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Why Does PETA Use Graphic Imagery?

Written by PETA | March 3, 2008

This is pretty rad. It’s a website that gives experts in various fields a forum to explain their point of view on a wide array of topics related to their specific area of knowledge. PETA President Ingrid Newkirk has a page of video responses to questions that run the gamut from what the biggest misconceptions are about the animal rights movement to where human rights and animal rights diverge. I’ve posted a video below on the topic of why PETA uses graphic imagery to get the message across, and you can see the rest of Ingrid’s video interviews (there are, like, 30 of them) here. Good stuff.


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  • Brandon Becker says:

    Images are one of the best tools we have in the animal rights struggle. We can make the philosophical argument and describe the reality of animal exploitation but sometimes it takes the power of picturesvideo to move someone to take action. Watching “Meet Your Meat” was the turning point in my decision to quit consuming animal flesh milk and eggs and become vegan. I encourage everyone who has not yet seen this powerful video to go to or and watch it.

  • lynda downie says:

    I appreciate the comments by Halv Jaclyn Susannah Derek and others who recognize that it takes all of us to fight for animals. Just like cognitive ethologists who reveal the real natures of animalsfor example PeTA reveals the real lives of animals in factory farms labs etc. PeTA’s use of graphic images of animal abuse is utterly indispensable in our fight for animal liberation. Thanks to Ingrid for recognizing the power of the image. What a lovely person she is.

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    Christopher As I mentioned in this instance I’m referring specifically to the meat industry. Their use of euphemisms and spin here is in fact entirely calculated as evidenced by the passage “Words like debeaking hanging and detoeing used in the poultry industry give extra fodder to groups that seek its destruction he Cummings said.”

  • Maya, CVT says:

    Chris I’m not too well informed about bald eagles but due to global warming we may see certain predators concentrated into specific areas which can decieve one into thinking there has been an increase in population. This will be due to their prey like salmon being forced into whacky migration patterns. It’s hard to qualify. ps I forgot to mention I love the name Oliver. What a great name for a dog

  • Christopher Cochran MD says:

    Mike The use of Latinate words in the sciences especially medicine is a common convention. We don’t even say nosebleed epistaxis and we use exsanguinate all the time for bleeding out. My all time favorite has to be “expire” like people are cartons of milk. If this form of doublespeak is a crime then we are all guilty. The binomial nature of meatonthehoof vs. meatonthetable has nothing to do with euphemisms rather the people who grew the meat spoke Germanic English and the people who ate the meat spoke Norman French thereby the convention evolved.

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    Christopher The meat industry is certainly not above the use of euphemisms though “Stop talking about debeaking a chicken. Instead lets call it beak conditioning. Thats a suggestion from Timothy Cummings a clinical professor and poultry veterinarian at Mississippi State University in Starkville Miss. who spoke to poultry producers here Friday. Words like debeaking hanging and detoeing used in the poultry industry gives extra fodder to groups that seek its destruction he said. Cummings offered other suggestions The backup killer in a poultry plant the worker who kills birds missed by the automatic killer should be called knife operator. Rather than saying a bird has been bled to death call it exsanguinated.

  • Christopher Cochran MD says:

    Jessie The reason we have different words in English for the animal and the meat goes back to the 11th century when the Normans French Speakers conquered the AngloSaxons who spoke a primarily Germanic form of Old English. The Normans became the landed gentry and did not deal with the livestock first hand by convention. The AngloSaxons continued to raise the animals and call them by their “English” names. Over time the convention evolved that the animal in the field was referred to with it’s English name and the meat on the Norman table by the French word. These words evolved over time to the words we know now. Examples SheepMutton DeerVenison CowBeef PigPork. This is a simplified explanation keep in mind. I agree with you that people are disconnected from their foods otherwise we wouldn’t eat all the processed glop with which we continue to ruin our health and environment. You should probably avoid food that a chemist helped develop. Like any category of foods though there are good and bad meats despite what you might read on this site. Maya I enjoy pleasant interchange with you that sound a little dirty sorry. The last time I went salmon fishing in BC I saw more bald eagles than salmon and I saw a lot of salmon! I agree the current administration is not top notch on conservation issues though. As hunters and fishers learn more our practices change in order to ensure a sustainable environment. This has always been in our best interest and we get better all the time.

