The EU’s new Green Deal strategy offers ‘guidance’ to African countries but does nothing to stop Europe’s own ivory market, Roseiw Awori writes
1 hour ago
As part of its plans to be the first net zero emissions, zero pollution continent by 2050, the EU published its Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, personally championed by First Executive Vice-President Timmermans, on 20th May.
It proposes among other issues “… a further tightening of the rules on EU ivory trade” while nonetheless maintaining a thriving ivory market itself.
“A further tightening of the rules …” is hardly progress.
Under the Juncker Commission, which left office on 30th November 2019, significant strides were being made to close the loopholes in the EU’s ivory trade.
The Von der Leyen “Green Deal” Commission has, however, demonstrated scant political will to maintain – let alone increase – that momentum.
It is this type of double standard that we can no longer stand for.
“We are tired of these lectures that constantly come from the North, telling us how to manage our spaces while they ignore the implications of their actions. Frankly, the EU has failed to read the mood across the world,” says Dr Winnie Kiiru, Senior Technical Advisor for the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI), an organisation comprising of 21 African countries working to secure the protection of African elephants.
As an elephant biologist for the past 20 years, Kiiru has fought for the ban of ivory across the world and is not impressed by the EU’s double standards. “Countries that had thriving markets such as China and the US have gone ahead to ban ivory trade – it seems very odd that the EU won’t follow suit.”
Beginning around 2007, a wave of poaching for ivory devastated populations of savanna and forest elephants across Africa. The total numbers of savanna elephants decreased by 30% between 2007 and 2015, while forest elephants were hit even harder.
In some countries, elephant populations declined by over 50% in under 10 years. If current poaching levels continue, elephants may be extinct in the wild within the decade – and this will be thanks in no small measure to the EU’s ivory market, among the largest in the world.
Poaching of African elephants continues unabated. The fight for countries to shut down the international ivory trade has borne some fruit with key nations such as the USA, UK and China responding to global pressure and closing their domestic ivory markets.
This action has been accompanied by a decrease in poaching within some parts of Africa, primarily in East Africa. However, in other regions, notably West, Central and Southern Africa, the poaching trend has not declined.
If anything, poaching levels are increasing in new hotspots, as major global ivory markets have remained open, notably those of Japan and the European Union.
This makes the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, as part of the highly ambitious Green Deal suite of policy initiatives all the more extraordinary.
Aiming to provide ‘guidance’ to African countries on steps to take in order to maintain and improve our biodiversity, it is supremely ironic that the EU’s ivory market is effectively a key contributor of the destruction of Africa’s natural heritage.
Laundering ‘legal’ ivory into the illegal market. It is all the more surprising to note this somewhat misguided act of charity has no roots within the EU.
The European Commission continues to maintain that the EU’s ivory market deals only with old ivory stocks and has no influence on current poaching levels.
Yet, recent studies have shown that ivory pieces can be aged and made to seem older than they actually are. Limiting the trade to small ivory pieces is also no solution, as carving operations have now been established in elephant range states.
This ongoing consumption of ivory puts the safety of the African elephants at great risk because, by giving ivory a value it prolongs demand, which maintains the push for supply.
Until the EU shuts down its domestic market, ivory will continue to be laundered into European markets under the guise of being ‘old or small stock’.
“The EU needs to appreciate the role of any African market in increasing the cost of law enforcement in African countries and destroying livelihoods. Furthermore, their strategy will be impossible to realize in Africa until they shut down their ivory markets,” Kiiru maintains.
Critically, ivory has no value within Africa; it is only countries outside that continue to clamour for it and by so doing fuel poaching across the continent.
And so, however good the intentions were in writing the EU Biodiversity Strategy, I am reminded of a song my mother would sing: “Sweep your yard before you come and sweep mine”. This is precisely what the EU needs to do.
The time for decisive action is now. Overall, the importance of healthy elephant populations is to increase and help support our African biodiversity, and they are part of our cultural heritage.
We cannot afford to lose them for the sake of demand by foreigners in Europe and elsewhere for trinkets.
Again it remains clear, the EU needs to re-examine its so-called ‘role’
in promoting global biodiversity; here in Africa, what it does in reality is continue to endanger African elephants.
