How is it that the loudest screamers about animal abuse are actually killing thousands of animals every year? And not for food, just for convenience. Read on for the grim reality.

Back when I first began counter-campaigning against anti-industry activists — it wasn’t at the founding of the republic, just seems like it — all it took to generate readership (back in the quaint old days of print journalism) was using four little letters in the headline:

P-E-T-A.

(I know — I’m still doing it).

From its inception, the extremists who founded that organization had a singular mission: get noticed. Whatever it took.

As a result, absurd stunts became PETA’s calling card. Such as urging college kids to drink beer, not milk (as if they needed encouragement). Such as insisting that the biblical Jesus of the loaves and fishes was really a born-again vegan. Such as parading young women around the streets “dressed” in nothing more than rolls of Saran wrap — you know, to draw attention to “the cause.”

Right.

One time I even agreed to appear on stage with PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk at a national animal rights convention, ostensibly to talk about industry progress on animal handling (or so I thought). I ended up getting booed off the stage (predictable) and actually getting pelted with paper wads and other assorted items as I exited (unexpected).

To all but its deranged “the-end-justifies-the-means” supporters, PETA became a running joke in the 1990s, a fringe group of crazies nobody took seriously.

Until it began to sink some years ago in that although their tactics were abominable, their messaging on factory farming and animal abuse was being embraced by both the mainstream media and the general public. That despite its extremist vision of an animal kingdom absent of all human interaction, PETA was becoming the go-to group for “leadership” on issues as diverse as dog fighting, , hunting restrictions horsemeat production and, of course, the vegan lifestyle.

I was only one of a chorus of protestors who noted PETA’s total absence of credibility, its reliance on clueless media coverage to publicize an agenda so detached from reality it wouldn’t pass muster as a fictional movie script.

Until HBO made a movie about Newkirk and lionized her influence in leveraging "the animal agenda.”

PETA’s success would have made P.T. Barnum very, very proud.

Death by default

Now, however, a true scandal has arisen, one that has nothing to do with outrageous demonstrations or whacked-out publicity campaigns, but instead involves the slaughter of the very animals PETA wants its followers to believe the group has dedicated its existence.

According to a story in the Washington Post PETA runs a shelter at the group’s Norfolk, Va., headquarters that is touted as a loving shelter where abandoned pets find safety and security.

Only one problem: Most of the animals there are killed off, more than 80 percent of them annually, according to the newspaper’s investigation.

That rate was “so shockingly high,” according to the Post, that Virginia lawmakers passed a bill back in February to define a private animal shelter as “a place where the primary mission is to find permanent homes for animals in this life, not send them on to the next.”

The bill, which was passed nearly unanimously, by the way — and Virginia is hardly some bleeding heart liberal bastion — was specifically aimed at reining in PETA, according to the newspaper’s reporting.

As the Post story rhetorically asked: “PETA? The group that doesn’t want you to eat turkey at Thanksgiving — or any animal ever? The same PETA that wants to free circus animals and pushed the Vatican to ‘give peas a chance’ by going vegan and to strip the leather seats out of the popemobile?”

Yeah, that PETA.

“It’s sanctimonious to say they are lovers of animals,” Republican state Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., the lead sponsor of the bill, told the newspaper. Stanley acknowledged that he has never been to PETA’s shelter but said it’s clear it doesn’t do much sheltering.

“It’s a way station of death,” he said, “and it’s a shame.”

It’s more than a shame, it’s an abomination.

In 2014, according to Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president and head of its cruelty investigations unit, the group took in 3,017 animals at its Norfolk shelter. Of those, 2,455 (81%) were euthanized.

Here are the loudest voices in the movement demanding that all animals everywhere be endowed with human rights, with guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness snuffing out thousands of animals because they can’t be bothered caring for them, or finding homes for them among their strident supporters.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe must sign, veto or send the bill back to the legislature to be amended by March 29.

He needs to hear from the 99 percent who don’t buy into PETA’s warped messaging.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator