Radical French Farmer Found Guilty of Vandalizing McDonald’s Restaurant

M I L L A U, France, Sept. 13, 2000 -- A French sheep farmer who became a folk hero by vandalizing a McDonald’s last year was convicted today for the attack and sentenced to three months in prison.

Jose Bove has become an international figure since he and his codefendants partially dismantled a McDonald’s under construction in the southern town of Millau on Aug. 12, 1999. He insisted today that his conviction would not dampen his fight against rampant globalization.

The sentence exceeded what prosecutors sought against Bove, who will likely spend two months in prison because of time already served. The court in Millau handed Bove’s co-defendants punishments ranging from $265 fines to two-month suspended sentences. One was acquitted.

“The fight is going on,” Bove said. “If I have to go to jail, that’s not a problem for me.”

Country Fair Atmosphere

The two-day trial of Bove and his nine comrades, held this summer, drew some 15,000 people in a country fair atmosphere, with Bove brought to the Millau courthouse in an ox cart amid cheering crowds.

But the scene at the rendering of the verdict was a sharp contrast — underscoring the legal line on just how far activists like Bove can go in their protests against what they call the “McDomination” of the world.

Police erected metal barriers around the courthouse, and there were no large crowds. Hours ahead of the verdict, Bove, wearing jeans and sandals, milled around with friends and supporters at a cafe near the courthouse. “I’m neither anxious nor concerned,” he said.

Earlier in a telephone interview, Bove said the “action against McDonald’s was justified.”

“Whatever the judgment, we will certainly appeal,” he said.

Reactions to U.S. Sanctions

The mustachioed Bove led the attack on the McDonald’s to protest U.S. sanctions on European delicacies, from foie gras to Roquefort cheese — some of it made from milk supplied by Bove’s flock. The sanctions were to punish the European Union for refusing to import American hormone-treated beef.

He and his co-defendents faced up to five years in prison. Prosecutor Alain Durand had asked the court to sentence Bove to 10 months in prison, with nine months suspended. He asked for three-months suspended sentences for the other nine.

Bove, who coined a new French term — “mal bouffe” (bad eats) … is nicknamed “Robin Hood” by admirers. He has gained international stature defending small farmers against what they see as the encroachment on their way of life by multinationals producing artificial food.

“I think justice made a mistake putting me in prison … It gave more voice to our movement,” he said, adding that the trial was “very positive.”

‘Should We Canonize Jose Bove?’

“We’ll continue the destruction of OGM fields,” he said, referring to genetically altered crops, “and we’ll go hunting abroad … to push the multinationals back.”

The June 30 trial only embellished Bove’s reputation. His $17,000 bail was paid for by farmers’ groups and activists around the world. He drew headlines at the raucous World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last November, where he took part in a counter-summit.

“Should We Canonize Jose Bove?” read the cover of a recent edition of the French news weekly Marianne.

Bove says his action aimed against the “McDomination” of the world, a term he uses to refer to the standardization of foods that, he contends, has transformed the fruits of the Earth into one more mass product.

But he insists he is not against globalization, but wants to inject it with a dose of ethics so that small farmers, be they sheep farmers like himself or rice growers in the Philippines, can survive.