Rosie Awori is the director of the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network
10 hours ago
One explosion blew a hole in the wall of a precinct, police said
Mike Solan, Seattle Police Officers Guild, reacts to Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan claiming Trump sending in federal agents is a ‘dry run’ for martial law
Seattle police who executed a search warrant of a van abandoned near a series of weekend fires recovered pyrotechnics, weaponry and riot gear believed to have been used during demonstrations in the area, officials announced.https://3d58991a51101f01c4c3d89407f6fc83.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
During Saturday’s “large demonstration” in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, a crowd set construction trailers on fire, and damaged cars and businesses before making its way toward Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, police said Wednesday evening.https://www.youtube.com/embed/undefined
But as the crowd headed toward the precinct shortly before 4:30 p.m., a van followed and parked in front of the police building. It was facing the wrong direction in a traffic lane, and later abandoned, officials said.
“At about the same time explosions occurred outside the precinct,” the press release states. “Individuals in the crowd threw explosives at officers. One explosion occurred along the north wall of the precinct (on Pine Street), which blew a hole in the wall of the building.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=true&id=1288626090823397376&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.foxnews.com%2Fus%2Fseattle-explosives-baseball-bats-reportedly-handed-out-at-protests&siteScreenName=foxnews&theme=light&widgetsVersion=223fc1c4%3A1596143124634&width=550px
A witness told police people had surrounded the van earlier in the day, while its back doors were open, to show “improvised shields, gas masks, baseball bats and a large assortment of pyrotechnic explosives inside the van,” officials said.
After searching the vehicle, police said they found the following items inside, among others:https://3d58991a51101f01c4c3d89407f6fc83.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
- firework pyrotechnics
- improvised spike strips and nails
- bear mace
- gas masks
- homemade shields
- helmets, shin guards and additional types of body armor
- nextImage 1 of 7Photo shows evidence recovered during Seattle Police Department search of van abandoned at demonstration on June 25, 2020 (Seattle Police Department).
On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told reporters police have “an obligation to disperse a crowd when dangers to public safety like explosives, fires, individuals intent on causing harm” are present, according to local affiliate Q13 Fox Seattle.
“I think what we saw in our city last week in three separate protests, that there were individuals who were intent on causing harm. And the items seized from this van show exactly what they were planning, saw the results on our street,” Durkan reportedly said.
Police arrested at least 45 people as a result of Saturday’s demonstrations and 59 officers were hurt, KOMO News reported.
Seattle PD also released photographs and videos of the contraband, as well as the damage apparently caused by the explosive.
The department is still investigating its findings.
- President Trump says that Democrats are using the virulent coronavirus as a “hoax” to damage him and his administration.
- “The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” he said from a campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina. “This is their new hoax.”
- The coronavirus, which began in Wuhan, China, has now killed more than 2,800 people worldwide and infected more than 80,000.
- The total number of cases in the U.S. was 63 as of the latest announcements, with most cases being former passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and evacuees from Wuhan.
President Donald Trump said Friday that Democrats are using the virulent coronavirus as a “hoax” to damage him and his administration.
“The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” he said from a campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina.
“One of my people came up to me and said ‘Mr. President they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well.’ They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation,” he continued.
“This is their new hoax,” he said, referring to the coronavirus.
The disease, which originated in Wuhan, China, has now killed more than 2,800 people worldwide and infected more than 80,000. The latest reports from the World Health Organization show the pace of new cases in China slowing, but jumping in South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran.
In the U.S., the Santa Clara Public Health Department announced a third case of coronavirus in the county Friday evening. The announcement brings the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in California to 10 and the total number of cases in the U.S. to 63, most of which were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and evacuees from Wuhan.
“We are magnificently organized with the best professionals in the world,” Trump said of the administration’s preparations to help contain the spread of the virus.
“We have to take it very, very seriously … We are preparing for the worst,” he continued. “My administration has taken the most aggressive action in modern history to prevent the spread of this illness in the United States. We are ready. We are ready. Totally ready.”
In other headlines, a Google employee tested positive for the coronavirus, the company said Friday. New Zealand and Nigeria reported overnight their first coronavirus cases.
“We will do everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country. We have no choice,” Trump said. “Whether it’s the virus we’re talking about or many other public health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and wellbeing of all Americans.”
