Activist escapes jail
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
December 11, 2007

MILLAU, France – French farmer-activist Jose Bove said he had been spared four months in prison on charges of ripping up genetically modified (GM) crops, after a judge converted his sentence to a fine.

Bove, the 54-year-old hero of France’s anti-globalisation movement, was convicted on appeal earlier this year of destroying GM crops in the southern region of Haute-Garonne in July 2004.

But the prosecutor and judge setting the detail of his sentence agreed to convert it to a fine, whose amount was to be fixed later this month, Bove told reporters outside the courtroom.

The mustachioed sheep farmer shot to worldwide fame in 1999 after trashing a half-built McDonald’s outlet in southern France and backs a moratorium on GM crops as part of his campaign against what he calls “malbouffe”, or bad food.

Bove ran as a candidate of the anti-capitalist far-left in May presidential elections, gathering 1.3 percent of votes, and briefly faced the prospect of campaigning for a jail cell.

The farmer-activist told reporters he planned to launch a hunger strike from January 3 to protest at the French government’s failure to decree a year-long moratorium on GM crops at an environmental summit in October.

The government suspended use of MON810, a brand of maize developed by the US agrochemical giant Monsanto and the only GM crop authorised in France, until February pending new legislation on the matter.

Bove’s activism has already earned him three spells in prison, for the McDonald’s incident in 1999, and in 2001 and 2003 for ripping up GM crops.

Bove turned his back on city life in the 1970s, setting up as a sheep farmer in the countryside near Millau.

In 1987 he founded the radical Small Farmers Confederation to champion the cause of small producers, launching a crusade against fast-food and GM crops.