  • Ana says:

    Hello Maya!!! You explained it well. Pain fear bleeding and loss of life is all the same for every being. I also have witnessed horrible deaths for cats and other species and it is all horrible especially when you see them fight for their lives. All beings want to live and feel the sun and raise their young. We as humans have no right to take that away from any creature. Humans have the power but that doesn’t make it moral or right. Peace!

  • Ana says:

    Sorry Derek I meant to address my comment to Kurk K. My fault for doing so many things at once. KurtK my comment is in response to yours to me.

  • Ana says:

    Derek Read what I wrote carefully. I did not compare the suffering of nonhuman animals with that of human animals. I stated that graphic photos are used to make a point. That point is make others sensitive to the suffering of others. In regards to the suffering of nonhuman animals being less important that is totally speciesm. To me all suffering is equally important irregardless of species. All beings bleed suffer feel pain and fear so we are all connected. Also nonhuman animals are being slaughtered by the billions in unspeakably brutal ways. That’s an indictment against the human animal.

  • Antigone1000 says:

    Kurt K Not to the animals……

  • Maya, C.V.T. says:

    Hi Kurt nice to speak to you outside of January! LoL sorry silly joke I have a real problem with the Holocaust comparison too only because it does not translate well. But you have to understand that those in the animal profession have seen horrors that would make the average person crumble. One time at the shelter where I worked the animal control officer brought in two giant cages packed with 21 cats. All had been seized from a hoarder’s home all were neutured but had been strays and all had Feline AIDS. The two cages were stacked one on top of the other and I placed them on a wheel cart like the one that delivers meals in a hospital and wheeled them down to the euthanasia room. This was just one delivery mind you. We often recieved 60 to 100 animals every day. Having all 21 cats crammed into nasty rusty steel cages their fur wet and covered in feces their huge terrified frozen eyes staring out in a hundred directions I swear my mind flashed to scenes of the Holocaust immediately. Without seeing it sure it seems absurd but please trust me when I say you would have understood more if you had seen those cages. Ana sorry I wasn’t trying to speak for you Peace!

  • Maya, C.V.T. says:

    Chris I always like to see people who are informed. I respect your view and I’m glad you eat your kill instead of tossing it aside or using it just as a trophy. A record number of species have been delisted under the Bush administration even if they are not out of danger. But I’m glad to hear that lead use may be declining.

  • Ronda says:

    Several years ago after watching a graphic clip on this site and balling my eyes out regarding pigs at a slaughter plant I decided that animals did not have to die for me…and although still working on going 100 veggie…I’m about 80 there I feel great about my choices even though some people look down upon me for it. The graphic images wound me so that I can’t look at them any more…but I wonder what kind of person CAN and not change their life? Who can view photos of such suffering and eat meat not thinking about the fact that it was once living? It kills me to see meat cases at the grocery store with reduced for quick sale stickers of rotting flesh…this animal was worth so much more! Don’t even get me going on meat RECALLS and all the animals wasted. What about all those graphic photos of products being tested on animals…who can buy a product tested on an animal when you can buy one that isn’t? These are the things that worry me…that family friends and coworkers whom we spend a great deal of time with CAN look at photos and be aware of suffering and NOT change. That worries me.

  • Jessie says:

    There are so many comments here I’m not even going to read them all. But I did happen to read Mike Q. saying “If we as a society approve taking a grade 3 class for a tour of a bookbinding plant why is it taboo to take the same class to a slaughterhouse?”. I totally agree with that. I think that people have become so detached to their food mostly meat. We don’t even call red meat “cow” or “pig” anymore. We’ve made up all this fancy “beef” and “pork” stuff. What is that? If you want to eat an animal okay. But you shouldn’t have someone else do it because you’re afraid to. I personally am not a vegetarian sorry everybody but I do make sure that none of my meat has been tortured. I think if you can eat an animal in a humane way and not eat meat ten times a day then it’s okay to be an omnivore. But that’s just my opinion. I think PETA is a little too extreme like that. I mean don’t get me wrong here I admire them a lot and I know they have really changed the world but they don’t have one bit of positive information about meat anywhere on their site. I think they should be a little more balanced. It is really cool though how people can just get together and express their opinions.

