PARIS - French radical farmer Jose Bove, who became a worldwide celebrity for his fight against junk food, went on a hunger strike from Thursday to try and get the government to do more to ban genetically modified (GMO) crops.Speaking on RTL radio, Bove said he had only been drinking water since early in the day to protest what he described as the government's failure to follow through on a pledge late last year to use a legal clause to ban GMO use.
Bove and around 15 other activists will carry out the hunger strike in a building in central Paris.
Bove said the government had promised to write a letter to the European Commission saying France would use the so-called safeguard clause to suspend the use of GMOs until scientific studies proved they could be cultivated safely.
But the government had not sent the letter and had only suspended the commercial use of maize seeds reliant on the MON 810 technology -- the only GMO seeds permitted for use developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto -- until Feb. 9, he said.
That is the date by which the government is expected to have passed a new law outlining a framework for GMO use.
"What I hope is that the political will (of the people) will be respected," Bove said in an interview.
RTL radio questioned the timing of Bove's actions given that the government was awaiting the opinions of a committee of experts and that there could still be room for negotiation.
Senior government officials said last month that France would extend its ban beyond Feb. 9 and use the safeguard clause if doubts over the commercial use of GMO sees lingered.
But France would once again allow farmers to cultivate MON 810 maize, which has been cleared for use by the the European Union, if expert findings proved extremely positive, the officials said.
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.
Reporting by Tamora Vidaillet and Valerie Parent; Editing by Michael Roddy
© 2007 The Guardian