New York City might not be the best place to take up support for rats, but it didn't stop a pack of Virginians from hitting CBS Corp. for its televised grilling of the rodents on its popular Survivor television show.
On the series' latest installment Wednesday, contestants on the adventure game show killed a few wild island rats and pronounced them good eating.
The top-rated show means big bucks for CBS Corp., which historically has struggled to retain young viewers, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wasn't impressed.
"Rats have rights, eat your veggies," a group of about a dozen protesters chanted outside the West 57th St. studios Friday morning.
A CBS spokesman responded that hunting and fishing for sustenance have been acceptable "since the dawn of time."
PETA protester Talithia Grant, 23,
But were the rats killed for sustenance, or were they killed for profit? That was the immediate response from activists Friday morning. The group, from Virginia Beach, was also in the city to protest a fashion awards presentation at Lincoln Center.
Protesters, asked whether they would consider eating a rat if they were stranded on a deserted island, replied two-fold.
"That's an extreme example," said Melynda DuVal, 35. "PETA is about telling people about the 8 billion animals slaughtered in this country each year."
And, added protester Rae Leann Smith, the rodents featured on the Tiffany Network aren't exactly the definition of a normal predator-prey relationship.
"These people chose to put themselves on that island," she said. "We would have found more innovative ways to survive."
She pointed out that the island in question is lush with vegetation and other sources of food.
DuVal also drew a link between televised violence and kids' own propensity toward violence.
"Parents should be shielding their kids from watching such wanton cruelty on television," she said.
CBS, despite expressing respect for PETA's mission, is not likely to tailor the hit show to their criticism. Survivor, for example, has helped push CBS to its highest ratings ever. The show has been so successful that a second series is being planned. It will be shot this fall in the Australian outback and aired in 2001.
Story and photo by PETE BRUSH, CBS.com Producer