Growing tensions in France between opponents and supporters of genetically modified crops have led to violent confrontations.
Gendarmes used tear gas and batons to prevent pro-GM farmers from invading a picnic for militant opponents of genetically modified maize at the town of Verdun-sur-Garonne in south-west France over the weekend.
Hardly a day has gone by this summer without opponents of GM maize - both environmental campaigners and small farmers - invading fields and trampling or cutting down crops. The protesters, led by the small- farmers' leader, JosÃƒ© BovÃƒ©, claim a citizens' right to destroy crops which, they say, threaten ecological calamity and the subjection of farmers to the whims of agro-industrial, multinational companies.
Tempers have risen to boiling point since the suicide earlier this month of a farmer in the Lot dÃƒ©partement who had agreed to plant a small section of GM maize. He took his life a few days after he had been warned that anti-GM protesters planned to hold a picnic on his fields.
The largest French farmers' federation, the FNSEA, called for Saturday's demonstration to protest against attacks on crops and alleged government inaction. Gendarmes used tear gas to prevent the farmers from crossing a bridge to the site of the anti-GM picnic, which was addressed by the extravagantly moustachioed M. BovÃƒ©.
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"If BovÃƒ© keeps on cutting down our crops, we're going to shave his moustache," said one protester.
Michel Masson, head of the FNSEA in the central area of France, said: "There has already been one death and I can tell you that many farmers, rather than hang themselves from a tree, are now ready to take their rifles off the wall."
The confrontation is partly between town and country. It is also a confrontation between two different approaches to agriculture. The FNSEA supports a "scientific" and highly productive approach to agriculture. M. BovÃƒ© and his supporters argue for a traditional, small-scale approach.
Successive governments have shied away from legislating clearly on GM crops. Most types are banned but farmers have been allowed to plant, experimentally, a variety of maize called MON810, developed by the US company, Monsanto, which is said to be immune to insect attack.
© 2007 The Independent