NEW YORK Activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is fighting two battles this week, one with the California Milk Processor Board and the other with candy maker Mars.
In the first conflict, the CMPB is seeking compensation and threatened legal action for PETA's alleged violation of that group's trademarked "Got Milk?" ad slogan.
The CMPB earlier this week demanded in a letter that Norfolk, Va.-based PETA halt a campaign that poses, "Got pus? Milk does."
The campaign has included print, broadcast and out-of-home, along with the parody tagline printed on merchandise, including T-shirts, coffee mugs and hats. CMPB has demanded that PETA, which promotes a dairy-free diet among other things, cease using the slogan by Saturday.
It also demanded that PETA turn over any merchandise bearing the slogan, along with profits. Failing to comply, the milk board will sue, the letter promised.
Counsel for PETA said Thursday in a written response to the CMPB: "As part of its mission to educate consumers about the industry's practices, PETA has, among other things, parodied the 'Got Milk?' slogan that the milk industry uses to market milk. Such parodies include PETA's 'Got Zits?,' 'Got Heart Disease?,' 'Got Breast Cancer?,' 'Got Sick Kids?,' 'Got Diabetes?' and 'Got Veal?' campaigns as well as the 'Got Pus? Milk Does' campaign at issue here. PETA launched each of these campaigns to draw attention to the fact that drinking milk is linked to these various health ailments, as well as to support the veal industry."
PETA contends that pus in milk results from an inflammation of cows' mammary glands called mastitis—a condition that occurs in some milk cows. Antibiotics used to treat the problem, then wind their way into milk, PETA claims.
The "Got Milk?" tag has been appropriated numerous times since it was created in 1995. "Got Jesus?" became one of the more popular knockoffs, and "Got Junk?" is the name of a business. But the CMPB is taking action over this one because it infringes on categorical use, that being dairy, said Steve James, the milk board's executive director.
"We acknowledge that 'Got Milk?' has become part of the vernacular and we are flattered," James said. "But we have a right and obligation under federal trademark law to protect and police its use, especially when it is used in a disparaging or damaging way." PETA has put the slogan on billboards and merchandise, and it is also featured on its Web site, Milk Sucks.com.
A PETA rep said that the legal response is as good as the CMPB is going to get from the group.
"The letter pretty much explains our stance," said Lindsay Rajt, who manages PETA's vegan and factory-farming campaigns. "The more they talk about it, the more exposure it gives to our stance. They pretty much handed this one to us on a silver platter."
James said there would be a response from the CMPB.
"If they don't respond in an appropriate way by the 15th, yes, we will respond," he said. "We were hoping that PETA would be reasonable, but I have doubts. Reasonable is not a word usually used in the same sentence with PETA."
Meanwhile, PETA is also blasting Mars candy this week for allegedly funding animal experiments.
PETA is asking its members and the public to boycott Mars products, and will activate its campaign by planting members at stores that sell candy nationwide on Dec. 20. They'll be asking holiday shoppers to buy sweets made by rival Hershey, which signed a statement pledging not to support, fund or conduct tests on animals.
Mars did not respond to a request for comment.
A PETA Web site, Mars Candy Kills, featuring the M&M's spokescharacters Red and Yellow, also supports the boycott.
"There's nothing sweet about Mars' experiments on animals," Ingrid Newkirk, PETA president, said in a statement. "The candy company could give animals the greatest gift of all this holiday season by abandoning its cruel and unnecessary tests."
PETA did not respond to an interview request.