  • Diana says:

    I think there should be a bold clear warning for graphic videos. I wasnt expecting so much blood in these movies. Personally I can watch it and only cry but when I showed the Chew on this movie to my sister with definitely not nearly as much blood as the others she completely flipped out. This of course was my fault because I should have known she would be scared but then I started thinking “she isnt the only person who would be extremely sad and upset about this if they were to see this” even though it is showing the truth about how animals are treated I think it would scaring a lot of sensitive people into joining and I dont think that is a good way to get supporters. Im not asking to get rid of the graphic videos but to warn people of how graphic they can be.

  • Derek says:

    We all have our own dogmatic ideologies one person’s dressing is another person’s slaughter. Sugarcoated synonyms provide no better frame of reference than an undercover investigative video…both are a form of propeganda.

  • Kurt K says:

    Ana Don’t you think the Holocaust was just a little bit more serious than the abuse of animals? By a little I mean you can’t even begin to compare the two!

  • Christopher Cochran MD says:

    Maya I would never claim anything I did was saintly but I do believe that hunters and fishers in general do more good for the environment than harm. Not necessarily by the acts of hunting or fishing however though I believe these can improve the environment as well. I will address some of your points. Duck hunters are not allowed to use lead shot when pursuing waterfowl due to the danger of lead poisoning of said waterfowl. Fewer and fewer fishing lures contain lead though twenty dead loons over fifteen years wouldn’t justify any such change in policy. The lead poisoning up the food chain comes from hunters who do not dispose of their carcasses properly the inedible portion. Most hunters wouldn’t poison a scavengerraptor on purpose so as understanding changes this too is changing as well. As far as hunters who shoot prairie dogs for target practice well I don’t agree with this and I believe it should be curtailed. At the very least the shooter not hunter should be required to detoxify the environment by disposing of the carcases. Bald Eagles are off the endangered or threatened species list in part due to moneys spent on state and federal wildlife commissions. I expect also that many waterfowl and other animals are damaged or killed by common litter as well. I do not allow my fishing line to stay in the environment and most fishers I know actively campaign for proper line disposal. Those tons of moneys that are spent that you mention by in large come from hunters and fishers. I know more than one example of how the natural environment declines when hunting is outlawed as the land is channeled into agriculture or livestock. Hunters actively buy land and restore it to native habitat often in an effort to resist urban sprawl. Of course you will find bad examples of outdoor enthusiasts but by in large most of us are strong advocates for the environment. The deer issue gets brought up a bunch here. Mostly by hunters who claim that we control the populations. Well the fact is we probably do kill more deer than were ever killed by other predators but the overpopulation problem has many factors one of which is environmental change. For example deer thrive in the suburbs but wolves or deer hunters do not. The decline in hunting probably has something to do with it as well. People would rather play PlayStation and sit on their ass rather than get outside and do anything not just hunting so I believe we are not controlling the population as hunters partially due to lack of numbers. My family killed about twenty deer this year but I can tell you we didn’t make a dent. In our area the environment change has been a shift to cool season fescue grass pasture that do not support much wildlife save for deer. My aim has always been compromise. Most peta members are very dogmatic in their condemnation of hunting or meat eating in general. I have always tried to present better information for them so that they wouldn’t have to be dogmatic but as you imagine I have met with great resistance. I have learned a lot from reading the articles here and I have changed some of my practices as a result but I will not become the soybean eating zealot that seems to be the accepted norm. All the best. Mike In general I agree with your statement which is why my children both girls have actively participated in dressing game including deer and fowl. If they grow up and become vegetarians which would be fine with me they will have a much better frame of reference than a Peta propaganda video. I would gladly advocate for a field trip to an abbatoir.