Several Oscar winners took the opportunity to inject politics into Sunday night’s festivities, starting with the telecast’s first famous victor, Brad Pitt, who took a shot at Republican senators who voted against calling witnesses at President Trump’s impeachment trial.
The four-time Academy Award nominee won the best-supporting actor accolade for his role as a stuntman in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The win marked his first-ever Academy Award win for acting. He immediately took the stage and got political by taking a jab at senators who voted against Democrats’ requests to call new witnesses in the impeachment trial, specifically former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who claimed he was willing to testify.
“They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said. “I’m thinking maybe Quentin [Tarantino] does a movie about it. In the end, the adults do the right thing.”
No new witnesses were called in Trump’s impeachment trial, for which he was ultimately acquitted by the Senate in a vote across party lines, with the exception of a lone Republican vote to convict coming from Sen. Mitt Romney.
Pitt had been expected to win the category after scooping up a series of honors this year, including at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week
Speaking backstage, the actor explained why he included a political jab in his Oscars acceptance speech.
“I was really disappointed with this week,” he told reporters. “And I think when gamesmanship trumps doing the right thing, it’s a sad day and I don’t think we should let it slide, and I’m very serious about that.”
Pitt was not the only actor to politicize his comments as Joaquin Phoenix used his lengthy, emotional best actor acceptance speech to discuss, among other things, the state of humanity, and the plight of cows.
“I think whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against the belief, one nation, one race, one gender, or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity,” the animal-rights activist said.
“We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow,” Phoenix continued. “And when she gives birth, we steal her baby even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable and then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
Even socialist revolutionary Karl Marx was mentioned in a speech by Julia Reichert, the co-director of the Barack and Michelle Obama-produced Best Documentary winner “American Factory.”
Reichert concluded her speech with a paraphrase of the “Communist Manifesto,” written by Marx and Frederich Engels, stating “[W]e believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite.”
Pitt’s politically driven tone was significantly different than previous wins, where he kept it light with jokes and breezy speeches. Pitt was more somber on Sunday, calling his win “incredible” as his peers cheered.
The actor plays the stunt double of an aging cowboy actor played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a best actor nominee, in Quentin Tarantino’s 1969 Hollywood fable.
“‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ ain’t that the truth,” an emotional Pitt said before he thanked his children, Tarantino and DiCaprio.
“I’ll ride on your coattails any day,” he concluded of his co-star. “The view’s fantastic.”
Liberal firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is once again being dogged by criticism — this time over a puppy.
The animal rights group PETA blasted AOC for apparently buying a purebred French bulldog instead of adopting a homeless dog from a shelter.
“The dog is pretty clearly a Frenchie and a very young puppy who appears to have been purchased from a breeder,” PETA spokeswoman Ashley Byrne told The Post.
The freshman Democrat introduced the pup to her social media followers Tuesday, but has refused to answer questions about the still-unnamed dog’s origins.
But she is taking name suggestions from her followers: “We are thinking something Star Trek related or Bronx/Queens/NYC/social good related,” she said on Instagram.
PETA didn’t think there was anything cute about AOC’s pet pick.
“With the millions of homeless dogs out there, you apparently chose to buy a purebred puppy instead of adopting one from an animal shelter,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk wrote in a letter to AOC on Thursday.
“Right this minute, on Petfinder alone, there are more than 110,000 dogs — including French bulldogs — who need homes. Animal shelters are bursting at the seams with hundreds of thousands more, many of whom will be ‘put to sleep’ for lack of a home,” Newkirk wrote.
“French bulldogs are inbred in order to produce breed-specific traits, which cause health problems that many people who will be influenced by your purchase won’t be able to afford to address,” Newkirk continued.
“They are particularly at risk because their ‘cute’ features plague them with a lifetime of breathing problems, ear and eye infections, skin irritation, a weak stomach, and other issues,” she wrote.
Newkirk also lectured AOC about proper canine care.
“We’re also sending you a copy of the book Dogs Hate Crates, which explains why crate training is not humane or effective,” Newkirk wrote.
Ocasio-Cortez had posted a video on her Instagram of the bulldog whimpering inside a small black cage.
