French rebel Bove to fight on against GM food
FRANCE: February 12, 2001
MONTPELLIER, France - France's favourite rebel farmer, Jose Bove, vowed on Friday to continue his struggle against genetically modified food after the prosecution in his latest trial asked for him to be jailed for three months.
On his second day in court for destroying bioengineered rice plants, the anti-globalisation protester best known for trashing a McDonald's restaurant as part of an anti-fastfood protest said a prison sentence could not derail his campaign.
"Ours is the struggle of the future and we're the ones who are right," the walrus-moustachioed militant declared. "So we'll continue to fight against GM food and globalisation."
Arguing for a clear punishment, prosecutor Olivier Decout said: "One cannot systematically use violence against scientific progress." Michel Zaoui, lawyer for the Cirad research institute where Bove and two partners destroyed the rice plants in 1999, said the protest had caused four million francs ($558,600) of damage.
"During these hearings, Cirad was made to look like the guilty one and treated as if it aimed to damage the planet and make the poor even poorer," he complained to the court.
The trial, which spilled into a second day because of the complex scientific arguments involved, was due to adjourn later on Friday. The verdict would be announced in a few weeks.
ROBIN HOOD REPUTATION
Bove, who won a Robin Hood-like reputation after the McDonald's incident, and his two co-defendants proudly admitted to breaking into the Cirad laboratory in this southern French town in June 1999 and destroying the GM rice plants.
The accused theoretically risked up to five years in prison and a fine, but three months in jail would be a normal sentence for such a political protest that did not involve bodily harm.
Two months after the Cirad attack in 1999, Bove and his supporters sacked a McDonald's in the southern town of Millau to protest against "la malbouffe" (lousy food) and US tariffs on French delicacies such as Roquefort cheese and foie gras.
The 47-year-old sheep farmer was sentenced to three months for that protest, but has only served three weeks. He was due to return to court next week for a further hearing on that sentence, which prosecutors have appealed against as too soft.
Last month, Bove joined poor Brazilian farmers in uprooting rows of genetically modified soybeans at an experimental farm owned by US-based Monsanto during a giant anti-capitalism forum in Porto Alegre in Brazil. Bove, head of the Confederation Paysanne farmers' union, also played a prominent role in protests at the 1999 World Trade Organisation trade liberalisation talks in the US city of Seattle that were abandoned in the face of violence.
In its defence, Cirad said France needed a public research agency to provide an unbiased scientific view on genetically modified food and an alternative to research by companies.
Cirad Director General Bernard Bachelier told reporters that his laboratory had developed ways to trace altered genes in GM products, making the Bove raid all the more misguided.
Opponents of GM crops fear they may spread modified genes, with the risk of harming insects and humans, and the creation of pesticide-resistant superweeds. Supporters say they are needed to develop hardier crop types to help feed the world's poor.
Story by Nicolas Fichot
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE