A PETA campaign blames meat-eating for the coronavirus: 'Tofu never caused a pandemic'
- Animal rights organisation PETA launched an ad campaign in May proclaiming that "tofu never caused a pandemic." The ads have since gone viral on social media.
- Critics say the ad is tone-deaf and also racist, highlighting how PETA favours controversial tactics and can alienate even other vegans.
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Animal-rights organisation PETA has ruffled feathers online once again, this time for suggesting that eating meat is to blame for current and past outbreaks of disease, including the novel coronavirus.
"Tofu never caused a pandemic," the ad reads, next to a cartoon of a wide-eyed and smiling block of the soy protein.
The ads debuted in May and have been featured on billboards, park benches, and on face masks for sale in PETA's online merchandise shop. There's even a full-size tofu costume you can buy, complete with a little sign bearing the slogan.
Months later, the campaign has generated controversy on social media, after a picture of the ad on a local park bench went viral.
Twitter users said that the ad is "tone-deaf" and "guilt-tripping," while failing to acknowledge the complex socioeconomic and cultural factors behind food choices. That includes issues like food access and financial resources - factory-farmed animal proteins are often cheaper sources of nutrition than organic, free-range and vegan meat substitutes.
Some critics even suggested that the ad has incited so much vitriol, it may well have been paid for by the meat industry to discredit vegans.
People also called out PETA for the racist implications of blaming meat-eating for the coronavirus pandemic; the theory that "filthy" wet markets selling bats and other wild game caused the virus to jump to humans has fuelled widespread harassment and vilification of Asian people in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The ad also faced accusations of classism, too. In the widely-shared Twitter photo, the bench featuring the ad is also an instance of "hostile architecture," with design elements (in this case, large bars in the middle) to discourage use by homeless people for sleeping or otherwise sheltering, according to one user.
A representative from PETA told Insider in a statement that accusations of racism and sexism are "thoughtless."
"The fact is that we would save human as well as animal lives if we stopped supporting filthy live-animal markets and factory farms," the statement reads. "To continue eating meat while Covid-19 is spreading like wildfire among slaughterhouse workers, the vast majority of whom are immigrants and people of colour, is to turn our backs on human health's link to animal agriculture."
The statement also noted that tofu is eaten internationally and is cheaper than meat.
Some Twitter users, including vegans, expressed support for the ad.
"I don't like PETA but they're not wrong this time,"one person said.
A large number of infectious illnesses in humans originate from animals, according to the World Health Organisation, and close contact between animals and humans contributes to this. There's evidence that factory farming can also increase the risk of infectious diseases.
But there's little evidence that eating meat is directly to blame for the current coronavirus pandemic, according to the Poynter Institute, which rated the claim as "mostly false" in a fact check.
PETA isn't the only advocacy organisation blaming meat-eating for the pandemic. Vegan advocates and influencers have also proposed the theory, and have even claimed the media is intentionally ignoring evidence to bolster the meat industry (there is no proof that this is the case.)
PETA's official Twitter account replied to the tweet featuring the photo of their ad on a bench, defending the controversial ad campaign by arguing advocates "must do extraordinary things to get the word out about animal cruelty."
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