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Oprah Winfrey in hot water with animal activists over KFC coupons

May 11, 2009 | 11:59 am

Oprah Winfrey has come under fire from animal activists for her free KFC chicken promotion When Oprah Winfrey partnered with fast-food giant KFC to offer coupons for free Kentucky Grilled Chicken meals, many chicken fans (as in fans of the food) cheered. But many chicken fans (as in fans of the animals) were outraged.

Winfrey said the offer was simply a gesture to help her viewers struggling with the effects of recession. (The downloadable coupons were available for a short time and have since been removed from her website. The offer was so popular that it overwhelmed KFC, causing the company to begin offering "rain-check forms" to customers instead of free food.  However, widespread reports of a "chicken riot" at a New York KFC franchise were exaggerated, the company says.)

But was the talk-show diva wrong to offer this particular gesture?  After all, Winfrey was named PETA's Person of the Year just last year because, the group said, she "used her show to uncover horrific cases of cruelty to animals in puppy mills and on factory farms, and Oprah even used the show to highlight the cruelty-free vegan diet that she tried!" 

Winfrey's exposé showed the conditions in which factory farm-raised animals live. The connection?  Many animal advocates believe Tyson Foods, KFC's supplier, is among the worst offenders. (For its part, PETA even maintains an entire website devoted to its opposition to the fried-chicken chain, which states that "KFC suppliers cram birds into huge waste-filled factories, breed and drug them to grow so large that they can’t even walk, and often break their wings and legs.")

As one might imagine, the Internet is abuzz. Treehugger writes that "it definitely feels curmudgeonly to cry foul at the person who wants to give everyone free food — but it must be pointed out that the free food comes from inhumane, and potentially dangerous, environments." 

Blogger Paula Crossfield of CivilEats concurs. "If I were Oprah, I’d have struck a better deal with the fried chicken hawking establishment: She could have told KFC to change their buying practices, and only serve free-range chicken, and THEN give away free chicken," she says. "Had she done that, producers would start to see the value in letting their chickens outside to scratch the soil, eat grubs and peck grass."

Some folks on Twitter are stating their objections using the hashtag #oprahkfc.  Many link to a new video on UndergroundWellness' YouTube channel that decries what it says are unhealthy ingredients in KFC's new, supposedly-healthier grilled chicken.  The video's narrator references the restaurant's marketing campaign, calling on Winfrey herself to rethink KFC. "[We] cannot get health from sick animals," he adds. It's been viewed nearly 30,000 times.

When Ecorazzi pondered the lack of public outcry from normally vocal PETA, a rep wrote in. "Seeing how strongly Oprah had publicly criticized cruelty to chickens in the food industry, PETA believes that Oprah was likely the victim of the very consumer-deception practices that PETA cited in its recent complaint to the FTC about KFC," the unnamed PETA staffer said.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

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