  • Pamela L. says:

    I feel very strongly that graphic videosand photos of animal abuse are not only highly effective but essential in bringing about humane change. They are not forced upon the viewer but when watched as an important tool to understand the horrors the animals face it’s fair to say that most people’s reactions would be “Oh my God this abuse is horrendous How can this possibly be happening and what can I do to help put a stop to it!” Videos are essential and a huge wakeup call for everyone. I don’t watch all of them but I never let myselp become complacent either. I am a big Ingrid fan also. I have no respect for Aretha does any one know if she has watched the antifur video. I would never comment on her weight as I have struggled with mine I wish their was a forum through wich we could have a chance to here her thoughtsand ask her why she has chosen to glorify the complete nightmare and pain involved in the fur industry. How can her fans RESPECT her!

  • Maya, CVT says:

    I think graphic images should be shown as long as they are labelled as such. In college I got an envelope that just said “open this”. It was from an environmental group and it was a photo of an elephant with its whole face chopped off. I was livid first of all they tricked me into opening it. No one likes being tricked. Second I was insulted that they assumed I wouldn’t care enough to look at the images. I was already donating to an org that protected elephants so I told all my college friends not to donate to them. Any group that shoves things in your face does not have the maturity to run a group like that. Also children have easy access to some sites and there should be a warning for that reason too.

  • Thomas says:

    If images force people to look away then who is to say nonimagery as argument would hold their attention? We are a society who prefer the horrors of living be left to minimal wage labors so we can go on living a life of ignorance and a well fed gut. If graphic pictures turn someone away I do not believe they were chased away their own selfish conscience took recess to preserve their tastes or fashion preferences for animals.

  • Ana says:

    Jewish groups have museums book films and school textbooks from high school to postgraduate schools with photos depicting how the Jews were treated during WWII. Do you turn away from these photos too??? Black groups also present photos films and books about slavery in the South. Do you also refrain from seeing any graphic photos that are disturbing? These are just two groups who use graphic imagery to present their position so why is it an issue when PETA does the same for the other animals??? The story of the other animals’ oppression deserves the same airtime as do the other groups to tell the story of the continuous cruelty these creatures endure.

  • Jaclyn says:

    Very well said Halv.

  • Mike Quinoa says:

    There’s no point in sugarcoating reality. If you wouldn’t be able to slaughter an animal yourself then you shouldn’t be eating meat. Pretending the neatly wrapped packages just magically appear at the grocery store is our favourite form of societal mass selfdelusion and desensitization. If we as a society approve taking a grade 3 class for a tour of a bookbinding plant why is it taboo to take the same class to a slaughterhouse?

  • Derek says:

    From my understanding on the subject the “no meat eater can be an environmentalist” refers to the waste and other pollution generated by the meat industry. I am too busy to cite specific research studies or write a longwinded prose on the topic but I agree with Ms. Newkirk’s statement. Sometimes drastic action or images is needed to influence change mere words and money rarely suffice. I have long known about the health benefits of a balanced vegetarian diet and for too long ignored the deplorable conditions of the meat industry yet I was positively influenced by many eyeopening images videos and personal accounts before becoming a vegetarian. Although the lines sometmies blur there is a difference between propeganda and harshreality truth.

  • Maya, CVT says:

    Chris hey there I completely agree about the offensive and insulting campaigns. It’s sad really. Her statement in the video it was called “What role does environmentalism play in the animal rights movement” was very strong yes and I guess what irks me a bit is that the responses from her are often a bit canned always pointing back to the narrow focus rather than branching out say for example she could have mentioned a more interdiciplinary idea rather than repeat for the millionth time about eating meat. However you and I are scienceytypes let’s settle this debate with evidence and studies not sweeping generalizations. Okay? Forget PETA ask any environmental group that you respect what factory farming and methane contribute to global warming. Ask any environmental group that you respect what it is doing to our water supply. And let’s not pretend that hunting and fishing are such saintly activities either. The reason deer are overpopulated in the first place is because all the wolves were hunted to the point of extripation in their areas. Now hunters are ironically claiming to solve the problem by hunting deer. Human hunting does not adjust for natural selection and can actually cause the overpopulation problem to get worse not better. The University of Minnesota reported the findings of several studies about the environmental effects of ammo and sinkers in wildlife. The results were not pretty. A 15 year study analyzed over 200 dead loons in 18 states and found that 10 percent died of lead poisoning and of those 50 percent actually had the lead sinkers in their stomachs. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported that in loon breeding areas poisoning from sinkers or “jigs” I’m not sure what jigs are cause up to 50 percent of the dead loons sent to them. I also read two studies from the Journal of Ecotoxicology and the Journal of Wildlife Pathology. On top of that I saw it with my own two eyes at the bird rehab center and it wasn’t limited to loons. Dozens of waterfowl would show up every month with fishing line hanging out of their mouths wrapped around their intestines and we could see the hook on radiographs. Most did not survive. The Raptor Center in Minnesota also reported that 25 percent of the bald eagles have lead poisoning in their blood samples during hunting season. Scavenging of ground squirrels and large game is beleived to be the cause. Studies also found that the endangered California condor often dies of lead poisoning from eating deer and elk contaminated with shrapnel. I’d say if you have relenquished eating factory farmed animals you use nonlead products and you eat every animal you kill that it is the best that you can do as a hunter. But often that is not the case so I don’t buy this thing of praising hunters and fishers in general. I also think spending tons of money on saving the ecosystem while setting it back by hunting and fishing is kind of counterproductive. However I’m postitive that you Chris are a very intelligent man who obviously cares about these issues or else you wouldn’t constantly put yourself in the line of fire on the PETA website. My question is is it possible to find a compromise here?

  • Susannah S says:

    Kristina B The graphic images of animals ARE the reason many people end up going vegetarian or vegan. I know that’s what made me go vegan. When you can’t stand to look at the truth of how “food” animals are treated you give assent to the cruel practices that typify life on a factory farm and death at the huge modern slaughterhouses. I believe that eventually people will be forced to go vegetarian simply because meat is becoming so contaminated and dangerous to health but I would like to think that people will also be moved to mercy by the graphic images that show exactly how today’s farmed animals are treated. So I say the more exposure the better and I’m thrilled that HallmarkWestland for example was run out of business by the recent expose of their slaughterhouse practices.

  • Halv says:

    Jaclyn…I completely understand where you are coming from however it was the graphic images that did it for me. Seeing animals suffer horrible abuse in those photos is what put me on the path to being vegan. I think the point here is that there needs to be all different types of campaigns because different people respond in different ways. We need books like Skinny Bitch we need philosophers like Peter Singer we need groups like HSUS and PETA and we need direct action like ALF and SHAC. Actually…it’s the animals that need all of these different groups.

  • Halv says:

    Jaclyn…I completely understand where you are coming from however it was the graphic images that did it for me. Seeing animals suffer horrible abuse in those photos is what put me on the path to being vegan. I think the point here is that there needs to be all different types of campaigns because different people respond in different ways. We need books like Skinny Bitch we need philosophers like Peter Singer we need groups like HSUS and PETA and we need direct action like ALF and SHAC.

  • Jason Levy says:

    Great post Jack and great job Ingrid!

  • Jaclyn says:

    Christopher you’re back!

  • Hitchjr says:

    I do agree with those who have said the sexualized ads and over use of celebrities and personal slurs are really unnecessary. I do however agree with Ingrid on the environmentalist issue… If you eat meat you are not a true environmentalist I don’t care how much money you donate to environmental organizations… Sorry but eating animals when it is COMPLETELY unnecessary and supporting a ridiculously deadly to the environment industry completely defeats any good you may do in other aspects of the environment. Peace Hitchjr.

  • John Carmody says:

    I love Ingrid Newkirk and i LOVE how she runs PETA! Well done Ingrid keep at it!

  • Kristina B says:

    i went vegan two months ago not because of graphic images of animals being hurt or pictures of halfnaked celebs that objectified women in the name of animals but because of a funny well written book that made me realize that veganism is totally manageable and not just something that northern california hippie types do. PETA’s another animal rights organizations’ use of graphic images has always turned me off. i went to goveg and clicked on a cute picture of a pig and was traumatized by the horrific image that popped up. stuff like this drove me away from considering veganism for yearsthe images were so horrible i would turn away because it was too hard to deal with those sad pictures. i think others feel that way. pictures of animals crowded into cages or feedlots are shocking and sad in and of themselves. snuff films of animals being tortured just make people think that vegans are the Other and make them want to turn their heads away to protect themselves from the images.

