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PETA Forum Puts Focus on Animal Rights

Conference at Venice High aims to increase public awareness of inhumane treatment and advocates a 'cruelty-free' lifestyle.

June 27, 2004|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger buckled to public outrage Friday by deciding to abandon a plan to kill animals in shelters more quickly to save money, it was another sign that animal lovers were a force to be reckoned with, according to Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"I think the animal protection movement is a sleeping giant," Newkirk said, as PETA opened a two-day conference at Venice High School on Saturday titled "Helping Animals 101."

Public awareness of animal cruelty has increased dramatically in the last decade and some fast-food chains and supermarkets now refuse to buy from farms known to have mistreated their livestock, PETA officials said.

Concern for animals is growing exponentially, especially among the youth, Newkirk said. "The same way young people brought their parents along to environmentalism, they'll bring their parents along with animal rights."

The occasional nude protests against leather aside, PETA has focused mainly on outreach and education to get its message across. Members advocate a lifestyle in which consumers' everyday choices, from shampoo to food, are based on a "cruelty-free" effect on animals.

A sign of how diverse the animal rights community has become is the emergence of more militant groups that have vandalized homes and sabotaged labs that use animals for scientific tests deemed cruel.

"It's like any social justice movement," Newkirk said. "It was true with the suffragettes. You have people who write letters and teach the public and you have people who are more militant and don't have the patience to wait 10 or 20 years for change."

PETA "can't provide support for illegal acts," she added. "No matter what anyone else is doing, there are 101 perfectly legal things people can do to bring about a better life for animals."

The dozens of attendees watched a short film that gruesomely detailed methods used to slaughter chickens, turkeys, cows and pigs.

Some animals were scalded alive in vats of boiling water to remove feathers and hair. Lame pigs were picked up by their hind legs and slammed onto a concrete floor. A squealing piglet was castrated and had his tail cut off without painkiller.

"They live in constant misery and constant suffering from the moment they're born to the moment they die," said Dan Shannon, PETA's senior campaign coordinator.

There was also a talk called "Veganism in a Nutshell" and discussion on vegan recipes, which avoid the use of animal products.

The conference is one of a several the Norfolk, Va.,-based organization is conducting across the country. Other sites included Las Vegas, Oklahoma City and Detroit.

The meeting continues today at 9 a.m.

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