Son of two agricultural scientists, Jose Bove was born in 1953 in Bordeaux, France. He spent the first seven years of his childhood in Berkeley, California where his parents were conducting research. It was here where he mastered the English language and upon his return to France he enrolled in a bilingual secondary school near Paris. Bove briefly attended the University of Bordeaux before dropping out and becoming a sheep herder and farmer of Roquefort cheese. In 1976, Bove became a staunch environmental activist, fighting to prevent the expansion of a French military base that would take over sheep herding land (Franke-Ruta, 2002). During this event, Bove began to organize small farmers in the Larzac region where he lived and eventually founded the Confederation of Paysanne, a small-farmers union, in 1987 (Karon, 2001).
Since founding the Confederation, Bove has led numerous international rallies and protests against market consolidation, globalization and Americanization of agriculture, including genetically modified crops. Bove originally gained international recognition for his role in destroying a McDonald's in his home town in 1999, and five tons of genetically modified corn grown by Novartis, the largest GM company in the world, in 1998 (Johnson, 2001). Bove enjoys the support of the French public as well as independent farmers and environmentalists worldwide. He even has the ear of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac, who he has met with several times (Valls-Russell, 1999).
Bove vs. Genetically Modified Crops:
In 1997, Jose Bove joined the battle to prevent the release of genetically modified crops (GMC) into the environment. Though he stands against the implementation of GMC's, Bove does not necessarily oppose researching such crops. He is more worried about the unknown long term environmental and health impacts of GMC's. Bove is frustrated by the fact that the current status quo is for environmentalists to prove that GMC's are harmful rather than GMC companies proving they are not (Bove, 1998). He has even gone so far as to demand an international court to oversee the GMC issue and protect organic farmers. In the defense of his 1999 trial for destroying a GM crop field he stated, “Scientists only understand about 1% of the workings of genes in organisms and today with this lack of knowledge they are trying to impose technologies which provide no certainty or guarantee (BBCNews, 2001).”
Bove believes the poor labeling of GMC foods on store shelves and the pressure on large farm companies to increase production are signals that big business (and their lobbyists) control the agricultural industry. Even though there was an increase in the production of organic corn in 1999, and excess crops are being stored in huge silos, the American government is still pushing the issue of GM production under the pretext of preventing hunger (Bove, 1998). Bove believes that the potential consequences are not worth the benefits until we know more about the long-term effects. As Bove said at his 1999 trial in France, “There is no such thing as a good GM crop (Johnson, 2001).”