Reps for the congresswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A woman who disrupted a town hall set up by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday night turns out to be a part of a far-right conservative group known for these kinds of tactics. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez held a town hall meeting in Corona, New York. During the town hall a young woman stood up and began speaking anxiously about climate change, becoming more and more agitated, as she nihilistically rambled about how “we got to start eating babies.” She took off her jacket to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Save the planet. Eat the children.” Video of this interaction was sent around the internets and conservatives everywhere pointed to it as proof that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters were unstable, unrealistic, and to use our current president’s description, “wack job(s).”
That led to this exchange.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez had initially tried to plead for compassion for the woman, like any decent human being might when confronted with someone who seems to be very obviously in crisis both mentally and emotionally.
Now, the Washington Post reports that a Twitter account handled by the “LaRouche PAC—which was founded by conspiracy theorist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.” took credit for the woman’s actions. You see, according to the Post, LaRouche Jr.’s death didn’t bring an end to his fringe conspiracy theories or the small but intense cult around him. When LaRouche died in February of this year, one description of LaRouche’s acolytes under him, sticks out.
Mr. LaRouche was said to exert strong control over the personal lives of his disciples. In interviews over the years, many former members likened him to a cult leader who was obsessed with their sexual desires and challenged their mental toughness.
Cult much? The “LaRouchians” have continued forward, and today they’ve made a splash, proving that while there isn’t much evidence for mythical “radical-left” Trump and others proclaim, there is a ton of evidence pointing to an unhinged far right. Having a woman interrupt an event to use our climate change crisis to mock their political adversaries with statements like, “Even if we would bomb Russia, we still have too many people, too much pollution, so we have to get rid of the babies. Just stopping having babies is not enough, we need to eat the babies,” is nihilistic, unbalanced, and humorless.
It’s interesting that the far right, with Trump and Republicans in tow, seem to always be guilty of the exact charges they dish out: conspiratorial, nihilism, corruption, lawlessness, and an unwillingness to be held accountable for their actions that may ultimately destroy our country’s democracy.
“You said back in 2006 that the world would reach the point of no return if drastic measures weren’t taken to reduce greenhouse gases by 2016. Is it already too late?” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked during “This Week with George Stephanopolous” on Sunday.
“Well, some changes, unfortunately, have already been locked in place,” Gore replied. “Sea level increases are going to continue no matter what we do now. But, we can prevent much larger sea level increases — much more rapid increases in temperatures. The heat wave was in Europe. Now, it’s in the Arctic, and we’re seeing huge melting of the ice there.”
Gore, who wrote and starred in the 2006 climate documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” expressed optimism about minimizing the damage, however, and praised the field of Democrats aiming to unseat President Trump in 2020 for making the environment a central issue in many of their campaigns.
“So, the warnings of the scientists 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, unfortunately, were accurate,” he said. “Here’s the good news… In the Democratic contest for the presidential nomination this year, virtually all of the candidates are agreed that this is either the top issue or one of the top two issues.”
“There’s both bad news and good news. The problem’s getting worse faster than we are mobilizing to solve it,” Gore added.
“However, there’s also good news. We now have an upsurge in climate activism at the grassroots in all 50 states here in this country, and in every country in the world.”
Greta Thunberg’s rebuke of Congress last week took no prisoners and showed no favor to heroes of the left who have styled themselves friends of the environment.
Though Thunberg did not utter the words “Green New Deal,” she characterized partisan efforts that envision an idealized future as unhelpful dreams, and her criticism culminated in these words:
“No matter how political the background to this crisis may be, we must not allow this to continue to be a partisan political question. The climate and ecological crisis is beyond party politics. And our main enemy right now is not our political opponents. Our main enemy now is physics. And we can not make ‘deals’ with physics.”
The Achilles’ Heel of the Green New Deal is that it deploys the climate crisis as a liberal cause, which ensures conservative opposition.
The climate crisis is a universal cause.
Conservatives need a way to get on board. It’s difficult for them to support a policy that evokes the New Deal. And conservative opposition will relegate the Green New Deal to the realm of fantasy at least until a cataclysm arrives like the one that inspired the original New Deal.
We need a climate policy sooner than that.
