PETA Anti-Milk Campaign Has Little Impact on Milk Consumption

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - A campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to discourage Americans from drinking milk because it comes from cows may be getting publicity for the group, but it's not having the desired negative effect on the consumption of milk.

"Probably the main reason PETA has done campaigns against milk is because we have the most high-profile campaign in the country right now and they're looking for media attention," said Susan Ruland, a spokeswoman for the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board.

"If you look at what the animal rights groups are trying to achieve, milk is nowhere in the picture," she said.

A 30-year decline in the consumption of milk leveled off in recent years, largely due to the "Got Milk? - Milk Mustache" campaign, a catchy ad program launched by the milk industry.

Partly by piggybacking on the "Got Milk?" ads, PETA has gone from relative media obscurity as an animal rights group to a group with wide-scale recognition for its agenda in recent years, media analysts said.

Just before spring break last year, PETA blanketed college campuses with "Got Beer?" ads, which said that students would be better off drinking beer than milk.

Soon after New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced he had prostate cancer and ended his campaign for the U.S. Senate, PETA put up billboards depicting the mayor with a milk mustache and the caption, "Got prostate cancer?"

The message was based on research suggesting that dairy products may be linked to prostate cancer. Many people protested the ad, which they considered tasteless. Guiliani protested by drinking a glass of milk at a press conference.

"PETA's agenda is based on animal rights and not on nutrition, and it's probably not wise for consumers to take any nutrition or food safety information from animal rights activists. It's more reliable to go to established credible nutrition and science organizations," Ruland said.

With nine essential nutrients and the most significant natural source of calcium available to people, milk is an important part of a diet, nutritionists agreed. "It doesn't mean it has to be part of a diet, but it certainly can play a very strong role, and science and health organizations are finding more and more reasons why it is good," one nutritionist reported.

Milk sales in the United States reach $18 billion a year, according to industry figures. The milk industry has reported success in recent years in changing attitudes about milk. The ad campaign aims to reposition milk as a cool, contemporary beverage and it has been applauded by nutrition groups for providing good information on milk as a source of calcium.

The milk industry has not noticed any impact on its business since PETA's campaign. "PETA gets a lot of attention when they do something outrageous, but we're not seeing that translating into sales decreases. People know that milk is good for you," Ruland said.

PETA has grown in recent years from a small band of highly-motivated volunteers into a $17 million-a-year organization with branch offices in England, Italy, Germany and India.

The animal rights advocacy group has enlisted the support of Hollywood celebrities sympathetic to animal rights to publicize its agenda. Last year, actor James Cromwell - widely-known for his portrayal of the sympathetic farmer in the movie "Babe" - narrated an undercover PETA video that showed farmhands bludgeoning sows at a hog farm in Camden County, N.C. The investigation resulted in the first-ever felony indictments against factory farm workers.

PETA launched a web site in an effort to get Seattle's Green Bay Packers NFL team to change its nickname from Packers - as in meat packers - to Six-Packers. Hardly surprisingly, the football team has refused to comply.

While PETA activists have officially renounced violence, they do not discourage their followers from engaging in violence. Many have records of arrests for offenses such as obstruction, civil disobedience and disorderly conduct.

Despite its advocacy for animal rights, animal lovers were surprised last summer when it was learned that PETA was among the foremost advocates of euthanizing animals. According to statistics kept by Virginia state regulators, PETA euthanized 1,300 of 2,000 animals it took in during 1999. PETA argued that putting cats to sleep is kinder than leaving them on the street, where they are subject to injury, disease and the elements.