The militant French sheep farmer José Bové and as many as 15 of his supporters began a hunger strike Thursday aimed at raising pressure on the French government to impose a long-term ban on growing genetically modified crops.Bové captured worldwide attention for helping to organize the ransacking of a McDonald’s restaurant nine years ago to protest the influence of multinational corporations. Since then he has served time in a French prison for damaging gene-altered crops.
“We will hold out for as long as it takes,” the Associated Press quoted Bové as saying Thursday, after starting the protest.While his campaigns have struck a sympathetic chord in many parts of France and Europe where gene-altered foods are widely mistrusted – and where Bové is something of a folk hero – the latest protest against altered crops comes as divisions over the potential benefits of the technology appear to be deepening across the region.
Some European Union officials remain wary of using products that could endanger insects and fish and disturb ecosystems, but others have redoubled calls to ease restrictions on altered seeds as a way of keeping farming globally competitive at a time of skyrocketing food prices.
The European agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, warned farm ministers in November that Europe’s resistance to importing genetically modified products like livestock feed was contributing to the rising cost of raising pigs and chickens and could pose a threat to the meat industry.
In October, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, disappointed supporters of a long-term ban by announcing a temporary freeze on genetically modified seeds pending the outcome of a review of the technology that is expected early this year.
Bové has said he is undertaking his hunger strike to push the French government into making a much longer-term commitment to end seed cultivation.
Genetically modified corn is already imported into several EU countries, including France and Germany, where it is used to feed animals like cows and chickens. But only one genetically modified crop is currently grown in Europe, a form of corn produced by Monsanto and nine other companies called Mon 810 that is the main target of Bové’s protest.
Austria, Hungary and Poland are among countries that already have banned the Monsanto corn.
A long-term ban “is the only thing that will put an end to this hunger strike,” Bové told the French daily Sud Ouest in an interview published Wednesday. “Promises won’t be satisfactory.”
Bové told Sud Ouest that he would conduct the hunger strike in a well-known public location in Paris where he would not cause any security problems. He declined to reveal the whereabouts of the location before Thursday.
Bové began reducing his intake of alcohol, meat, eggs and cheese at the end of December to start accustoming his body to the fast, during which he said he expected to lose half-a-kilogram, or about one pound, of weight each day, he told another French newspaper, Midi Libre.
“This hunger-strike is a well-considered commitment, not a suicidal act,” Bové told Midi Libre.