PETA’s misleading propaganda war against Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit

PETA is all over the news and activist network calling for protests against The Hobbit, claiming animal cruelty during the filming. I’m sorry, I often support real animal rights causes, and PETA has done useful work over the years, but they are an activist organization whose goal is winning with propaganda, not seeking truth, and this whole thing smells funny.

  1. PETA shows a picture of a dead horse in its urgent mailing — an image I didn’t need to see any more than tortured puppies or aborted fetuses; I consider all such marketing equally repulsive and unforgivable — and then says 27 animals died. What they don’t tell you is how many of those 27 animal deaths were horses. They’re hoping for the unthinking assumption that it’s 27 horses. They also don’t tell you over what period of time this occurred. This movie was a huge production that lasted over a year and a half. As best I can tell from various reports the actual count is three horses, six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens — yes chickens.

    Of the three horses, one drowned accidentally in a stream while being held on a nearby farm, one was injured on that same farm and euthanized, and one died of entirely natural causes. When the production company learned of the injuries on this particular farm, they investigated, spent a bunch of money trying to improve it, and ultimately dropped it. Some of the goats and sheep died died of injuries, but most died from worms or from complications from changes in feed — both typical problems for animals that relocate and have trouble adapting. The chickens, if you were wondering, were gotten by dogs. (This Entertainment Weekly report gives a pretty good breakdown of the details.)

    Do you think if they announced that 12 chickens were killed by dogs they’d get much publicity? Chickens, which are slaughtered by the thousands every day for food in this country. Or even, sad though it is, that two horses died of injuries over the course of a year and a half? I would not be at all surprised if the animal deaths were within the normal range over the course of a year and a half of production of animals being housed and moved around and such. The question here that PETA wants to confuse us about is how much this number 27 over 18 months differs from what would be normal for a film production, or normal for everyday life.

  2. My understanding is that PETA is basing its testimony on the claims of two disgruntled animal handlers who were fired from the production a year ago, and that this was related to investigating one particular farm where some of the animals were being housed, which led to dropping it from the production. The timing of PETA’s accusations and protests, just before the premiere, is a publicity stunt, which is of course what PETA does. They justify the use of publicity stunts because it gets their message on the media and raises awareness. Similarly a friend of mine was one of the ACT-UP members who just stripped naked in Speaker Boehner’s office — making some point about the fiscal cliff; I’m not quite sure what. They got on the news. So are they right? Do activist groups serve the greater good by using publicity stunts and propaganda rather than seeking truth? I think this kind of stuff harms innocent people and projects and further coarsens the conversation, but I have plenty of friends who disagree.

  3. PETA’s suggests we should no longer use animals in films at all, but instead use “sophisticated computer-generated imagery” in the future because we can. This is laughable. Why not get rid of human actors for the same reason? The underlying premise behind the idea no animal injuries are acceptable is the PETA principle that the animals didn’t choose to be involved — part of a broader view that all animals in human control are slaves, including not just livestock and these movie animals but also pets. Since that is not a view held by many Americans, PETA instead tries to create sensational tragic appeals that bypass reasoning.

  4. A decade ago there were accusations, later found to be false by New Zealand officials, that horses were abused during the making of Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings films, and there’s more than a hint here that there’s an attempt at vindication/revenge by PETA aimed at Peter Jackson.

So I suggest everyone approach these accusations with a very skeptical eye. I’m open to learning more, but only from unbiased sources, not propagandists.

About Phil Fox Rose

Phil Fox Rose is a writer, editor and content lead based in New York. He is coordinator of Contemplative Outreach of New York, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Raised atheist by ex-Mormons, Phil has journeyed through Quakerism, deep ecology, Buddhism and Catholicism. Now he's a congregant, worship leader, cook and chair of the leadership team at St. Lydia's, an awesome dinner church in Brooklyn, NY, and spends as much time in nature as possible. Phil has been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil by RSS feed, email, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  • Marcela

    So just because chickens are slaughtered every day for food they are less important than any other animal???? your opinion about that is laughable, yes maybe Peta is misleading about this whole situation but you saying that chickens are not that important as horses or other animals is ridiculous. Is the same as saying black, or whites or hispanics are not as important as other races so its ok to kill them. EVERY ANIMAL, EVERY HUMAN BEING IS EQUALLY IMPORTANT, so if chickens got killed by dogs because of negligence, IT IS A CAUSE OF CONCERN of the animals well being while used for movie production.

    • bugjah

      I appreciate your passion (though I’d suggest some caps lock restraint), but seriously do you believe that every animal is equally important? Is a fruit fly as important as a horse or as a human? I think the case could be made, I just am very serriously and respectfully asking where you stand. Perhaps when you said “animal”, you meant “vertebrate”? Or maybe you totally believe that every animal is equally important. If so, are animals more important than mushrooms?

    • Scept

      “Is the same as saying black, or whites or hispanics are not as important as other races so its ok to kill them.”

      No. It is not the same at all.

    • Phil Fox Rose

      Marcela, my point about the fact that chickens are slaughtered by the thousands every day was not to say that opposing that is illegitimate, but that PETA is playing games by saying 27 animals died then talking extensively about horses, when all the other animals for that matter — chickens, sheep and goats — are routinely used as food animals. They know that few people would be outraged at the chicken deaths. You’re an exception. Also, I wanted to let a few other people respond first, but I do have to say that equating my position to racist violence is incredibly offensive. I do understand your moral point. Yes, my views expressed speciesism. I don’t think that a mollusk’s life is has the same value as a chimpanzee’s, and as bugjah pointed out, isn’t the line arbitrary between animals that are little more than water filters and plant or fungus life that is the same? Between, say, a scallop and broccoli?

