New York – It’s been less than a year since PETA put its controversial "Got Beer?" campaign out to pasture. Now, instead of trying to appeal to collegiate types, the radical animal rights activists are targeting a younger group – middle school students – with their plea to leave milk to the cows.
While many kids are still lunching on buttery Thanksgiving leftovers, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is staking out a middle school in Burlington, Vt., Tuesday as the site to launch its national "Dump Dairy" campaign.
"Drinking milk is a health hazard to children," said Sean Gifford, a PETA spokesman and its vegetarian campaign coordinator. "If you’re drinking milk, you’re supporting the veal industry and the abuse of dairy cows."
Members of the group will hand out fliers and its "Milk Suckers" trading cards – featuring dairy-damaged characters like Lodge Louie and Chubby Charlie -- to students leaving Edmunds Middle School Tuesday afternoon. The group claims that cow’s milk and dairy products are harmful to human health, particularly that of children, and can cause allergies, chronic indigestion, a build-up of mucous and even cancer.
Such claims have organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the International Dairy Foods Association crying, "Hogwash!"
"It’s very irresponsible for this group and any animal rights organization to give nutrition information that’s false to these children," said Susan Ruland, spokeswoman for the IDFA, which represents most of this country’s milk companies. "Milk is an excellent source of calcium. The claims that this group makes don’t hold any water."
Ruland said the AAP, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and other groups have come out against messages of milk’s health hazards – and have begun to fight a different battle that she called a "calcium crisis."
"The real concern is that today’s teenagers and young adults drink twice as much soda as milk," she said. "Kids need calcium. Most people, when they stop drinking milk, are not replacing it with another calcium source."
Gifford said kids and adults should be aware that dairy cows are mistreated on factory farms and that their male offspring are used for veal. He said PETA plans to take its message up and down the East Coast, and then appeal to the rest of the country. Middle-school kids, he said, are ideal targets.
"Going to children is a perfect way to get the message out," he said. "They have a natural empathy for animals and a good sense of humor. The ‘Milk Suckers’ cards make them laugh, but children won’t be laughing when they get sick from drinking cows’ milk."