groundwater and overflow into streams and rivers polluting them and causing die-off of fish and other river and stream life. The amount of pesticides used in order to just keep the animals breathing is enormous and that, of course, goes into rivers, streams and soil. There are intensive farming states in the Mid West of the United States, a recent example being Iowa, where the radio announcers on some mornings quite commonly say, “there’s a water advisory today…” These are all because of pig-manure going down into the soil. We also know that such farms are not their neighbour’s friends because of the stench and air pollution. From a health and environmental perspective… not even counting deforestation (which is used to create empty land, barren land or non-treed land so crops can be grown), and the energy costs of moving the animals and feeds… we can see the impacts are severe.
From a cruelty standpoint, it’s not just the factory farm… it’s the mutilations that occur in order to crowd the animals together. That includes de-beaking, notching of their ears, cutting off their tails, castrating without anaesthesia and de-horning. The latter example is very overlooked and is an abysmally cruel activity that takes place on most farms for dairy cows.
Q: Do you feel there is a relationship between global-hunger and the use of agricultural land for meat?
[Ingrid Newkirk] There’s no question about it. We must remember that many crops used in first world countries to feed livestock are grown overseas in underdeveloped or partially developed countries, by people who could use that land to feed their own hungry.
This is the most inefficient system you could possibly imagine. It takes 6-10Lbs of grain or fodder to go into an animal and, in turn, yield 1Lb of protein.
Whether or not the distribution of food will ever be equitable or able to address world hunger is a very complex question and also depends on the altruism of countries that can contribute and awareness of individuals. Statisticians and world hunger experts put together facts that show that we could certainly feed all the world’s hungry if we did not put all this feed into animals. We must use grounds that are now used to grow much of the soy that goes into cattle-foods and other things to grow primary proteins.
Q: Why do humans use animals for clothing?
[Ingrid Newkirk] It’s indefensible in this day and age to use animals for clothing… particularly in the (so called) first world. I think we have a caveman survivalist mentality that hasn’t left a part of the fashion industry…. We haven’t left behind that idea that in order to keep warm you have to curl up in a dead animal!
One can, though, understand why man came to use animal skins in the early days of humanity when we didn’t have luxuries like central heating and man-made fibres that are able to keep you warmer than fur or wool… Amazingly many synthetics are more environmentally friendly than leather, wool or fur because of the tanning process and other processes that ensure these materials don’t rot on your body.
It’s a throw-back to an earlier time when we didn’t have choices, but now we have every possible choice from the cheapest to the most expensive… from the most practical to the most flamboyant. Many designers like Stella McCartney use natural fibres and advanced man-made-fabrics to keep people warm, keep people cool, to make clothes lightweight and so on. At a practical level, you can even make excellent clothes from recycled materials that have nothing to do with animals.
Q: Is there enough public awareness of what animals in the clothing industry have to go through?
[Ingrid Newkirk] I think today that almost anyone, of any age, recognises fur is not voluntarily given up by its owner. I bear this out because so many millions have watched our videos online of fur production; which starts with the animal being bludgeoned, beaten and skinned alive. Nobody can claim to be oblivious.
People don’t have this same sentiment towards leather, although PETA has made many efforts in this regard to make people aware that it is as cruel as fur. Leather, we say, is just hairless fur.
Most fur comes from China and most leather comes from India. People think of it as a bi-product of the meat industry, which is an odd justification that if I eat meat I should be able to wear leather!
Leather is not a bi-product.. It’s a co-product. Often, the skin is such a valuable part of the sale of the entire beast that it’s factored into the cost of raising that animal for the table. Skins are not, as people think, just cast aside during the meat process. By buying any leather, you are supporting the meat industry.