  • bugjah

    Phil’s post raises interesting questions. Is there any data on how often animals used in films die in the course of production? I suspect that two horses dying (out of how many, though?) is probably a rare occurrence.

    PETA says that the accusation came from five wranglers. On their website, they are open about the dogs being the cause of the chickens’ death. I think Phil has some valid points, but it’s not necessary to overstate the case.

    What makes me a bit skeptical is that these wranglers were reportedly laid off over a year ago. Why are the allegations only coming out now? The timing issue, along with PETA turning this into an argument for all-CGI (non-human) animals, is what gives me pause.

    In sum, both PETA’s statements and Jackson’s strike me as disingenuous, which leads me to believe that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Not as bad as PETA says, but Jackson is probably not totally coming clean.

    • Phil Fox Rose

      bugjah, a quick unscientific investigation turned up that two horses died during the making of Flicka a few years ago too. My suspicion is that whenever you have a movie with 50 or 100 horses involved, it’s not that surprising for one or two to die for a variety of reasons. I’m not saying that’s OK. Just that it is so. BUT, as far as attacking The Hobbit specifically, not only were these wranglers laid off a year ago, but the situation that the complaint is about was investigated and rectified. The farm where these animals were being housed was dropped. So it’s all about the timing, as you say. This is PETA’s shot to make the all-CGI argument to the largest possible audience by playing off what will likely be one of the biggest movies of the decade. It’s not about the animals; it’s about PR.

  • Joseph

    PETA doesn’t actually care about the animals, they kill roughly 95% of the animals they “rescue” every year, they support domestic terrorism (they donate to the Animal Liberation Front), and think they’re more important humans than us because, one of PETAs “top brass” uses insulin, which was made because of animal testing, and says she needs it to continue the fight, while telling everyone to deny medication and aid that came from animal testing.

    PETA also attacks video games, really, they’re a laughable excuse of a “group”, and more could be done by helping animal shelters in your local area than giving PETA one cent of your money.

    • Phil Fox Rose

      Joseph, you make an important point that I didn’t include because, a) my point was not to demonize PETA, but just to make the case against their attack on the movie; and b) I didn’t have all the facts. But yes, PETA routinely euthanizes rescues — thousands per year. So life itself is not their issue. So what is their issue? Complete opposition to the “use” of animals to serve humans. You might call it reverse speciesism; even though animals use and abuse each other all the time, if we do it, it’s evil. That moral argument has little public support, and there’s a good case to be made that the quality of life of movie animals is extremely high. So they use the trumped up number of deaths to make the best headline.

  • droope

    Same old, people trying to rub their ideology over people who do not want to hear it.

    I worked on the movie, and the animals were treated fairly, and this will be said by me and anyone who works on the film.

    I’ve been told that PETA’s informants, on the other hand, were fired for mistreating the animals.

  • David S

    One of my problems with this article is when the author accuses PETA of being out of touch with reality and then goes on to say that “thousands” of chickens are killed in the U.S. each day. I don’t think it is picking at his wording to point out that the use of “thousands,” which the author uses in a cavalier fashion to mean “a lot” grossly represents the reality that 23 MILLION chickens are killed in the U.S. each day. This is no less than four orders of magnitude off, and betrays how little the author cares about or has bothered conceptualizing the situation for chickens in the U.S. It pretty much deconstructs his central claim to have a balanced, well-thought out perspective on animal welfare which he tries to profess at the beginning of the article when he says that he supports “real” animal rights causes.

    • Phil Fox Rose

      David, trying to read so much into that one word choice and somehow discredit my piece is a stretch. What’s odd is you are agreeing with much of what I say, but attacking me for using an insufficiently extreme statement. My point was clear: that the animal rights issue with chickens is not about 12 chickens on a movie set, but the vast numbers in the food industry. You seem to agree with that. I would support any effort to end factory farming, under which chickens possibly suffer the worst. My further point was that if PETA had tried to get people upset about 12 chickens dying it would not have been successful, so instead they resorted to misleading messaging. I believe a horse’s life is more important than a chicken’s. I know many animal rights activists disagree with that statement. If you are among them, we’ll have to disagree on that point.

  • Lizzy

    It doesn’t matter, 27 animals still died and they would not have died if it had not been for this movie. The species of animal, how long of a period of time it was over and the manor of death does not matter. What matters is 27 animals were killed, mostly in violent and painful ways. Would you have liked to be one of those chickens, mauled by dogs, or a horse falling over the edge and snapping your neck, lying in agony until a day later one someone found you. Instead of thinking about the movie, think of the 27 innocent animals hat are now dead.

  • Rora

    The fact that people are saying “They would not have been dead if not for this movie.” Is quite uneccessary and pointing fingers at a broader blame than it really is. It was not the movie that killed the animals because they did not die on set. They died on a farm. As many animals do in reality by these common mistakes. My mum lived on a farm and her horse died when another horse kicked it in the throat. If that horse of hers had been used in a film for a few scenes. Would you blame the film for it? Those animals are a victim of life circumstance. Not The Hobbit.

  • AGodlyCanuck


    Put 500 people on a farm to roam free for 3 years… ONE WILL DIE.

    Besides… come on people. This is PETA
    The makers of Pokemon Black and Blue.