To explain Greta’s sudden, global impact, people have begun speaking of her superpowers. One might be that at 16 she understands political reality better than some who have spent their lives in politics.
Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey has been in Congress more than 40 years, often leading the climate charge there, if we can call it a charge. Markey is one of the good guys on climate, by all accounts, one of the best. I’ll long remember the night he and I walked out of the Copenhagen Climate Conference at the same moment and strolled together toward the bus stop. How nice, I thought, Markey is taking the bus. But halfway there a long black limousine sidled up to the curb and Markey climbed in. You see, he’s no Greta.
Maybe that mixture of partisan fantasy and convenient compromise explains why Markey, climate’s champion in Congress, hasn’t gotten the job done. It is perhaps why even in a Democratically-controlled Congress, with a Democratic president, the Waxman-Markey Bill failed. His Green New Deal may get us no closer.
“Wherever I go I seem to be surrounded by fairytales. Business leaders, elected officials all across the political spectrum spending their time making up and telling bedtime stories that soothe us, that make us go back to sleep. These are ‘feel-good’ stories about how we are going to fix everything. How wonderful everything is going to be when we have ‘solved’ everything. But the problem we are facing is not that we lack the ability to dream, or to imagine a better world. The problem now is that we need to wake up. It’s time to face the reality, the facts, the science. And the science doesn’t mainly speak of ‘great opportunities to create the society we always wanted’. It tells of unspoken human sufferings, which will get worse and worse the longer we delay action – unless we start to act now. And yes, of course a sustainable transformed world will include lots of new benefits. But you have to understand. This is not primarily an opportunity to create new green jobs, new businesses or green economic growth. This is above all an emergency, and not just any emergency. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.”
Greta can’t remember the last time we learned this lesson about partisanship, because she hadn’t been born yet. But Markey must remember it.
The Republican Party used to support climate action. We owe our participation in the Paris Agreement not just to Barack Obama, who committed us to it, but to George H.W. Bush, who ratified the treaty that created the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.
But when Al Gore ran for president in 2000, climate change became a partisan issue, and the climate denialism that had been lurking in damp, self-interested corners of the culture went mainstream in the Republican Party. What better way to discredit the candidate they called “Ozone.”
Before long, Republicans could scarcely admit that science was true without being ousted from office by the Tea Party. And now denialism is personified in the Commander in Chief.
That’s what partisan politics gets you.
So Greta resists the temptation to side with the friendlies. It was Obama who told Greta, over a fistbump last week, “You and me, we’re a team.” And though Greta went along with that, she didn’t change her message.
Moments later, speaking to Obama’s Capitol Hill allies, including Markey, she said, “I know you’re trying, but just not hard enough.”
To me, Greta’s most important superpower is her integrity. She’s not going to take a limo back to the hotel. She’s not going to compromise for convenience. She’s not going to compromise for feel-good friends or would-be allies. She’s not going to seduce us with utopian palliatives. She’s going to keep telling the truth.
She sailed here just to insist that we read and heed the science.
Integrity secures her a place in the history of activism. For a quality so simple, so straightforward, she appears in the company of lions of non-violence, endurance and compassion—Gandhi and King, Mandela, Mother Theresa and Tenzin Gyatso—this prescient Swedish teen with an uncompromising call for us to hear the unvarnished truth.
But she doesn’t want our praise. She wants us to take real action. Let’s do.
Unlike most Senators, Cory Booker is a household name. The first African-American United States Senator from New Jersey, this former Mayor of Newark is now making waves in the nation’s capital for being an outspoken advocate for a slew of social justice issues including women’s rights, affirmative action, and animal advocacy. Booker—who just announced that he’s running for President of the United States for 2020—is as hellbent on fighting for the underdog as he is on finding the perfect vegan cheese. VegNews Digital DirectorJasmin Singer sat down with Senator Booker to discover his hopes for legislative change when it comes to animal welfare, the one thing each of us can do in order to be part of a forward-thinking society, and just why he’s so passionate about what he eats.
VegNews: When and why did you go vegan?
