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PETA Smacks Big Bird in D.C.

Why—one is now inclined to wonder—did the chicken cross the Beltway?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has filed a complaint with the FCC against, in essence, the entire Public Broadcasting System. At issue: the question of whether Sesame Street is selling a sanitized version of the egg industry to kids in its programming, while taking sponsorship dollars from the American Egg Board (AEB). The group wants fines and or sanctions levied against stations carrying the iconic show.

In its letter to the FCC, PETA said that the stations had violated FCC rules against host-selling, and against promotional announcements in kids shows. On two different occasions last fall, PETA claims, a promotion for the AEB, a sponsor of Sesame Street, was embedded in an episode of the show.

The promotion in question was a segment featuring kids visiting a farm, followed by footage of a clean and efficient processing plant, and kids eating and praising eggs. Left out, PETA says, was what it claims is the actual treatment of the animals. PETA has long detailed the terrible conditions for most chickens, including having their beaks clipped and being kept in unsanitary conditions.

PETA has also filed a complaint against the AEB with the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising and deceptive practices, arguing that the egg board's claim that eggs are produced humanely from happy hens “does not survive even the mildest scrutiny.”

The complaints represent a ratcheting-up of PETA's campaign against the sponsorship. The group launched an online campaign in November, asking members to voice their displeasure to the show's producers in an attempt to get the show to drop the AEB sponsorship. The producers refused, according to Lindsay Rajt, who manages the campaigns department for PETA; Sesame Street's producers said they had gotten assurances that the chickens in the segment were being treated humanely.

According to Rajt, PETA is just as sure that is not the case, as it alleges graphically in its complaint. “We decided to take the next step and go to the FCC and FTC about this,” Rajt says. She adds that the group has filed complaints with the FCC before on other issues, but said it is a “last resort” move by the group.

“Sesame Workshop [the company that produces Sesame Street] as a practice does not comment on pending legal matters,” said spokesperson Ellen Lewis. Offering up a “no comment” as well, PBS also declined to provide the other side.

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