PETA often employs controversy to get its point across to adults, but that usually takes the form of naked celebrities endorsing their message. With children, PETA uses a different strategy altogether — and that has parents in a Woodland Hills, California school district angry enough to consider a lawsuit. PETA distributed comic books with horrifyingly graphic images of butchery in order to terrify children into their ideology:

Claire Borsheim and many other parents at the Woodland Hills campus were outraged after PETA handed out the pamphlets to their children the same day a baby cow was on campus for a lesson about dairy farming.

The pamphlet appeared to be a cartoon comic and was titled “A Cow’s Life,” but the images inside were horrifying, parents said.

“My 6-year-old daughter was handed one of these comics, saw the insert of the mutilated cow that I ripped away right away, she started flipping through it and saw pictures of baby cows being electrocuted, factory farms with machetes, I mean, just graphically horrifying images for a 6 year old,” Borsheim said.

“The images are pretty graphic,” parent Shawn Belschner said. “They’re of mutilated cows, infected cows, cows being dehorned, cows in bad conditions. I don’t think it’s good for any child.”

PETA later claimed that they got their materials mixed up, and that the comic books were intended for adults:

Katie Arth of PETA says that it may have all just been an innocent mix up.

“PETA creates material for kids and for adults,” Arth said. “And it looks like there was just a mistake and our volunteers put the materials together to get them out quicker.”

Er, riiiiiiiiight. I’m sure that these comic books titled “A Cow’s Life” was intended for adults. Suuuuuuuure they were.

LAUSD said that they didn’t know PETA would distribute images like that to the children. The better question is why LAUSD allowed a protest group to distribute anything to children in the first place. Perhaps parents considering a lawsuit should think about adding the school and the school board to the list of respondents.

Update: PETA has responded to me about this post, and I have a point to make afterward. First, here’s the response from David Perle:

Hi, Ed. I wanted to let you know that PETA has sent a letter to Calabash Charter Academy in response to the recent mix-up in which volunteers, including one Calabash Elementary parent, gave students kid-friendly comic books about the dairy industry that contained a more graphic leaflet intended for adults, something that was not supposed to happen. (In your piece, you mocked the concept that the comic books were intended for adults. No, of course they weren’t. The problem was the leaflets that were mistakenly put inside of those child-friendly comic books.)

As PETA notes in its letter, the volunteers had been concerned that a representative of the dairy industry was visiting the school that day to sell the kids on cow’s milk, and PETA had intended for the in-depth leaflets to go to the students’ parents so that they could be fully informed about how the dairy industry hurts animals (and how dairy products can make kids and adults sick).

In an effort to mend fences, PETA has offered to provide staff and students at Calabash Elementary with Tofutti Cuties—delicious dairy-free ice cream sandwiches.

“Kids have a natural empathy for animals and know that the abuse that cows endure on factory farms—the pain of dehorning, the constant deprivation in filthy feedlots, and the ache of mastitis—is wrong,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman, who is also the mother of an elementary student in the Los Angeles area. “PETA’s child-appropriate comic book starts an honest conversation about how what we choose to eat and drink can help—or hurt—animals.”

He also included a letter to the principal of the school from PETA’s executive VP Tracy Reiman, which is referenced in the story, but I’ll include it here without the names included:

I wanted to contact you about the volunteers who visited your school on Thursday and to apologize for the fact that some students apparently received leaflets intended for adults and that had not been approved for distribution to kids for this visit. The volunteers, including a parent of a fifth-grader at Calabash, were concerned when they learned that the dairy industry would be visiting the school and wanted to offer your students kid-friendly comic books in order to help them understand how milk gets from cows to their cereal bowls as well as to offer parents more detailed information about the cruelty and health concerns associated with dairy products.

As the mother of a 10-year-old, I know that kids have a natural empathy for animals but may not understand the connection between the animals they see in picture books or on farms and the food on their plates. Our comic book was designed with the help of parents and educators in order to help start honest discussions with kids about helping animals. Most cows used in the dairy industry live in cramped, filthy conditions, often mired in their own waste, and are deprived of almost everything that is pleasant, natural, and important to them. They are genetically manipulated and given drugs that force them to produce more than four times the amount of milk that they would naturally, and this milk also promotes antibiotic resistance in humans who drink it. Their calves are taken away from them shortly after birth—females are cycled into milk production, and males are relegated to veal crates, which cause horrible animal suffering. The cows are repeatedly impregnated using artificial insemination, and up to half of them suffer from a painful udder infection called mastitis. Once their milk production wanes, at about only 4 or 5 years old, almost all mother cows are sent to slaughter. There is a health factor here, too, as milk and other dairy products have now been linked to serious illnesses, including heart disease, type 1 diabetes, and obesity.

PETA encourages parents and children to choose humane and healthy options, such as soy or almond milk, vegan cheese, and dairy-free ice cream. Unlike dairy products, which are loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat, nondairy milk is cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat as well as high in calcium and essential nutrients.

I’d be happy to meet with you or talk on the phone. We would like to mend fences and give the school some delicious dairy-free ice-cream sandwiches (Tofutti Cuties) for all the kids to enjoy.

Thanks so much, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

The last point, and one that supports Perle’s response: the comic book is on line, and while I wouldn’t give it to my granddaughters, the comic book itself does not contain the graphic images that concerned the parents — at least not as presented from their website. Still, I’d be demanding some answers from the school as to why this material was allowed at all. If PETA wants to target kids for their campaign, they should be working through parents rather than around them, and schools should know better.