Cory Booker: I think my journey started in 1992. I was just coming off from playing varsity football for Stanford, about to start to play varsity basketball for Oxford, and I really believed what Gandhi titled his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. So, I tried to experiment with his vegetarian diet and see how I felt. And my body just took off; it was like somebody lifted off a twenty-pound weighted vest. My sleep patterns got better, I felt more energy, better recovery after workouts. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I will never go back to eating meat. I started becoming a vegetarian, but then, it made me insanely curious, like why is my body reacting this way? I just started reading about health and fitness. I found the data that began to reaffirm my vegetarianism. In fact, it led me to more about our environment and cruelty to animals. I began saying I was a vegetarian because, for me, it was the best way to live in accordance to the ideals and values that I have. My veganism started then. I started to cut back on milk and dairy, which includes cheese. I always felt like giving it up cold turkey was going to be too hard for me, but eventually, you know, twenty years later, I remember eating eggs and it was almost like my conditioning had changed. I think so many of our likes and dislikes are childhood memories or family traditions, and you associate the foods you’re eating often with such good emotions—but now, suddenly, eating those eggs for me was something that didn’t align with my spirit, and I could feel it. I finally just made a decision that I was going to become vegan. I remember my last non-vegan meal was Election Day, November 2014.
VN: Many people in your position may play it a little closer to the vest to avoid the kind of defenses so many people display when they find out you’re going vegan. Do you think being vegan for the animals hurts you or helps you politically, or maybe neither? And do you care?
CB: None of us want our government or elected officials preaching to us and telling us what we can or can’t eat. This is the United States of America, and I, for one, believe in our freedom to choose. So, I don’t want to preach to anybody about their diets; that’s just not how I live. But I am who I am. I want to live my life authentically and I don’t want to be one of those people that quiets when I’m excited to have food. I’m like every American: I want to talk about food. We love talking about food, and we love posting our food on social media. I’m not sure if any of my friends aren’t posting on Instagram something they love to eat. I’m not going to somehow mute that fundamental aspect of who we are just because I’m an elected official. The reality is, I just want to live my life in accordance with my values with an unapologetic authenticity. I think that’s what we want from our elected officials. We want authentic people, we want people who are not contorting themselves to fit into what voters might want. We all feel that, we’ve all encountered that before. So, I am who I am. And I remember when I was running for mayor of Newark, a friend of mine who is a Black guy, grew up in an African American community, and he was just laughing at me and goes, “You know, I don’t know if any African American community is going to elect a guy that doesn’t eat ribs.” This was when I was vegetarian. I laughed, you know, and I said, “You know, the great thing about Newark and the great thing about Americans is folks just want to feel you. They want to know your heart and they want to know your spirit, know that you come at it with good intentions.” That doesn’t mean we always need to agree with one another, but I think we like folks who are real. That’s who I am. In all my views, I just want to put my truth out there, and if folk believe in that, if folk want to support that, great.
VN: Taking into account what is reasonably realistic, what would you like to accomplish legislatively for animals and veganism?
CB: You know, look: I think that what we see happening in America is an awareness growing about the negative impacts that our current food system have on animals, and it’s great to see that consciousness and how people are demanding a change. You see very powerful corporate interests trying to fight against that change, when we, as Americans, don’t want to be engaging in activities that don’t support our fundamental ideas of justice and freedom. So, legislatively, I want to continue to be a part of a movement of folk who are fighting against corporate interests that are undermining the public good and the public welfare. So, I’m going to continue supporting bills that are about public health, whether it is pumping in all these antibiotics into animals that are literally threatening the safety of Americans. I believe that Americans do care about the cruelty to animals, and that’s why you see public movement to stop pig crating, which is harmful and violates our collective values as a country. I think that corporate power shouldn’t be snuffing out competition. This why I’ve been standing up. And we shouldn’t be trying to hurt industries—whether it’s the almond milk industry, dairy industry, or Veganaise or Just Mayo which has literally been under attack by the egg industry because they don’t like the competition. They shouldn’t undermine that. So, there’s a lot of bipartisan support for animal welfare bills, including some legislation I have to limit animal fighting. The testing of chemicals on animals is a big victory that I was able to have across party lines. So, I think there’s a lot of legislation we could be doing to stop sort of corporate power from reigning over the power of individuals to have freedom of choice, to see more compassion, to see a focus on public health. There’s momentum to doing the right thing legislatively, and I will continue to be part of a leadership that fights for these things and makes them happen.
