People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Is Founded

Alex Pacheco and Ingrid Newkirk founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an organization dedicated to the prevention of animal abuse and exploitation.

Summary of Event

Acting on their personal beliefs and convictions, Alex Pacheco and Ingrid Newkirk founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, in 1980. PETA is an organization of activists who try to stop what they consider to be the mistreatment and exploitation of animals, including the use of animals in medical testing, consumer-product testing, the taking of furs for the garment industry, and human consumption of meat. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Animal-rights organizations[Animal rights organizations]
[kw]People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Is Founded (1980)
[kw]Founded, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Is (1980)
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Animal-rights organizations[Animal rights organizations]
[g]North America;1980: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Is Founded[03990]
[g]United States;1980: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Is Founded[03990]
[c]Organizations and institutions;1980: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Is Founded[03990]
[c]Animals and endangered species;1980: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Is Founded[03990]
Pacheco, Alex
Newkirk, Ingrid

Pacheco became involved in the animal-rights movement after he visited a slaughterhouse and witnessed the killing of a large number of horses. He subsequently left the seminary where he had been studying for the priesthood and began to work for animal rights. He joined the crew of the Sea Shepherd, Sea Shepherd (ship) a ship used by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to take action against whaling, and was a crew member when the ship crossed the Atlantic for the purpose of ramming the Sierra, Sierra (ship) a pirate whaling ship. The Sea Shepherd, which had had tons of concrete poured into its bow, caught up with the whaling ship off the coast of Portugal and rammed it.

Pacheco next worked with the Hunt Saboteurs Association, Hunt Saboteurs Association a British organization that took direct action against organized blood sports, primarily fox and stag hunts. For a time, he studied the endangered humpback whales in Alaska for the Alaska Department of Wildlife. He then went to Washington, D.C., to conduct a study of urban wildlife for the Washington, D.C., Commission on Public Health. After completing the study, he worked undercover for four months inside a federally funded laboratory that conducted testing on animals.

While in Washington, D.C., Pacheco began taking classes at George Washington University, where he met Ingrid Newkirk, a government official responsible for the oversight of a Washington, D.C., animal shelter. Newkirk introduced Pacheco to Animal Liberation
Animal Liberation (Singer) (1977), by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, a book often referred to as the bible of the animal liberation movement. In the book, Singer discusses the relationship between humans and animals and stresses human responsibility for the ethical treatment of animals. The book had provided the turning point in Newkirk’s life. She had always been involved in animal care; in her professional capacity as chief of animal disease control for the Commission on Public Health in the District of Columbia, she had been responsible for several important regulations, including one limiting the ability of the Washington, D.C., animal shelter to sell animals for laboratory research. She also rescued abused animals and humanely removed wild animals that had found their way into the city.

After leaving her position in Washington, D.C., Newkirk became first a deputy sheriff and then a law-enforcement officer in Maryland, a position she held for seventeen years. Eventually she became director of cruelty investigations for the second-oldest humane society in the United States.

Pacheco and Newkirk took part in a raid on the laboratory where Pacheco had been working, the outcome of which set several legal precedents. For the first time, a federal research grant was terminated on charges of cruelty, animals were confiscated from a research facility, an experimental scientist was criminally convicted on cruelty charges, and a laboratory was closed because of cruelty to animals. Landmark legislation seeking protection of laboratory animals was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Following these events, Pacheco was instrumental in causing Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger Weinberger, Caspar to order the closing of a Defense Department wound laboratory and to issue a directive that no dogs or cats may be used in the future for military ballistics training or research. This was the second time in the United States that a laboratory was ordered closed on the basis of animal abuse.

It was Pacheco who arranged a four-day occupation of fifteen offices of the National Institutes of Health by more than one hundred activists. As a result, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ordered a third laboratory closed, stopping a $14-million project that had involved the crushing of the brains of conscious primates.

Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gather at Procter & Gamble’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, in August of 1997 to protest the company’s use of animal testing.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Realizing how successful direct citizen intervention could be, Pacheco and Newkirk founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and by doing so they brought the issue of animal abuse and mistreatment to national attention. In the first ten years of its existence, the organization grew to more than 400,000 members, and it had significant impacts on many segments of the American economy, including food processing, apparel, and the “pet” industry.

This success was not without costs, however. Pacheco received threats against his life, was shot at by cattle ranchers, was arrested and thrown in jail for civil disobedience, was fingerprinted and sought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was subpoenaed by state grand juries investigating the disappearance of animals, and in 1989 was indicted by a federal grand jury (he was found not guilty by a federal court). During the height of his activity, his photograph was displayed in the guardhouses of many laboratories where animals were used in research.

Newkirk became the spokesperson for PETA, appearing and speaking on animal-rights issues all over the United States and abroad. She began to travel extensively and to take part in public debates concerning animal abuse. Many of her activities involved spreading the concept of animal liberation to the public and teaching activists how to eliminate animal suffering in their own neighborhoods. She authored several books, including Save the Animals! 101 Easy Things You Can Do (1990) Save the Animals! (Newkirk) and The Compassionate Cook (1993), Compassionate Cook, The (Newkirk) and wrote many articles on the social implications of humane treatment of animals in factory farms and laboratories.


The impact of the formation of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was immediate. The organization was instrumental in changing the ways people in many countries regard and treat animals, and as a result laws and regulations were changed.