Since most leather comes from India, people think the cows will be well treated but nothing could be further from the truth. We have documented the absolutely appalling slaughterhouse conditions, and the journeys to the slaughterhouses in the few states where slaughtering is legal. We have shown cattle stumbling, faltering and falling in the heat and dust without a drop of water or any sustenance… we have shown cattle having their tails broken deliberately to make them stand and keep moving… we have seen chilli-peppers pushed into their eyes to force-them, out of sheer pain, to stand and move… and even children killing animals in front of each other in the hideous slaughterhouses that exist. Leather, of course, will be marked made in Italy or so forth… It doesn’t mean the skins came from Italy… it just means the final shoe, bag or case was made there.
We’re just finally breaking through on wool. This is not just the problem in Europe where live export sees animals enduring huge journeys without food and water and falling… But the fact that most wool comes from Australia where lambs are ‘mulesed’ where a pair of shears is taken to their rump without painkiller and their flesh is cut-off under the tail. When they can finally stand after three days or so, they walk like little crabs because the pain is so intense. This process is done by famers to stop flies laying their eggs under the tail. There are far more humane ways to do that… but, of course, farmers do it the cheapest way.
Q: Do we need to use animals in science and experimentation?
[Ingrid Newkirk] Absolutely not… not anymore!
There is a myth that animals are treated humanely and it’s for the good of mankind. Actually there are millions upon millions of animals used for every kind of experimentation from cosmetics to floor cleaner, maternal depravation experiments and even cocaine studies. In most countries you have to wait six months to get any treatment for addiction, so giving cocaine and heroine to monkeys is not, perhaps, the best use of public money.
What we have is a system where although we have enormous capability in technology and a swathe of research in human epidemiological studies (such as the China Study that brought us so much information…) we are faced with the reality that all these methods require funds. The easy option is to conjure up a load of animals, stick them in cages… totally unnatural environments… and just give them something, deprive them of something, shock them, burn them, put electrodes in their heads… and see what you get.
The pharmaceutical industry is so behind the times as science has moved on. We have computers, which can be programmed with human data for simulations, and people who are in desperate need of being studied! I go back to the moment when AIDS first came onto the public radar and people were dying. The National Institute of Health(NIH), like so many health bodies in other countries, put beagles, monkeys and allsorts of animals through various tests that did absolutely no good. There were gay men in San Francisco who came forward and said, “…Please, our friends are dying, why don’t you study us? Take any samples you want!” Nobody did for many years. In the end it turned out that animals can’t get AIDS, the closest thing that a Chimp or any other primate can get is the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), which is not a human virus.
Q: Why are certain animals considered pests?
[Ingrid Newkirk] I do believe that the days of wildlife are numbered. This isn’t just because of the destruction of hedgerows, felling of trees and ruination of the countryside everywhere in the world… but human overpopulation too.
Animals ask so little! They only need to be able to breathe, a drink of water and their natural food source… that’s all! They don’t need shopping centres, skating rinks, movie theatres, transportation systems and so on… they need so little, but they can’t get it!
If geese are flying over a golf course and land, they will probably find the water has been poisoned in many of these areas where they come down. It’s just extraordinary how unthinking and uncaring we have become, but I do believe our prejudices can be seen in human interactions too. Familiarity is what allows us to protect and not being familiar with a person from another culture makes us a little bit scared, makes us defensive, and we don’t then look out for the other person as much as we should. We see that in our own culture… it’s not right, but it’s a human reaction.
We are familiar with the animals that have been domesticated and brought into our lives and homes… horses, dogs, cats and so on. We’re not so familiar with wild species… it’s not just that we don’t meet them… but we don’t know that much about them… we therefore tend to devalue what they need and not think of the impact of our enormous growth on them.
