Monday, July 26, 2004

Rights and Reason: KFC vs. PETA

Chicken is a food staple; according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2000 Americans consumed 25,132 million pounds of chicken, or 91 pounds for every man, woman and child. Chicken is also a persistent target of the animal rights activists who seek to outlaw meat consumption and force vegetarianism. The notorious animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as part of a longstanding campaign against Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), has released a video alleging one of KFC's suppliers maliciously tortured the chickens it raises. The video itself is standard animal "rights" fare, focusing on breeding and slaughterhouse methods, complete with a fuming narrative by former "Golden Girl" and curmudgeon Bea Arther.  

KFC has responded by dropping its supplier until it can confirm that the supplier will follow its own published standards. Yet rather than remain silent or appease PETA's ultimate demands, KFC is doing something practically unheard of in the business community: it is defending itself. Consider this statement from KFC President Gregg Dedrick's at a press conference last week answering PETA's charges: 

We ask you today to stop being a pawn used by PETA. For example, some of the TV press coverage today said this is a "KFC videotape investigation." The Courier-Journal today failed to mention that we're just one of the many fast food customers of this facility - the entire article made it look like it was a KFC facility. In fact, almost all the press coverage made it look that way. And the media is not publishing all the facts. This ongoing PETA campaign of distortion, deceit and duplicity is outrageous. Their publicity ploys, like today's call for our CEO to step down, are ludicrous.  PETA has distorted the truth time and time again. Here are just a few examples of mistruths:  

-a fabricated letter by the Dalai Lama;
-claiming Jason Alexander is anti-KFC; 
- claiming a former president of KFC was forced out of the company for meeting with PETA; and most importantly, 
-saying we don't enforce animal welfare standards with our suppliers. In fact, our animal welfare advisory council, made up of some of the world's most-renowned experts in this area like Dr. Temple Grandin, have endorsed our actions as recently as this morning.  

What's more, PETA not only distorts the truth, they have harassed our executives and engaged in a campaign of harassment, invasion of privacy and what I'd call "corporate terrorism."  

Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vegan campaign director, publicly said "all fast food establishments should be bombed, and he would say 'Hallelujah' to anyone who did this.  

That same person was arrested and convicted for criminal trespass at the home of a Senior Executive at Yum! Brands on Christmas Eve, and that's not the first time PETA has invaded our privacy at our homes, church, at work, and with our families, our neighbors and their children.  

According to the FBI, PETA funded the legal defense of an animal liberation front arsonist who was convicted of torching a Michigan State research lab.  

This is not your warm and fuzzy animal rights group. This pressure through intimidation, harassment and invasion of privacy should not be tolerated. It is nothing short of "corporate terrorism."  

We call on the news media and all Louisvillians to tell PETA enough is enough. Tell them their tactics are not welcome in our community. And join us by calling on Congress to strip PETA of their not-for-profit tax-free status. We hope you are equally outraged that taxpayer dollars are being used to fund this campaign of deceit, duplicity and terrorism.

If you think that Dedrick's terrorism charge is too incendiary, you should check your premise. Just last week, wildlife agency officials in Florida were advised to avoid wearing their uniforms after a series of death threats over the defensive shooting of a tiger by one of their agents. In Britain, a top adviser to two powerful animal rights protest groups called for the assassination of scientists working in biomedical research becuse it would save animals' lives. Time and time again, the animal "rights" movement has crossed civilized boundaries in their quest to bring rights to the denizens of the jungle.  They call the meat industry "inhumane," yet its their own conduct that is an a affront.

The only thing missing from Dedrick's statement in defense of KFC is a philosophic assessment of the reasoning behind PETA's campaign. PETA's supporters are not mere vegetarians, but crusaders for an irrational cause. Ed Locke explains their reasoning: 

As someone who has debated them for years on college campuses and in the media, I know firsthand that the whole movement is based on a single—invalid—syllogism, namely: men feel pain and have rights; animals feel pain; therefore, animals have rights. This argument is entirely specious, because man's rights do not depend on his ability to feel pain; they depend on his ability to think. 

Rights are ethical principles applicable only to beings capable of reason and choice. There is only one fundamental right: a man's right to his own life. To live successfully, man must use his rational faculty—which is exercised by choice. The choice to think can be negated only by the use of physical force. To survive and prosper, men must be free from the initiation of force by other men—free to use their own minds to guide their choices and actions. Rights protect men against the use of force by other men. 

None of this is relevant to animals. Animals do not survive by rational thought (nor by sign languages allegedly taught to them by psychologists). They survive through inborn reflexes and sensory-perceptual association. They cannot reason. They cannot learn a code of ethics. A lion is not immoral for eating a zebra (or even for attacking a man). Predation is their natural and only means of survival; they do not have the capacity to learn any other. 

Only man has the power to deal with other members of his own species by voluntary means: rational persuasion and a code of morality rather than physical force. To claim that man's use of animals is immoral is to claim that we have no right to our own lives and that we must sacrifice our welfare for the sake of creatures who cannot think or grasp the concept of morality. It is to elevate amoral animals to a moral level higher than ourselves—a flagrant contradiction. Of course, it is proper not to cause animals gratuitous suffering. But this is not the same as inventing a bill of rights for them—at our expense.

If KFC is to defend its business and ultimately prevail against its critics, it can not merely rely on the court of public opinion, which currently runs against the animal rights activists but can easily change, or point to the more outrageous actions of the animal rights movement, treating the wickedness of these actions as self-evident. KFC's executives and employees are under moral attack and they must defend themselves as a matter of principle. They should explicitly spell out why both the tactics and the larger principles of the animal rights activists are both vicious and wrong.

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