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Why PETA is Problematic: The UMass Protests Explained

If you’ve been on the UMass Amherst campus this fall, chances are that you have either seen or heard about the animal rights protests earlier this semester. Led by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), the protests garnered media attention and left many people divided. Although protesting for animal rights seems like a positive thing, PETA’s approach and track record of not always protecting animals put a negative spin on their activism.

Tensions between UMass and PETA started as early as last spring when the organization called on UMass to modernize and cease experimentation on monkeys. Their biggest issue was with the university’s marmoset tests, where researcher Agnès Lacreuse and her team were studying the effects of aging and menopause on marmosets. PETA’s grievances began when UMass refused to share videos of the marmosets, leading to a legal battle that ended this summer.

Lacreuse and her team argue that the marmosets are treated humanely and that non-human animal research is essential for scientific breakthroughs and provides pivotal medical advice. However, with claims including zip-tied marmosets, electrodes, and simulated hot flashes, it can be easy to see why so many people oppose animal testing.

Despite your own opinion on whether scientific tests on animals are justified, it’s also important to look at PETA’s track record of inflammatory and often harmful protests. Known for their use of shock value, PETA has gone after almost everyone and everything, including Animal Crossing, meat-eaters, cosmetics companies, and farmers, often through the use of disturbing images and headlines. 

PETA has also consistently come under fire for their high kill rate of animals in shelters, with about 2,000 dogs and cats euthanized every year. PETA claims their high kill rate and the low adoption rate is because they don’t turn away any animals like “no-kill” shelters do, meaning that they receive a higher proportion of sicker animals than other shelters. However, many people are unconvinced and find PETA hypocritical for so strongly attacking those who harm animals when they themselves already euthanize a large population of animals.

So, what does this mean for UMass? With people like Casey Affleck coming to campus this fall to protest and smaller-scale protests persisting throughout the fall, this likely isn’t the last we’re going to hear of this debate. If you’ve walked by the Morrill Science Center on campus, you might have seen the large banners announcing that UMass students are able to return to campus because of the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine due to animal testing. UMass Research Administration and Compliance explain that animal testing is necessary for medical breakthroughs when no alternative options exist and that animal tests are held to rigorous ethical standards. Animal research has helped improve everything from cancer treatments and organ transplants to vaccines and antibiotics.

It can be difficult to be an animal lover while knowing that many animals are harmed and die due to scientific research. However, the issue is not as black and white as PETA makes it out to be, as animal testing has saved so many human lives. PETA and many animal rights groups claim that this is “speciesism,” which is the belief that one species is superior to another. No matter where you stand on the issue, there is value in acknowledging and understanding what animals go through in the name of scientific research and advancement.

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Katherine Dickey

U Mass Amherst '24

Katherine Dickey is currently an environmental conservation major at UMass and is interested in education, film, and sustainability. Outside of school, Katherine loves playing piano, making vegetarian food, and spending time outside at the beach. She is super excited to be a member of CHAARG, PITCH, and Her Campus at UMass!
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