An animal rights group called on Tuesday for a North American theme park operator to cancel a competition in which people will try to break the world cockroach-eating record.
Theme park operator Six Flags Inc, based in New York, is staging the contest as part of a promotion leading up to Halloween in which it is also offering customers free entry or line-jumping advantages if they eat a live Madagascar hissing cockroach.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said it had been flooded with calls from children, adults and even anonymous employees of Six Flags opposing the record-breaking contest and the overall promotion.
"Insects do not deserve to be eaten alive especially for a gratuitous marketing gimmick," PETA spokeswoman Jackie Vergerio said.
The competition to beat the world cockroach eating record is being held on Friday at a Six Flags park in Gurnee, Illinois. Anyone who beats the record will win a season pass for four people for 2007 with VIP queue-jumping status.
Competitors will try to break the current world record, which is held by Ken Edwards of Derbyshire, England, who devoured 36 Madagascar hissing cockroaches in one minute in 2001.
However Six Flags spokesman James Taylor said the only complaints the company had received were from people who did not have the opportunity to sign up and eat a cockroach because only 12 of its 30 parks in the United States, Canada, and Mexico were participating in the promotion.
Taylor dismissed any health concerns, saying the cockroaches were raised in a sterile environment and were as safe to eat as shrimp or lobster with high nutritional value.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches are large, wingless cockroaches that can grow to between 1.5 to 3 inches.
Taylor said no one who had indulged in this rare delicacy had complained.
"It's something that's supposed to be scary, it's icky, it's gross, it's Halloween fun and it's just one small part of the haunted houses and thrilling rides going on."