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The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"Jose Bove believes it is globalisation that should be in the dock"
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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
France's farm crusader
Filipino supporter with José Bové
Think globally: A Filipino supporter greets José Bové
By BBC News Online's Justin Pearce

"A peasant Robin Hood" is how the French left-wing daily Libération described José Bové - the farmer who is on trial for attacking the building site of a new McDonald's fast food outlet in Millau, in the Tarn valley of southern France.

Other commentators have drawn the comparison with Asterix: the French comic strip hero who sports a moustache remarkably similar to that worn by Mr Bové.

More Gandhi than Guevara

José Bové
Asterix, the plucky Gaul who takes on the might of the Roman empire, not only represents the power of the little guy versus the big guy - he is also an icon of French individuality refusing to be swamped by the imperial forces.

These days the centre of the empire may have moved from Rome to the boardrooms of New York and Seattle - but Mr Bové's opposition to economic globablisation has a particularly Gallic focus.

It is all about food - and more particularly, cheese.

"Eating is not a neutral act," he told reporters - a remark which embodies a uniquely French take on philosophy and food.

Mr Bové is a breeder of ewes, whose milk forms the basis of Roquefort cheese.

Attacking the aliens

He was moved to attack the McDonald's building site after the United States - whose fast food outlets, Mr Bové believes, are on a global rampage - imposed a heavy import tax on Roquefort and other French delicacies.

Asterix: Another moustached Frenchman who took on the world
The production of food and wine in France traditionally takes place on a small scale, with specific regions making characteristic products which are closely tied to particular local climate and soil types, and long-established techniques.

This is why the importation of American-style fast food, industrially-manufactured food products, and genetically-modified crops appear more alien in France than in a country like the United Kingdom, where eating traditions are less deeply entrenched.

It is true that enough French city-dwellers have taken to "le MacDo" to make outlets viable in a growing number of urban centres.

Media frenzy

But in France, those people who object to the growth of the fast-food industry evoke feelings of French national pride in addition to the economic, political and environmental concerns which are cited by protesters in other countries.

Mr Bové's stand has won the support of a significant portion of the French population, and created a media frenzy in the midst of which the sheep farmer is said to remain as serene and down-to-earth as ever.

The leader of the radical farmers' union the Peasant Confederation, José Bové's political roots lie in the left-wing uprisings in France in 1968.

But he describes his stance as "more Gandhi than Guevara".

'Collective enterprise'

"The struggles of peasants throughout the history of the world have always been a collective enterprise," he told Libération.

He says his recent experiences have demonstrated that there is no "individual solution to the problems of mankind".

And however uniquely French his stance may appear Mr Bové insists that he is "not anti-American at all" - rather, he supports "the right of people to feed themselves". Or "to nourish themselves", depending on how you want to translate his words.

Hence his participation - alongside thousands of Americans - in last year's anti-globalisation protests in Seattle.

Now the protests have come home again - and the French media have begun referring to the case as "Seattle-sur-Tarn".

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16 Sep 99 | Europe
Chirac slams US food domination
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