When the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (search) claimed victory this week over fast-food chain KFC Corp., the company had no comment. But KFC wasn’t always so “chicken.”

PETA sued KFC and parent company Yum! Brands (search) in July, accusing them of  “lying to the public about their animal welfare policies.”

KFC’s Web site had stated, among other things, that “chickens raised for KFC (search) suffered no pain [or] injuries” and that “humane treatment of the birds is ensured.”

KFC’s customer service telephone operators used to tell callers, among other things, that PETA’s claims about the way chickens are treated are “untrue” and that KFC had implemented gas-killing as a more humane way of killing chickens (search).

Bowing to PETA’s unilateral attack -- no consumer protection agency participated in the lawsuit -- KFC agreed to stop making these allegedly “false claims” and allowed PETA to approve what the company can say about the way chickens are treated.

I’m sure Yum!’s shareholders will be pleased to learn that rabid animal rights activists have a say in the operations of a business that sells, as its featured product, broiled and fried chicken.

Maybe next, KFC will allow PETA to decide what’s on the menu -- and whatever fare that might be, it surely won’t be chicken.

According to the settlement, PETA is allowing KFC to say that: “KFC disagrees with PETA's claims. KFC believes that animals should be treated humanely. For this reason, KFC has established animal welfare guidelines (search) for vendors who supply KFC restaurants with chicken.”

But the managements of Yum! and KFC are quite wrong if they think this “compromise” will end PETA’s persecution of their business. It’s more likely their effort at appeasement will only whet PETA’s appetite for more of KFC’s blood.

Company management wasn’t so cowardly and naïve last January in response to PETA’s Web site posting of a video allegedly depicting chicken production, including footage of a beak-trimming machine (search) in action.

Yum! stated: “PETA is attempting to mislead the public with an outdated and questionable video on chicken production … The system shown is no longer in use in our industry … Only the sharp tip of the beak is removed (on some male birds to prevent injury to other birds), not the large portion as shown in the outdated PETA video. Precision laser technology is rapidly replacing blade systems.”

Yum! more aggressively hit the nail on the head, though, when it stated: “PETA’s objective is not to improve animal welfare but to eliminate meat, poultry and other food of animal origin altogether from the human diet. They desire a totally vegan society and will say or do anything to achieve this objective. PETA even approves the use of violence.”

So what’s changed since January? Only Yum! management’s decision to undermine KFC’s business and its shareholders’ investment, as far as I can tell.

PETA still has the same goals. PETA doesn’t care how “humanely” chickens that are about to be turned into drumsticks, breasts and wings are treated.

KFC’s suppliers could keep chickens in posh coops, raise them on gourmet feed and gently euthanize them -- and PETA would still label the treatment inhumane. PETA’s goal is to stop KFC from selling chicken for consumption.

But most would disagree with PETA and its 750,000 members. KFC’s customers, in particular, don’t seem to give PETA a second thought.

There are over 11,000 KFC outlets in more than 80 countries and territories around the world serving some eight million customers each day. Those customers will consume more than 900 million pounds of chicken this year.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (search) sets the standards for animal welfare. There are no reports of KFC violating any laws and regulations concerning animal welfare. And there are certainly no reports of Federal Trade Commission or state consumer fraud action against KFC concerning its statements about the treatment of chickens.

Given strong consumer demand, continued compliance among its suppliers with operative laws and regulations and shareholder interests, KFC’s management has no business appeasing PETA.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

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