VN: Do you think food policy will be a part of that?
CB: I think it has to be a part of it. You see the planet earth moving towards what is the Standard American Diet. We’ve seen this massive increase in consumption of meat produced by the industrial animal agriculture industry. The tragic reality is this planet simply can’t sustain billions of people consuming industrially produced animal agriculture because of environmental impact. It’s just not possible, as China, as Africa move toward consuming meat the same way America does because we just don’t have enough land. The number-one reason for rainforest destruction now is animal grazing land. We see greenhouse producing gases produced; the devastating impact is just not practical. The numbers just don’t add up. We will destroy our planet unless we start figuring out a better way forward when it comes to our climate change and our environment. So when you start seeing places like Duplin County and the severe health impact that the industrial pig farming is having there—literally, people that are living in those communities can’t open their windows, can’t run their air-conditioning, can’t put their clothes out on the clothing lines. Where they have respiratory diseases, there are high rates of cancer because of these massive pig farms where the farmers themselves are now being treated more like sharecroppers than small business people. It is grounding down the livelihood, the environment, the health and safety of folks. And all to do what? To produce pork that is being exported back by a Chinese company, Smithfield, being exported back to China. China is treating us now like a colonized country by outsourcing all of their pollution onto the United States. It’s just not sustainable as their demand for these products grows and the power of the industrial pork industry grows. It’s trampling the rights of others. We have to figure out a sustainable way. This doesn’t mean, in any way, getting rid of animal farming, but in many ways, it means lifting up the voices of small farmers again. Lifting up the voices of midsize farmers who are being beaten and killed by this corporate consolidation that’s taken over, and I mean that metaphorically, beaten and killed, of American farming as we know it because of the incredible power of these large corporate animal agriculture monopolies. It’s just crushing our ideas of family farms, crushing our ideas of the power of the American farmer. It’s something we have to start talking about. It’s small farmers who are treating animals with better care and compassion, who are treating the environment in a more sustainable way that really speak to the farming traditions of our country being destroyed economically because of this corporate consolidation that is unsustainable. So I think that we have a lot of work to do to start fighting again this Big Ag, industrial agriculture that has deep pockets and powerfully influential in places like Washington, but I don’t believe the status quo is going to continue indefinitely because I just think that we know that we’re starting to see the ill that this is having to farm labor, small farmers, to our environment, to the health and safety of folks. So my hope is that these bipartisan efforts are going to continue to facilitate change, and perhaps, help us get back to sustainable farm practices that can prevent against the ills that are so harmful on so many levels.
VN: One of the things we get excited about at VegNews is when these small animal farms transition to produce plant-based food. We’re seeing more and more of this—dairy farms are turning into hemp or almond farms; Elmhurst Milked recently transitioned from being the oldest dairy in New York State to being completely plant-based, for example. This is a way of maintaining the small farmer mindset and bringing in plant-based agriculture, and elevating that. To that end, we’d love to know a little bit more about your veganism. Can you talk a little about the day in and day out of your veganism?
CB: Yeah, but I just want to say something because you hit a really great point there. There’s a guy, Buckminster Fuller, who said—and I’m paraphrasing here—you never change things by fighting what exists in reality; to change something, you gotta build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. That’s the deal here. American consumers should not be told what to eat, but if you provide viable alternatives, in some cases, that taste even better—and if people have more information, if we consumers are informed about whatever it is—the dangers of the overuse of plastics all the way to the conditions in which animals that we are consuming are being treated. I think if they’re given viable options, whether it’s milk that tastes great … I’ve seen incredible vegan cheese shops popping up across the country, and my friends who are lovers of cheese just can’t tell the difference. You have pizza: I was at the New Jersey VegFest, and Screamer’s Pizza is just phenomenal. My non-vegan friends love it. One of my favorite comfort food vegan places is HipCityVeg, and I started going to it in Philadelphia. They now opened here in DC, and there’s often a line out the door in the Philadelphia one, and I asked people, “Are you vegetarian or vegan?” And they say, “No.” They just love the food. When alternatives like that, like Champs Diner in Brooklyn … It’s one of my favorite places to go eat vegan comfort food. You know, there are lines outside the door and everybody that goes here isn’t vegan, they just love the food. I took Gayle King, the CBS news producer. I posted this online. She was so skeptical, so hating on vegan food. When we choose restaurants, it’s always me saying, “Let’s make sure there are some vegan options for me, Gayle,” when we go out to eat. This time I took her to Avant Garden and she was blown away. I loved when she put the first forkful of the different dishes we tried, just to look at her face. She just couldn’t deny how incredibly good it was. So for me in Newark, there’s Blueberry Cafe that I love in our city, and that’s got amazing vegan food. I just met a guy that told me he’s opening up another vegan restaurant in Newark. I think it’s going to be called The Greedy Vegan. Just, the options are incredible. I just see the growth of vegan brands, the growth of vegan food. Even big meat mobiles like Tyson Foods, for example, they’re investing in all the meat alternatives that are coming because they see this space growing, and it’s not growing because vegans are growing out there. The growth of vegans in America is not proportional to the growth of vegan options that are out there. What’s happening is that Americans are just making the choice for health reasons, they’re making the choice because of their environmental consciousness, they’re making the choice because it tastes incredibly good. I just believe in freedom. Eat what you want, but do everything you can to eat in accordance with your own values, your own views, whatever they are. And eat for taste. The great thing for me, that I’ve found, as a plant-based eater for over 20 years and a vegan for the last five, is that the food options are just getting better and better and better.
VN: If you could give one piece of advice to those wanting to contribute and make a difference for the animals in our current political climate, what would it be?
CB: Well, before I do anything, I just want to make sure to mention a couple more of my favorite places because now you’re making me feel guilty. Philly is one of my favorite vegan cities, so I almost want to do a vegan tour of places in America because there’s a great diner in New Jersey that doesn’t get enough play: The Rutherford Diner. It has vegan pancakes, vegan stuffed French toast. It’s just amazing in New Jersey, one of my favorite places in my own state. In Philly, Vedge. Here in DC, Shouk and Fare Well are just incredible places. When I went to the Asbury Park Vegan Fest, I was hearing about places I haven’t been to. So your last question …
VN: Yes, and you’re making me hungry. If you could give one piece of advice to those wanting to contribute and make a difference for the animals in our current political climate, what would it be?
CB: Let your voices be heard. We live in a democracy where people have to understand our democracy is not a spectator sport. You can’t just get caught up in a state of sedentary agitation and see things that really bother you and not do something to change that. If you’re not voting or confronting your congressperson or your senator on your strong views, then you are actually contributing to the very things you find wrong and unsettling. The opposite of justice is not injustice, it’s inaction. So this is a competitive space down here, the policy space. There are very powerful, wealthy large corporate interests working to do what many of them have done for generations. Destroying our environment, undermining the public interest. And they’re down here shaping tax legislation, shaping regulations. We need you in the game. And if you have views—I don’t care what your views are, liberal or conservative, pro-animal compassion or heck, whatever your issue is—you gotta participate in this democracy. I think that people who care about animals, we’re the majority in this country who care about animals. I’ve seen our country move with its heart. Often, the challenge is just not knowing what’s going on. Again, so much about life is about being engaged, being knowledgeable, finding out what’s going on and then being an activist that lets your voice be heard. So I’m hoping that we start seeing more and more people who are making this an issue they’re voting on. It’s something that, again, I’m proud to stand up here in Washington with non-vegans, with a vow of meat-eaters who agree with me that we should be compassionate and stop animal cruelty, who agree with me that the overuse of antibiotics is one of greatest threats to humanity because of super viruses, that agree with me that we have a real environmental challenge if more and more people are going to be eating what is considered now to be the Standard American Diet. So my advice for anybody is to get informed, get more engaged, fight local laws. Like ag-gag laws, which are the most outrageous things I’ve heard of, trying to block people from knowing what’s going on in industrial animal agriculture. So we’re literally at a point where people are trying to take away fundamental freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom to know, freedom for consumer information. That’s what going on right now. The only way that’s going to stop, the only way we’re going to bring more transparency to government, transparency to society, more compassion, greater health, greater wellbeing, is if we have active, engaged citizenry who are willing to stand up, to speak up, to rise up for the values we all hold dear and treasure.
A portion of this interview was originally published in the September+October 2018 issue of VegNews Magazine.