BBC web pages‎ > ‎

Jose Bove: A Profile

FRIDAY 19th April 2002

1975, Larzac, France, and the flower power of the local peasant community was in full throe. When they weren't making Roquefort cheese to smuggle into the US, they were planning to oppose the extension of a local army base. Many were arrested during a 1976 invasion of the base, but the plans were dropped. Behind his prison bars during his three week stay, Jose Bove discovered his raison d'etre.

A Gaul resistance against "mallbouffe"

In the quarter-century since then, despite his claims of a simple farming lifestyle, Bove's distinctive Gallic brow and Asterix moustache have become ubiquitous symbols of the ever-growing French backlash against all things corporate.

In 1988, he helped organise a protest "Ploughing the Champs Elysee" in Paris against European set-aside policies. A couple of years later, he led hunger strikes for more government subsidies. In 1995, he was on the Rainbow Warrior, siding with Greenpeace against nuclear trials.

In 1997, Bove turned his attentions to GM crops. His militant credits include the destruction of a Novartis seed production facility and the hijacking of GM-grown corn. In 1999, Bove spent another three weeks in jail after he led activists in the destruction of - guess what - a branch of McDonalds. For Bove, the golden arches represent the industrialisation of all food production, the worst of "malbouffe - bad food". For the anti-global movement, his imprisonment made him one of its first martyrs.

And as this battle has spread across the world, Bove has been celebrated as one of its international war heroes. Invited by American Ralph Nader to attend the 1999 WTO in Seattle, Bove munched on a Roquefort sandwich in front of a local McDonalds. The same food outlet was inevitably vandalised, and it this militancy that accompanies Bove everywhere that divides his audience.

Fraudster or firebrand?

His friends describe a rare person who can match opinion with action, not afraid to take on the military, a lover of action and defender of ideology.

His critics describe an opportunist, a veteran activist with no real farming roots, who has "not seen his sheep for a month". They cite his Californian upbringing, and France's Elle Magazine once called Bove "the man who fooled us most, who perpetuated fraud". And before he founded the Confederation Paysanne, a leftist peasant farmers' union, they ask why an authentic French farmer would really need to spend time at a Quadafi-sponsored "direct action" training camp in Libya.

But potatoes are now politics, and as vegetables become the ingredients of an increasingly controversial hotpot, Bove is not only staying in the kitchen, but, it would seem, keeping his hand on the stove.

He's called for the creation of an independent world court to protect non-GM agriculture, and maintains his ideals are those of a simple French farmer. For him, though, "Farming was beginning to be the symbol of the resistance against globalisation. Because farming is the thing we do in each place all over the world."

What is without doubt is that Bove shares the taste buds of his country. Aiming for an organic kind of agriculture, he explains, "After all, what is important is to have good food."