Burger crusader becomes a hero

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THE ROBIN HOOD of Roquefort, Jose Bove, is on the march. Released from prison, the leader of the French small farmers' rebellion against Uncle Sam and Ronald McDonald plans to head a Europe-wide producer and consumer crusade against la sale bouffe (dirty food).

Mr Bove, 47, an urban peace and environmental campaigner turned sheep farmer and activist, has become an overnight hero and symbol for individuals and groups all over the world fighting mass agriculture, scientifically engineered food and the diktats of global trade.

Imprisoned last month for leading an attack on a half-built McDonald's in the south of France, he refused on principle to pay his Fr105,000 (pounds 10,500) bail. He has now consented to come out of jail after the money was raised a dozen times over by sympathisers in France and other countries, including farmers in the United States, the country Mr Bove accuses of trade and food imperialism.

Mr Bove, despite the clearly illegal nature of his actions (smashing up a McDonald's under construction), has been supported across the French political spectrum, from the Communists to the National Front. Even the President, Jacques Chirac, and the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, have sided with him.

He told the newspaper Le Monde yesterday he would form a Europe-wide alliance of small farmers and consumers against agro-industry and cheap but tasteless and doubtfully produced food. The first target of the new campaign would be the world trade talks in Seattle in late November, which he planned to attend.

"We have to create another international logic, instead of economic, social and environmental dumping in agriculture," he said. "We have to change the World Trade Organisation so that it respects the cultural choices of different people, does not destroy family farms across the world and guarantees fairer trade rules."

He said there was a "profound revolt against the American nutritional model, which produces a nation where 30 per cent of people are obese".

Mr Bove's attack on McDonald's was part of a series of assaults across France in the past six weeks, in response to the 100 per cent punitive taxes imposed by the US on high-quality European produce, including Roquefort cheese.

The satisfying symbolism of Big Mac versus Roquefort has allowed Mr Bove to portray his struggle as an anti- American one, which has gone down well in France. In truth, it is a struggle between two different models of agriculture, which exist both in France and in the United States.