This is a question of intolerance…. We are far to free and far too powerful. We have become far too advanced a bully to put a crimp on our own desires. They’re not needs, they’re desires. Not far from where I’m sitting now, there’s a row going on because the countryside has been developed with very expensive houses where deer used to roam. This land was the deer’s natural habitat, their home, where they have lived for millennia. They now have nothing to eat and are daring to encroach on gardens and eat ornamental plants and so on. For humans, that behaviour is annoying and so these animals are being labelled as pests and people are trying to figure out how to eliminate them. I just wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper in the area where I noted that developers have built gardens on the deer’s natural bathroom and now they have the gall to suggest they shouldn’t relieve themselves… where are they supposed to go?! You have the gall to suggest that when you have taken away their natural food that they have no right to stand on what is now your lawn!? What they expect is for the deer to vanish… people move to the country because they presumably want to get out of the city, but they bring the city with them and are annoyed by cocks crowing or bird song. There was an article in one of the UK papers objecting to bird song a couple of months ago!
Get a grip, you’re just one animal among many. It’s supposed to be a vast orchestra… We’re supposed to co-operate and look out for each-other… not just our species the same way it’s not just our family or our village or our religion.. It’s supposed to be one world, of which you are a part.
On Companion Animals
Q: What are the concerns PETA have of companion animals and pets?
[Ingrid Newkirk] There are massive concerns.
Because humans like having companion animals, instead of it being a symbiotic relationship where humans take in animals in need… we now breed, sell and make money from them. We have shelters, pounds and rescue agencies bursting at the seams with homeless dogs and cats!
Our view is that you must spey and neuter animals to sterilise them, as they are in an unnatural situation to begin with. Having domesticated dogs and cats, we have now increased their heat cycle so that they come on heat much more often than they would in the wild and have larger litters than they would in the wild. What do you do with them once you’ve run out of friends and family who will take them in? Eventually some will end up in shelters, and many will be put to death. That’s not supposed to be the fond way we think of our dogs and cats.
Q: What is the plight of animals used in entertainment?
[Ingrid Newkirk] We now have a petition signed by 7 of the 10 top advertising agencies in the United States, agreeing not to use great apes in adverts. It used to be that people would watch a commercial like the old PG Tips adverts in the UK… What people didn’t realise is that those were infants who had been taken away from their mothers…. Infants who would normally have been at their mothers side for no fewer than eight years. They are taken away when they are easy to handle as once they mature, you can hit them or argue with them and they simply will not listen.
As babies, they are electro-shocked, hit, caged and given lousy lives. In the end when they become too strong to handle they are dumped in roadside zoo’s or shipped to places like Spain or Mexico where they are used in entertainment an dragged around in cages. It’s not just primates, but elephants and other animals too. Hopefully the UK government is about to sign a long-awaited bill that will ban the use of live animals in entertainment in the UK.
We do have alternatives. CGI and animatronics are now so sophisticated! You have films such as Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which are all driven by animatronics! No fish were hurt in the making of that film. Look also at Planet of the Apes, it was truly astonishing how realistic that was.
We should leave animals out of our quick laugh.
Q: What are your concerns on the use of animals in sport?
[Ingrid Newkirk] Rodeo is such a crude throwback to survivalist times when cowboys were sitting around and had nothing to do. There were no computer games or movies to watch so they looked around and saw cattle and decided to torment them for fun. That should have died out a long time ago.
Horse racing, of course, is a major business. The New York Times recently ran a three part series looking into how many animals die on the track… and it’s several a day. Every day horses break down on the tracks of the United States and die or are euthanized. We would never tolerate that in any human endeavour such as boxing… but apparently it’s swept under the rug in horseracing. This is a sport that is really in the spotlight at the moment because of whipping and because of drugging. Horses have been pumped full of painkillers, steroids and even things like snake venom to keep them running when they are basically lame! In the Kentucky Derby, we saw the breakdown of “Eight Belles” where she broke both her front legs. She was already a champion but was expected to be a triple-crown winner. It was a scandal how a horse in her condition would be pushed to the point where she broke off both her front legs!
This happened with the dog racing industry too where it was found that so many discarded greyhounds were shot to death, dumped in pits and more. The horse racing industry is now being seen not as the sport of kings but as an abysmally cruel money making enterprise.
Q: What are the opportunities we now have to improve the plight of animals worldwide?
