PETA are a bunch of prurient woman-hating jackasses who care far more about grabbing headlines than they do about animal welfare. That much has been beyond doubt for some time. Their latest foray into public life, however, is in some ways a new low even for them.
In response to concerns raised by six animal welfare groups, Boyle has sent a letter to Peta’s founder Ingrid Newkirk to offer a range of assurances over plans to use live animals in his Isles of Wonder-themed opening ceremony.
Boyle said that “genuine care will be taken of the animals” who “will feature only in the very beginning of the show during daylight hours and will leave the stadium shortly after the 9pm start and before any large effects or noisy sequences take place”.
The Slumdog Millionaire director also promised that he would “follow up vigorously” concerns about the fate of the animals after the show, to ensure they were safely retired to animal sanctuaries.
Concern for the way the animals are treated during the Olympic opening ceremony is all well and good. It’s hard to see how simply appearing in some vague pastiche of the British countryside is going to be all that distressing compared to all the myriad other ways we inflict suffering on animals for our own edification, but no matter: if whataboutery is an illegitimate debating tactic in other political arguments, it’s equally inadmissible here. PETA and other groups are concerned animals might be harmed, so they’re trying to make sure that won’t happen, fine. It wouldn’t be top of my list of wrongs in need of righting, but whatever.
Why on earth, though, should it be remotely morally relevant whether or not the animals are killed for food afterwards? This is not, I should emphasise, to make any claim about the morality of eating animals per se. If you agree with the likes of Morrissey and Peter Singer that doing so is wrong, then it presumably follows that you want to reduce (preferably to zero, but at least as far as possible) the numbers of animals sent to the abattoir. All well and good. But how does pleading for clemency for the particular animals being used at the Olympics further this aim. The quantity of meat demanded by carnivorous consumers (and the retailers which sell it to them) will be completely unaffected by this, so all that will come of sending these particular animals to sanctuaries to die of old age is that other animals will be killed in their place to help meet this demand; the overall number of animals slaughtered seems unlikely to change.
For all their faults, with most previous PETA campaigns you could at least see how they were intended to advance the cause of animal welfare, however misguided they were: the ‘sea kittens’ farrago aimed to make people reflect on the inconsistency of caring about the welfare of small furry organisms and not small scaly aquatic ones; the ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ campaign was meant to be eye-catching and associate anti-fur sentiments with glamorous naked busty models, and so on. But it’s hard to see how asking for one particular group of animals not to be slaughtered, as in this case, is going to have any effect. It looks a lot more like attention-seeking than a serious attempt at raising awareness; it’s not like animals being killed for our dinner tables was some little-known outrage for which consciousness-raising was required. And that, of course, wouldn’t really out of character for PETA.