Animal rights group turns its fire on celebrity meat-eaters

After helping to make fur coats taboo, campaigners at Peta are using hardline tactics on A-list carnivores

Animal rights protesters have launched a series of angry campaigns against A-list carnivores. They are shifting their focus from celebrities who wear fur to others who encourage the "exploitation" of animals by eating them. In its latest campaign, Peta – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which became infamous for dousing fur-wearers in red paint – has launched an attack on the singer Jessica Simpson.

Ms Simpson was singled out for ridicule after she was spotted wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Real Girls Eat Meat", believed to be a light-hearted dig at her boyfriend Tony Romo's vegetarian ex-girlfriend, Carrie Underwood.

Alistair Currie, a spokesman for Peta, said: "Jessica Simpson might have a right to wear what she wants, but she doesn't have a right to eat what she wants – eating meat is about suffering and death. Some people feel like they are standing up against a tide of political correctness when they make a statement like this – what she is really doing is standing up for the status quo."

The animal rights group doctored a photo of Ms Simpson to read "Only Stupid Girls Eat Meat", and listed "five reasons only stupid girls eat meat".

In May the group condemned the British actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers for admitting that he had tried dog meat while in China.

The Peta attacks are seen as a sign of the radicalisation of some vegetarian groups. They claim eating meat causes environmental destruction, damages human health and contributes to global hunger, as well as inflicting suffering on billions of animals.

Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (Viva!) claims that there are currently between five and six million vegetarians in the UK but estimates that as many as a third of population have significantly reduced their meat intake.

"Vegetarians are still in a minority – most people eat meat. You're sticking your neck out as a vegetarian, and so most are passionate about it," said Annette Pinner, the chief executive of the Vegetarian Society.

A recent pronouncement from the head of the UN climate change agency that the best thing people can do to halt global warming is to turn vegetarian has taken the debate a step further.

Paul McCartney, a veteran vegetarian campaigner, recently launched "Meat Free Mondays" to encourage meat-eaters to eat vegetarian food once a week, citing the UN's statement as a good reason to forgo meat.

Yet there is evidence that the British public might be rebelling against pressure to cut their meat consumption. Despite the cost of meat hitting a 22-year high, British supermarkets actually report a rise in sales. Waitrose has recorded big year-on-year increases in the sale of most meats, while sales of Asda's "2p sausage" have gone up by 42 per cent.

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