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12/08/01 . Stuart Jeffries in Millau, France . The Observer . UK
Bové relishes a second bite
France's favourite food campaigner is back at his most famous battleground
Men with big moustaches and women with deep peasant tans rolled into this bucolic town on their tractors yesterday to make a stand for French food and to condemn the United States' tariffs on Gallic delicacies.
Truffle producers, Roquefort cheese and foie gras makers, shallot growers and goat farmers were joined by a motley crew of anti-globalisation campaigners who camped on the town's rugby pitch.
They have been called here by the man with the biggest moustache of all, sheep farmer-cum-globetrotting media celebrity José Bové. Two years after he and some like-minded campaigners from the French small farmers' union, the Confédération Paysanne, vandalised Millau's branch of McDonald's, the pipe-smoking activist has organised a mass rally outside the same burger joint.
Today the tractors will form a blockade outside McDonald's in what is intended to be a peaceful protest. Some 250 CRS riot police will be on hand, though Bové - now a veteran of anti-globalisation demonstrations in Seattle and Genoa - doubts there will be violence. 'Millau is not Genoa,' he said. 'There's no reason that there should be problems. This time we don't intend to put a foot inside McDonald's. The police will be here and we won't fight them.'
But with a town of 20,000 swollen for the weekend to nearly double that number by arriving protesters, Millau's police know they have to be vigilant.
The rally has been called to highlight the fact that in the two years since Bové's symbolic protest against what he called ' la malbouffe americaine ' (crap American food), small French farmers are still suffering from a 100 per cent US tariff imposed on delicacies such as foie gras and Roquefort.
In 1999, Bové was furious about this, not least because he makes Roquefort from his sheep's milk. But, more importantly, he recognised that the US - backed by the World Trade Organisation - had slapped tariffs on European products in revenge for the European Community banning hormone- injected US beef imports. At the same time in August 1999, a branch of McDonald's was being built in Millau.
Incensed by this symbolic inroad into la France profonde, which he regards as one of the last bastions against unwholesome agriculture, Bové and some colleagues called the local police and warned them they were going to vandalise the restaurant. He was arrested as a result of his action.
Two years on, the US duty is still in force and French farmers are feeling the pinch. The Roquefort Makers' Federation claims its US sales have fallen by 30 per cent.
Yesterday, holidaymakers heading for the beaches of the South of France joined with arriving protesters to cause gridlock outside Millau, France's glove-making capital.
The town was dominated by talk of Bové's rally. Marc Dehani, the manager of the Millau McDonald's, had not decided whether he will open his restaurant today, but said angrily: 'If I do close, it won't be Bové who pays my 50 employees.' Dehani said he met Bové once. 'There was no reasoning with him. He has his ideas, full stop. It's not very democratic.'
Dehani defended McDonald's against Bové's attacks: 'We work as partners with French agricul ture. We buy French, and serve one million meals a day.'
But for Bové and his supporters McDonald's exemplifies the inexorable march of globalisation and multinationals, with all their threats to the small producer.
'For me, malbouffe means both the standardisation of food - the same taste from one end of the world to the other - and the choice of food associated with the use of hormones and GMOs,' he says. 'The food industry regards the farmer as merely the supplier of raw commodities to meet the need of the manufacturers, rather than those of the consumer.'
These days Bové spends most of his time campaigning against globalisation and soulless agriculture rather than rearing his sheep.
Two weeks ago he was placed under
investigation for allegedly libelling French
animal feed makers, claiming they bought
feed infected with mad cow disease from
the UK. It is the latest in a long line of
legal wrangles for Bové, who has a
10-month suspended jail term hanging
over him for destroying genetically altered
plants in southern France.