TOULOUSE - French radical farmer Jose Bove, who became a worldwide celebrity for his fight against junk food, said on Monday he would go on a hunger strike to win a one-year ban on genetically modified (GMO) crops.
Speaking at the Millau Court of Justice in southern France, where his four-month jail sentence for trashing a GMO field in 2004 was commuted to a fine, Bove said he would start his unlimited strike on January 3, along with 10 to 15 other activists.
The walrus-mustachioed, pipe-smoking Bove, sometimes dubbed France's Robin Hood, spent six weeks in jail in 2003 for smashing up a McDonald's restaurant in protest at tariffs imposed by the United States in retaliation for a European Union ban on imports of North American hormone-treated beef.
While GMO crops are common in the United States, France -- Europe's biggest grain producer -- along with other European nations remain highly suspicious of them.
Supporters say it could lead to hardy strains to help feed the world's poor. Opponents, which polls say include a majority of French people, fear they could harm humans and wildlife by triggering an uncontrolled spread of modified genes.
In an attempt to calm these concerns, France last week formally suspended the commercial use of GMO seeds until February 9 and ordered a biotech safety study.
It also set up a committee charged with assessing the health and environmental implications of using the only GMO seeds used in Europe, which are reliant on the MON 810 technology developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto.
"This decree is ridiculous. It is a scarecrow," Bove said.
"Everyone knows that there are no sowings during winter. We demand a real pause in GMO use in 2008. It must be a year without GMOs and we are stating this hunger strike to show our determination," he added.
(Reporting by Nicolas Fichot in Toulouse; editing by Michael Roddy)
© 2007 Reuters