Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Farmer for Our Time

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

The crowded courtroom in the southern French town of Montpellier listened on February 9 to prosecutor Olivier Decout sweep through his peroration: “One cannot systematically use violence against scientific progress!” Outside, the police held back a thousand French farmers who poured into the university town to rally for their leader, Jose Bove, charged with fomenting an attack on a nearby biotech research station belonging to a corporation called CIRAD.

The farmers, belonging to the Confederation Paysanne, had taken crowbars and sledgehammers to a CIRAD greenhouse, then pulled up and burned a thousand genetically modified rice plants, simultaneously destroying computer files holding the company’s research data.

The action, led by Bove, was one more in a series of attacks by French farmers on genetically modified crops and fast food restaurants. In answer to the prosecutor’s accusation in Montpellier that he and his companions were mere Luddites, Bove replied, “Why refuse something which is presented as ‘progress’? It’s not because of old-fashionedness, or regrets for the good old days. It’s because of concern for the future, and because of a will to have a say in future developments. I’m not opposed to fundamental research. I think it would be illusory and detrimental to want to curb it. On the other hand, I don’t think that every application of research is necessarily desirable, at the human, social or environmental level. And the only regret that I have now is that I wasn’t able to destroy more of it.”

Bove now awaits sentencing and three other actions in France alone. If there’s one organizer symbolizing the worldwide counterattack of peasants and family farmers against corporate agriculture, copyrighted bio-tech crops and global trading blocs organized by the big capitalist powers, it’s surely Bove.

Now 47, he cut his teeth on insurgency in the famous student/worker uprisings in France in 1968. In the 1970s he and his wife Alice led a successful campaign to keep the French military from building missile silos on the Larzac plateau where they had just moved to raise sheep for milk for the area’s famous Roquefort cheese. Bove speaks fluent English. In fact, he spent four years of his youth in Berkeley, where his parents, both biochemists, did research at the University of California.

In 1987 the Boves founded the Confederation of French Farmers, and in one of the first of many brilliantly conceived publicity coups, the farmers ploughed up a few acres of ground under the Eiffel tower to protest an initiative of the EEC favoring corporate agriculture.

Later, while many French radicals were patriotically defending French nuclear tests in the South Pacific, Bove travelled in 1995 on Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior II to protest the tests, an act of some courage, considering that back in 1985 the French secret service had exploded a bomb on Rainbow Warrior I, killing a Portuguese photographer called Fernando Pereira.

Bove didn’t gain international attention until August of 1999, when he and three of his compatriots, armed with a tractor, pick axes and chainsaws, attacked and destroyed a McDonald’s under construction in his hometown of Millau. Bove denounced McDonald’s as purveyors of la malbouffe (bad beef). He said that McDonald’s was merely a symptom of a larger problem, global corporations forcing genetically engineered or processed foods down the throats of unwilling farmers and consumers. “The WTO and the corporations are telling us what to eat.” Bove said. “In France, no one agrees with this.”
Bove at a biotech protest against Safeway in Washington, DC.

Almost overnight Bove became a French hero, praised even by French president Lionel Jospin, and touted in Le Monde as the new Vercingetorix, who had repelled the alien invaders. In the US, the Wall Street Journal, roused by this attack on one of the nation’s leading exports, lashed out at Bove as “a food terrorist”. After knocking down the McDonald’s outlet Bove was arrested and refused to pay his bail, which was then raised by American midwesterners in the National Family Farm Coalition. The Coalition’s president, Bill Christison, flew to Millau to stand in solidarity with Bove and two others on trial.

Quoting Lincoln, Christison told the French court that “We testify on behalf of our fellow farmers as they seek economic and social justice. Corporate globalization, flawed agriculture and trade policy are the real problems. These farmers made an effort to abide by the law when looking for a solution but found there was no other recourse.”

There is a question of how much cheese Bove has time to make. For the past two years he’s been on the road, in Seattle for the WTO protests where he protested US tariffs on French Roquefort by smuggling in rounds of the cheese, dispensing chunks to cops and demonstrators alike in front on a downtown outlet of McDonalds. This last month he was with an international coalition of peasant farmers called Via Campesina, demonstrating at an anti-globalization forum in Brazil, timed to coincide with the annual moot of the rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland.

While in Brazil Bove and Christison were asked by the Landless Workers Movement to accompany them in an attack on a test facility belonging to Monsanto, where 1,300 farmers duly destroyed a thousand acres of genetically engineered corn and soybeans. The peasants had earlier forced the local governor to declare the province of Rio Grande do Sul a biotech free zone but Monsanto secured an exemption. If Monsanto returns, the peasants say, they’ll put the company’s directors on a plane and send them back to the United States.

The United States is home turf to the world’s mightiest corporate agribusiness, as family farmers know all too well, having seen their average income decline by 62 per cent since 1978, and have seen themselves become little more than share croppers for the four or five companies that now dominate US agriculture. Hence the support of Bove by the National Family Farm Coalition.

“Our fight is against globalization,”, said Christison. “This means domestic policies that support international deals that are in the interests of corporate agribusiness. These policies are created in board rooms of companies motivated by profit and not the economic health of the farmer, the health of the consumer or the vitality of the rural community. Globalization means policies in the US that force our prices as low as possible by removing an effective commodity loan rate or reserve. These policies force the world price to levels that are unsustainable for farmers around the globe.”

After coming back to France from Brazil (where he is now banned from returning), Bove went right back to work – his political work, that is. He traveled to Lille, in northern France, where he and four colleagues broke into the local headquarters of the ruling party to protest lack of support for small farmers. With them they brought a sow and 10 piglets, which they left behind in the party head’s office along with 20 bales of hay.

In the Montpellier courtroom Bove wound up his speech from the dock thus: “Yes, the action was illegal; but I lay claim to it because it was legitimate. I don’t demand clemency, but justice. Either we have acted in everyone’s interests and you will acquit us, or we have shaken the establishment and in that case you will punish us. There is no other issue.”

[On March 16, the French court found Bove guilty and then suspended his sentence. Bove remained undaunted, calling the ruling ominous and vowing to continue his crusade against industrial agriculture, biotech and trade pacts that favor transnational corporations at the expense of small farmers.] CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan; It’s the Heroin, Stupid
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Howard Lisnoff
What was Missing From The Nation’s Interview with Bernie Sanders
Julian Vigo
“Ooops, I Did It Again”: How the BBC Funnels Stories for Financial Gain
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Richard W. Behan
Installing a President by Force: Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Uri Avnery
Abu Mazen’s Balance Sheet
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Louisa Willcox
Tribes Make History with Signing of Grizzly Bear Treaty
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Frances Madeson
Why It’s Time to Create a Cabinet-Level Dept. of Native Affairs
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]