  • Jaclyn says:

    I think that different approaches work on different people. When dealing with animal rights we’re dealing with a subject that most people are very defensive and offensive about. If it was only as simple as providing mild documentaries on animal rights and having everyone understand. If it was only as simple as approaching people and speaking from your heart to change their ways… Being nice with people drives them away from this subject. And if that’s the case I’m sure labeling Aretha Franklin drives others away as well. This is a little off the subject but it still shows a point. When I was in high school I walked into my sexed class one day to find full color poster sized images of STDS posted all over the walls to make me understand about the importance of safe sex and abstinence. Even if I wanted to I can’t explain how graphic those images were but they proved their point. Graphic images work on hardheaded people like me. Creative and crazy advertising works on people like me. And I’d like to think that I’m not the only hardheaded set in my ways person on this planet.

  • Christopher Cochran MD says:

    Maya If I can’t be an environmentalist I guess I will have to stop spending tens of thousands of dollars of my own money restoring all this habitat. Most environmentally conscious people do not walk around naked in a public place with a ridiculous sign they do much much more. Most of those people are omnivores. Many of them are even hunters or fishers. When Ingrid makes statements like that she continues to marginalize her organization to the extreme and insignificant. Does she get attention? Sure but so does AlQaieda sp. Peta is forcing some people and companies to change for the better no doubt but I can’t for the life of me figure out why she would want to insult MOST environmentalists. Anyway where did she say that? Not in the video that I saw.

  • Jaclyn says:

    I’ve always been hardheaded. Stubborn many many many have said. It took full graphic images to get me to understand. Not just that it took a headline on that mentioned Pamela Anderson to get me to click on it. You may be surprised how calling Aretha Franklin fat may actually cause someone to click on the headline which will cause them to look at a graphic video which will cause them to reconsider fur. I’m a sucker for advertisements. Maybe others are too…

  • Maya, CVT says:

    Ashes I agree with so much of what you said. I have been the subject of much vitrol when I criticize PETA but I think opposing views should be welcomed here. Some of the best leaders and scientists and history insist on surrounding themselves with people who have opposing views. I think the celeb tormenting amuses people while distracting from the cause. Celebrity endorsements instead are cool and that’s how I personally became a vegetarian when I was a teen one of my favorite pop stars spoke about vegetariansim and I listened! I think it’s important to realize that the animals have nothing to do with any organization and they only wish to be treated with respect. So please don’t let any objection you have to PETA discourage you from thinking about how you have your own power and you can make informed choices despite how you feel about any organization.

  • Ashes says:

    I don’t have a problem with graphic pictures in the right context. In some contexts they are going to do more harm to the message than good as they will turn people off. For example in a forum where kids are likely to see an image using a graphic image isn’t going to get an open discussion going it’s just going to get parents’ ire up. I don’t know that PETA has ever done such a thing I’m just speaking about in general. My biggest problem with some of PETA’s methods are not the graphic images but the showboating stunts aimed at celebrities. Is it really helping anyone of any species to send Britney’s parents a public letter discussing how their daughter reportedly ate ice cream while in treatment and claiming that her problems would be solved if she didn’t? Does it actually get anyone to stop wearing fur when you publicly call Aretha Franklin fat? Those sorts of stunts only impress and impact those who already agree and shut down hopes of open communication with those who don’t.

  • Maya, CVT says:

    I have great admiration for Newkirk. She obviously broke through some very destructive assumptions in our society and made people question the assumption that animals deserve less fair treatment than humans. For that she will go down in history as a hero. As in any good forum the answers she gave brought up new questions in my mind. 1. I agree that breaking the law may be necessary. Of course any one of us should be willing to break a car window or break down a door to save an animal. But does throwing a pie in someone’s face or calling someone fat or insulting people in any way qualify as directly saving an animal? How can we possibly know for sure that it doesn’t actually drive people away instead of attracting them? 2. She said you can’t be a meat eating environmentalist. But can you be an animal rights activist if you drive a car? Can you be an animal rights activist if you shop at a store that has cut down a forest?

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