With PETA’s activist stance, medical research facilities, the garment industry (which uses furs and leather), and many other consumer-product industries were effectively put on notice that their actions toward animals were being monitored and that abuse of animals would no longer be tolerated. Despite the existence of laws that provided protection for animals, many loopholes allowed companies to conduct research and otherwise use animals for their own purposes. Because of lax implementation of the laws, widespread abuses continued.

PETA took direct action against animal abusers, shed light on their activities, and forced them to change the way they conducted business. The organization accomplished this by going directly to the source of a problem and drawing media attention to it. This was a radical change from the traditional approach taken by such organizations as the Humane Society of the United States, which responded to allegations of animal abuse by gathering information and then filing legal charges. The traditional approach usually resulted in long legal procedures involving years of court battles, during which the people being prosecuted continued their harmful activities. By taking direct action, PETA achieved much faster results; offenders were forced to choose between changing their behavior and facing further embarrassment or the possibility of further action.

In many cases, members of PETA became directly involved first as undercover employees of the companies harming animals and then as witnesses, aiding authorities in getting search warrants and taking other legal action. For example, two PETA members approached a chinchilla farm (chinchillas are small rodents raised for their fur) and presented themselves as prospective farmers. They asked for and received permission to videotape the operation, which included the use of electrocution to kill the animals. On the basis of the taped evidence, the owners of the farm were later charged with cruelty to animals.

In other cases, representatives from PETA staged “occupations” of the grounds of offending companies or conducted other forms of disruption. One of the more visible examples of this kind of activity was the disruption of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, in 1992. As part of an ongoing campaign against General Motors, General Motors members of the organization twice interrupted the progress of GM’s parade float. General Motors, the largest corporation in the world, used pigs, ferrets, and other animals in its automobile crash testing; in the 1980’s, the testing resulted in the killing or maiming of an estimated twenty thousand animals. PETA’s campaign against GM, which lasted more than eighteen months, included demonstrations in which PETA members smashed GM cars outside auto shows; PETA members also spilled fake blood on animal skins outside GM’s 1992 annual meeting in Indiana. Finally, GM discontinued using animals in its crash testing. Although the company stated that the decision to stop using animals was made within the company, without outside influence, PETA members distributed flowers outside GM’s headquarters following the decision, to thank GM for ending the tests.

PETA’s activities had direct impacts on other industries as well. Employing models who posed in the nude carrying signs saying, “We’d rather go naked than wear fur,” PETA began a media campaign to stop the use of furs as a fashion statement. Film star Kim Basinger also posed nude for billboards; her photo appeared over the statement, “Beauty Is Not About Wearing Someone Else’s Coat.” Other PETA actions against the fur industry included occupying the offices of the Calvin Klein clothing company and spray painting the words “kills animals” beneath the Calvin Klein logo there. Following the occupation, designer Klein stated that he had decided to discontinue the use of furs. Designers such as Giorgio Armani, Christian Lacroix, Bill Blass, Carolina Herrera, and Norma Kamali also stopped using furs in their clothing lines as a result of pressure from PETA.

PETA also induced many cosmetics companies to stop using animals to test reactions to their products by publicizing the suffering of animals subjected to such testing. Within the first ten years of PETA activity, more than four hundred cosmetic companies stopped testing on animals. In another campaign, PETA targeted the retail giant Wal-Mart, putting pressure on the company to stop selling pets, because in too many cases the animals were bought impulsively as gifts and then were later neglected or abused. After hearing PETA’s arguments, Wal-Mart agreed to stop selling animals.

In addition to its other activities, PETA set out to educate people about the health benefits of reducing the amount of meat in their diets. The organization created a mascot named Crisp E. Carrot, a giant, friendly-looking carrot that would appear outside elementary schools carrying a simple message: “Eat your veggies, not your friends.” PETA’s efforts to educate were not always well received, however. When PETA began its vegetable campaign in the American Midwest, the heart of cattle country, school officials at first agreed to allow PETA representatives to visit, thinking the campaign involved encouraging children to eat vegetables. The officials changed their minds when they learned that the campaign told children that eating meat meant killing friendly animals; they pulled their approval, asserting that the message was too upsetting for small children to hear. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Animal-rights organizations[Animal rights organizations]

Further Reading

  • Best, Steven, and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. New York: Lantern Books, 2004. Collection of essays includes activist as well as academic perspectives on the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a radical animal-rights organization. Contributors include Ingrid Newkirk, Robin Webb, and Rod Coronado.
  • Newkirk, Ingrid. Save the Animals! 101 Easy Things You Can Do. New York: Warner Books, 1990. Practical guidebook by the cofounder of PETA is aimed at those interested in becoming involved in the animal liberation movement.
  • Newkirk, Ingrid, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Compassionate Cook: Or, “Please Don’t Eat the Animals!”—A Vegetarian Cookbook. New York: Warner Books, 1993. Presents a collection of vegetarian recipes from the members and staff of PETA.
  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. All Animals Are Equal: The PETA Guide to Animal Liberation. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2005. Discusses the guiding philosophy of the organization and traces the historical basis of the movement.
  • _______. Shopping Guide for Caring Consumers. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2005. Guide to cruelty-free products is updated yearly. Lists more than four hundred companies that do not test their products on animals.
  • Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. 1975. Reprint. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. The catalyst for Ingrid Newkirk’s involvement with animal rights. This volume became the cornerstone for the organization of PETA. Presents a compelling argument for the ethical treatment of animals.

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