NORFOLK, VA. – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has purchased stock in major meat processing companies in the United States and Canada, including Maple Leaf Foods and Smithfield Foods Inc. The animal rights group aims to directly urge chief executives of these companies to convert all processing operations to produce and pack only vegan proteins.

Additional companies PETA has targeted include Hormel Foods Corp., Sanderson Farms Inc., Kraft Heinz – parent company of Oscar Mayer – and Tyson Foods Inc. The group said it will use its position as a shareholder in these companies to attend annual meetings and engage other shareholders under Securities and Exchange Commission rules.

PETA blamed “wet” markets and commercial agriculture for outbreaks of deadly viruses such as the novel coronavirus, swine flu and influenza viruses that have been traced to poultry.

“This crisis has shown that raising and killing animals in filthy factory farm conditions and butchering them in ill-regulated slaughterhouses creates breeding grounds for infectious diseases,” said Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA. “PETA is pushing Maple Leaf Foods and all other major meat companies to shut down the slaughter lines and switch to plant-based meats that never cause a pandemic.”

PETA noted that traditional meat processors such as Tyson Foods, Hormel Foods, Perdue Farms, Smithfield Foods, Maple Leaf Foods and Cargill offer plant-based protein options.