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Frenchman Bove on Trial for Destroying Genetic Rice

Updated 5:45 AM ET February 8, 2001By Nicolas Fichot

MONTPELLIER, France, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Radical French farm leader Jose Bove
stood trial on Thursday on charges of raiding a research centre and
destroying genetically-modified rice plants in the latest action by
anti-globalisation activists.

The walrus-moustachioed Bove who shot to fame in 1999 when he led an attack
on a McDonald's hamburger restaurant in southern France to protest against
"malbouffe" (lousy food) in general and U.S. tariffs on French cheese and
foie gras in particular, was sentenced to three months jail.

On Thursday several hundred militants marched to the court with Bove, who
faces up to five years in prison and a fine if convicted of breaking into
the Cirad research institute in the southern city of Montpellier in June
1999 and damaging public property.

"Today we do not need to burn our hand in a flame to know that there is a
danger, the experiments confirming the danger are more than sufficient,"
Bove, a 47-year-old sheep farmer, told journalists before the trial began.

Several dozen police surrounded the court building where Bove took the dock
alongside two other defendants, while sympathisers set up an impromptu
market selling rural produce in a nearby square to demonstrate against
industrial farming.

Prosecutors appealed against the three-month sentence on Bove as too
lenient.

Bove joined poor Brazilian farmers last month in uprooting rows of
genetically-modified soybean at an experimental farm in owned by U.S.-based
Monsanto on the sidelines of a giant anti-capitalism forum in Porto Allegre
in Brazil.

ATTEMPTED INTIMIDATION?

Cirad said it was essential to have a public research organisation to
provide a unbiased scientific view on genetically-modified foods and provide
an alternative to commercial research undertaken by companies.

"The rise of a public debate is an excellent thing for everyone," a Cirad
spokesman told France Info radio. "What worries us a great deal is that a
systematic attack on all public research is not debate, it's an attempt at
intimidation."

Opponents of GM crops fear they risk spreading modified genes, risking harm
to insects and human or the creation of pesticide-resistant superweeds.

Supporters of the technology claim it is needed to develop hardier crop
types to help feed the world's poor and grow tastier and more nutritious
plants.

Bove, whose fluent English learned during a childhood stay in the United
States has helped him preach his message outside France, has shown a sure
sense of publicity in planning his appearances.

An estimated 30,000 protesters swamped the southern French town of Millau
last June to support Bove when he went on trial for ransacking the
McDonald's restaurant there.

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 U.S. city of Seattle that were abandoned in the
face of violence.
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