It's not often that you find People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) praising McDonald's. Yet that's what has happened as the nation's top burger peddler has begun to show a more animal-friendly face. The company has begun funding animal welfare research, and in June announced that it will require its beef suppliers to phase out the use of certain growth-promoting antibiotics.
Groups such as the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have long worried that the use of human antibiotics to promote growth in livestock could turn cattle yards into breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria. But PETA spokesperson Bruce Friedrich applauds the McDonald's decision as a "very good thing" for a different reason: If ranchers reduce their reliance on drugs, they may have to compensate by improving conditions for their livestock
Don't think that PETA and the fast food industry are on cozy terms. In July, the group filed suit against KFC, alleging that the chicken chain had made fraudulent claims on its Web site concerning its animal welfare policies.
Still, even occasional praise of fast food companies doesn't sit well with some of PETA's allies, who seem to regard animal rights as a wholly owned subsidiary of the broader anticapitalist movement. When PETA produced a video last year encouraging supporters to patronize Burger King and purchase the vegetarian BK Veggie, the glossy anticonsumerist magazine Adbusters sniffed that it left "the after-taste of a bad infomercial" and wondered whether PETA had "gone too far."
PETA's Friedrich has little patience for such criticisms. "If you're not going to say nice things about them no matter what," he says, "corporations have no reason to ever change their practices."
The harshest response to the McDonald's decision came from the Coalition for Animal Health, whose members include the major livestock trade organizations. In a press release issued shortly after the McDonald's announcement, the group attacked the move as "market-based, rather than science-based policy." The drugs in question were government approved, the coalition noted. Wasn't that more important than mere consumer preferences?