PETA Postmortem: Autism/Milk Debacle Erases Any Credibility the Organization Had

PETA ruffled feathers last month with a misleading ad campaign that suggested consumption of dairy products led to autism. The organization, already widely derided for its sensationalism, has an uphill road to climb if it ever wants to be taken seriously again.

What's the Latest?

This one's about a month old but the fallout is still fresh enough for a postmortem.

In a campaign that reeked of the ignorance permeating the devastating anti-vaccination movement, PETA last month released ads linking consumption of dairy products to autism. The "Got Autism?" campaign cited a 2002 study by Norwegian scientists who found that autistic children put on a strict anti-dairy diet exhibited fewer traits of the disorder. Even though the PETA release admitted that more research would be necessary to determine if a true link exists, that didn't stop the organization from launching what is essentially a farcically hyperbolic campaign dependent more on scare tactics than science.

The anti-PETA response was deafening. Publications and outlets that attacked the campaign included: Time, Forbes, i09, The Telegraph, The Wire, The Sydney Morning Herald, and so, so many others.

What's the Big Idea?

Kent Sepkowitz of the Daily Beast offered one of the more measured, thoughtful responses:

The drive to find the cause and cure of autism rivals the urgency and poignancy to find the cause and cure of cancer. And so, as with cancer, anything with a hint of possible truth is grabbed and trumpeted as the next big thing...

Not only are they putting early maybe-science out there as fact and giving unwarranted hope to countless parents, but they are interfering with the way science happens. 

While PETA's tactics are often called out for being over-the-top, Sepkowitz focuses much of his ire on the organization's goals for the campaign. PETA ran "Got Autism?" not to assist in the fight against the disorder but rather to further their own agenda. That they tapped into the fear culture surrounding autism to do so was both irresponsible and reprehensible. The campaign was fear-mongering, not activism.

What's somewhat disappointing is that PETA's brand is strong enough that the organization could, with a better approach and vision, bring about positive change. They've shown results in the past; their work helped curb the fur market in the late 80s (and one can argue their current anti-fur campaigns are still effective). But PETA's reliance on shock tactics and sensationalism has caused such a hearty backlash that any good they could potentially do will always be shrouded in a cloud of distrust.

Read on at The Daily Beast

Photo credit: Sea Wave / Shutterstock

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