The animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has named Oprah Winfrey its "Person of the Year." PETA President Ingrid Newkirk says Winfrey has used her "powerful voice to defend those without one."

PETA will be sending Winfrey an award plaque and a letter of appreciation. Winfrey's Chicago-based Harpo Productions says the talk-show host is on hiatus and not available for comment. Some previous winners of PETA's "Person of the Year" award include U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia in 2007 and the founders of the San Francisco-based cleaning-product company Method in 2006.

In a statement posted on its Web site, PETA said: “Oprah uses her fame and listening audience to help the less fortunate, including animals. She has 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.

“She was encouraged by a guest on her show, author Kathy Freston, to ditch meaty meals and try a vegan diet for 21 days. During this time, Oprah enjoyed delicious and healthy meals that were prepared by Chef Tal Ronnen of Veg Advantage. Oprah said of the experience, ‘Wow, wow, wow! I never imagined meatless meals could be so satisfying.’”

Of course, there's no confirmation that Oprah remained on the vegan diet. If she had, that certainly would be getting more hype. 

It’s unsettling that Oprah would be so tied to PETA as she has one of the most powerful voices in America to promote an agenda as she wishes. In late October, she committed a full show to California's proposition 2 ballot initiative. The presentation seemed relatively balanced, and the show's livestock and meat industry participants confirmed that reaction. The question is what messages will continue to flow from the media empire that is Oprah, and what impact could they have? It is clear that when Oprah speaks, many many people -- especially those making food purchasing decisions listen.