[Ingrid Newkirk] There are many. People need to keep track of legislation in whichever country they are in and lend their support to make sure that their representatives know that as constituents, they want animal protection bills to pass. We saw this with the EU Cosmetics Initiative, the Battery Hens Bill and anything to do with fur farming. People need to make their policy makers aware that they want an end to animal cruelty.
This process starts with personal responsibility. It starts with what’s on our own plates, not what someone in another country is eating. It’s always very easy to point the finger at other groups and say, “oh, the Norwegians are whaling…” but what’s on our plate? Where did it come from? What’s on our back? We can make so many changes that will really move the market.
In this day and age, the market is god, so if we show other people the videos that explain unquestionably how cruel certain endeavours and goods are… we can get people to get involved and become the momentum for real change.
Q: Do you think that governments around the world currently have adequate policy measures to protect animals?
[Ingrid Newkirk] Not at all!
In many countries, if not all, we are dealing with an incestuous relationship between government and industries that hurt animals. We saw that with Britain taking enormous lengths to protect laboratories that had no transparency and used animals in archaic experiments… We see it in India with the leather and meat industries going completely against people’s wishes.
Governments need to be accountable on many fronts but we see that in most countries it is those who pay that are given special privileges and special considerations and that has to go.
At every turn, we should make it clear that we do not support such devils pacts.
“Many people still do not see animals…” wrote The Revd. Professor Andrew Linzey, “They may have seen things moving, objects out there, even ‘pests’ that invade ‘their’ territory. But they have not yet seen other living, sentient beings. Our language, our philosophy, our science, our history, our theology, our culture, by and large, prevents us from seeing. We should not be surprised when major voices in our history have regarded animals as machines that in the end we treat them as machines. It was Ruth Harrison’s prophetic work in 1964 on farm animals, titledAnimal Machines, that helped us appreciate how we had reduced other creatures to just that We have to move from an anthropocentric – indeed gastrocentric – view of animals.” He continues describing the manifestation of this lack of insight through the view that our species thinks “that human beings matter, but that the rest is just ‘the environment’, theatre, or backdrop, to what really matters, namely themselves…”
Gaverick Matheny in his essay on ‘Utilitarianism and Animals‘ notes that, “…there is broad consensus within both religious and secular ethics that an ethical life respects virtues like fairness, justice, and benevolence. At the heart of these virtues lies a more basic principle: I cannot reasonably claim that my interests matter more than yours simply because my interests are mine. My interests may matter more to me, but I cannot claim they matter more in any objective sense. From the ethical point of view, everyone’s interests deserve equal consideration.”
Humanity’s relationship with nature has, in the main, been driven by the fact that we (as a group) feel that our interests are the only ones of concern because we (in our own view) are the species that really matter on this planet.
The fact is, our view has been tainted by ego. Humanity’s incredible cognitive and communications ability has allowed us to far exceed our limitations and create our own world distanced from nature. This shield of arrogance has institutionalised the cultural view that we are apart from nature rather than a part of it.
There is an adage which states that, “cruelty is acknowledged only when profitability ceases..” In context of our relationship with the environment, we have seen this to be true. Only when environmental damage reached a stage impacted our ability to exploit said environment did we acknowledge our actions and begin to make changes. For animals though, the situation is far harder. They have been exploited and mistreated by us, a minority species in number, for millennia. William Ralph Inge once summed this up by stating, “…we have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form…”
We are a young species in an ancient world, and the past century has seen us move technologically from a state of infancy to a degree of adolescence, without a corresponding movement in our sense of responsibility and accountability. Much as we expect these qualities of our own children as they grow up, so too must we expect them of our species.
I would like to conclude with a poem I wrote called “Environment“:
“We are the spoilt child who, caught in his own ego, tries to beat his drum louder than the rest, spoiling a perfect piece of music that has played longer than he has lived. When will he understand, we are the harmony, not the song.“