The controversial non-profit organization, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is notorious for their use of extreme campaign strategies that often spark outrage. One example is their “Got Autism?” campaign, which was launched almost ten years ago but has cropped up since then.
The reason it has upset people is pretty clear; it is blatantly and appallingly insensitive to the autism community with its negativity. As Twitter user Jack Monroe noted, it has “not very subtle undertones of ‘oooh, you wouldn’t want an *autistic* child now would you?'”
The ad is also pseudoscientific, linking dairy consumption to autism. In the article that accompanied their campaign, PETA wrote, “It isn’t surprising that dairy products may worsen this condition….Anyone who wants to alleviate the effects of autism should try giving cow’s milk the boot and switch to healthy vegan alternatives instead.” They back up this claim with two studies—both of which, however, are very small and at least one of which has been discredited. Besides, the overall body of research does not support their claim; evidence for using gluten-free and casein-free diets for autism is “currently limited and weak.”
Though the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network successfully got PETA to remove their “Got Autism?” advertisement from a billboard in 2008, the campaign and its accompanying article still exist on the organization’s website.
And the campaign recently regained traction, thanks to the aforementioned Jack Monroe, a prominent vegan and autistic food writer who hails from the UK. She took to Twitter when she found out PETA’s website had featured some of her recipes and asked that they be taken down.
She then commented on the campaign further with a series of tweets.
“The thing that makes me maddest about that @Peta ‘autism’ campaign is the frowny face. The deliberate negative stereotyping of autistic folk,” she wrote in one.
PETA has since honored her request and removed the recipes. But the tweet storm she posted gained attention and caused other individuals to call out the organization, too.
“Autism cannot be caused by dairy products,” wrote Twitter user OverkillRabbit. “PETA tries to fear-monger people out of using dairy with lies, which is disgusting behavior.”
Said Twitter user Kerry Cakes Lovatt, “Autism is different but certainly not wrong, and has nothing to do with diet! #ActuallyAutistic and have less wrong with me than [PETA] does!”
Twitter user Jonathan Victory said, “As an autistic person, if @peta are going to insult me this much, I’m gonna send them a picture of every BBQ I make from now on.”
In spite of this new wave of backlash, PETA still has not removed the article from their website. According to a spokesperson, “This is an old campaign that is still on our website because we have heard from people who have said it contains helpful information. Many families have found that a dairy-free diet can help children with autism, and since the consumption of dairy products has been linked to asthma, constipation, recurrent ear infections, iron deficiency, anemia, and even cancer, dumping dairy is a healthy choice that everyone can make.”
A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.