Today, September 28, 2016, Brigitte Bardot and thousands of fans around the world are celebrating her 82nd birthday. And make no mistake, the legendary French actress turned animal activist remains a powerful force on the international animal rights stage. BB, as her French fans call her, is still very much in charge of her Foundation’s day-to-day operations and, despite painful bouts of arthritis, spends most of her time, energy and funds making life better for the animals in France and abroad. She is known for her emotional appeals and blunt—some say virulent—advocacy style. You’ll see in our interview that she’s as feisty as ever (pure BB vintage!). She also has some advice for young activists wishing to perform at a high level.
LC: I recently watched the famous clip from your 1977 campaign to save the seals in Canada, where you embrace a baby seal, trying to comfort him and telling him “Don’t worry, we’ll get them [the seal slaughterers].” Almost 40 years later, where are things at, not only in terms of stopping seal hunting but in terms of animal rights in general? What were your great victories, what campaigns are about to bear fruit and what battles are still far from being won?
BB: After 30 years of fighting, the seals have been my only great victory. The EU has forbidden the importation of all goods made from these and other pinnipeds—and the ban crashed the seal product market, saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of seals every year! Only Inuit people have the right to hunt them for personal consumption. Norway and Canada continue to hunt seals and exterminate them in the same cruel ways, but their quotas have diminished considerably.
I have many other causes; I’ll tell you about a few of them:
Since the early 70s, I’ve been fighting to make horse meat illegal. At the end of June 2013, a bill was introduced in the National Assembly by deputy Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, aiming to change the status of horses from livestock to pets in order to spare them the horror of slaughterhouses. There’s been no reaction nor response from the government. It’s pitiful and cowardly.
It should be obvious that we need to stop massacring animals for their fur. In the 21st Century, there are many products imitating fur perfectly, and it is inhuman to continue raising thousands of minks, foxes and other poor animals who are caged for life and end up electrocuted or gassed to death in horrible pain to satisfy ignorant and frivolous customers. The great fashion designers are the main culprits for those murders.
Hunting… killing, not for food, but for the pleasure of killing! It’s scandalous! A deplorable example of men armed to the teeth and playing war by shooting frightened prey who have no means of defending themselves. Human cowardice! Today, bloodthirsty Heads of State or rich landowners devoid of emotions still hunt on horseback, with their hounds, in national forests—trying, I suppose, to counter their impotence by experiencing some sadistic arousal as they drive their prey to exhaustion. After the hounds have torn the victim alive, the hunter deals a deadly knife blow to the heart of the poor creature.
There’s also the shocking spectacle of bullfighting, an open-air slaughter where the kill and bloodshed arouse human perversity. The spectators enjoy the bull’s agony… what an obscene form of ecstasy!
And then, there are terrifying animal experiments in hidden slow-death camps where, in the name of research, all acts are permitted on animals treated as objects and discarded after having been subjected to torture and experimentation—when there are alternative methods such as cell culture that, if properly implemented, could replace animals in a significant number of experiments. What are we waiting for?
Those are my main ongoing fights. I could also add circuses, zoos and dolphinariums!
LC: In the US, Peta has repeatedly denounced the atrocities in some kosher and halal slaughterhouses. Your voice has risen loudly and clearly against ritual slaughtering. Can you tell us what the law says on this topic in France/Europe?
BB: Unfortunately, there’s a special dispensation in France authorizing ritual sacrifices during which animals have their throat slit while fully awake—stunning is mandatory in every other form of slaughtering. This barbarian tradition of Muslim and Jewish religions* makes death by slaughtering even more painful and horrific. An animal’s agony can last up to 15 minutes as the blood runs from his body hanged by the feet from steel hooks. I have fought for 20 years to abolish this dispensation, and many countries have already taken this step: Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.
LC: Animal rights activism is often linked to promoting plant-based options. What is your stance on this topic? Does the Foundation support such a lifestyle?
BB: Since the broadcasting of horrific scenes filmed in slaughterhouses, meat consumption has dropped considerably in France. We thank French org L214 for these investigations! My Foundation strongly recommends vegetarianism and provides plant-based menus in our publications. I am a vegetarian as are most of my collaborators.
LC: Your advocacy efforts started almost 40 years ago, and I’m sure you’ve experienced ups and downs. What advice would you give young activists so they don’t fall prey to despondency and stop working for the animals. Is it sometimes necessary to take a step back and recharge one’s batteries? What qualities are needed to become an efficient activist in the long term?
BB: You need a lot of courage to do animal activism at a high level. You also need an iron will and the strength to win. It’s hard, very hard, exhausting, revolting, sickening—a constant battle that can be wearing and sometimes disheartening. But you must hang tight, despite the crying fits, the injustice you observe and the feelings of fatigue and revolt. You can’t let go, you have to recharge your batteries but continue relentlessly—otherwise, what will happen to the animals? Often, when my arthritis flares in both hips, I tell myself that the pain is minimal compared to what the animals suffer. This strength helps keep me alive.
LC: You have trained a solid management team. Do you remain active as Foundation leader? At what levels?
BB: I am 100% involved in the Foundation, supported by a wonderful and extremely motivated team. I discuss all important decisions with Christophe Marie, my right-hand man, and Ms. Calmels, my executive manager. I supervise and participate in the writing of our newsletter. I reply to mail sent to the Foundation. I send virulent letters to French or foreign ministers and Heads of State.
LC: Biographer Jeffrey Robinson speaks of the two lives of Bardot. Do these two lives sometimes intersect? You don’t hesitate to tackle those who hurt animals, and you don’t mince your words. At those times, do your acting skills resurface, allowing you to express your emotions, but also to trigger them in others? Have you applied some techniques from your former profession to animal activism?
BB: Oh boy, no. I’ve long forgotten my acting career. When I say or write something, it comes from my guts, without thinking about what it’s going to cost me later. I’m known, and often appreciated, for that. I’m natural, simple and spontaneous, I’ve always been like that.
LC: Your commitment to the animal cause has been described as a vocation, a calling even. Do you agree with this description? Have you always felt an affinity with animals, even as a child?
BB: Yes, it’s a calling, a gift of life dictated by a visceral love for the animals since the beginning. I was born with it.
LC: How about your pets? I suppose you love them all, but do you have any favorites ?
BB: Yes, I have many pets saved from the slaughterhouse or abandonment. I get a real high from them—when I see my pigs, goats, sheep, donkey, mare, girl pony, geese, ducks and hens, it fills my heart with joy! Not to mention my 10 dogs and 20 cats! So much love, so many cuddles. I love them all equally.
LC: If you were an animal, which would you be?
BB: A wild horse, free and powerful.
LC: I read in one of your blogs that you firmly believe there is strength in union. Do you have a message of encouragement for our readers, who are animal activists living in different parts of the world, many with different philosophical, political and dietary orientations?
BB: I have a motto that I’d like to share with all your readers: “The measure of love is to love without measure.” I think it is better than any speech, and it can be understood by all! At least I hope…
*The Positive animal supports the end of cruel rituals perpetrated in the name of any religion. Please see our Newsbit about the international campaign to end all blood fiestas associated with Catholic feast days of saints, which take place in many countries. Several scholars argue that neither Islam nor Judaism are incompatible with veganism. For an interesting article (in French only) on vegetarian Muslims who celebrate Eid al-Adha not by slaughtering an animal but by giving money to the poor, as Muslim law allows, read this article (in French only) from Vegemag.