A headline you are unlikely to read in the United States has been appearing in various versions in the newspapers of southern France this past couple of days.
"Mowers attack harvest" is the general theme. The mowers, however, are not mechanical but human. And the crops they are attacking are genetically modified.
It's an issue that provokes a big yawn in the United States -- if that. But if you want to get blood running high in Europe, just mention the name Monsanto or the words "genetic engineering," which is what the science of modifying the natural makeup of plants is known as in America.
Last Sunday night protesters snuck into two testing fields in southwest France growing genetically modified commercial maize. They destroyed between 6 and 10 hectares of plants.
In the middle of last week, in another field in the region, Greenpeace activists chopped a giant cross through the maize -- the universal danger sign for "contamination."
A court had ordered the French branch of the organization to remove from its Web site a map depicting the sites of GM maize fields across the country. So the protesters are marking them for real -- and have threatened to continue to do so until an official register of GM fields is made available to the public.
Last year it was revealed that 500 hectares in France have been planted with GM crops. A U.S. Global Agriculture Information Network report predicts that figure will have soared to 5,000 by the end of this year.
"Our goal," one of the protesters participating in Sunday's destruction explained to Sud Ouest newspaper, "is not to make an attack upon farmers' revenues, but to denounce what is happening until a genuine public debate on this question (of GM crops) is established."
The demonstrators plan to reimburse the farmers for the value of their damaged crops.
Between 1999 and 2003 the European Union banned GM food imports -- which the U.S. food industry claims has cost it around $300 million in lost sales. Earlier this year the World Trade Organization ruled this a violation of trade rules.
The number of "mowers" ready to destroy crops at the risk of five-year prison sentences or a fine of 75,000 euros ($96,000) is on the rise. In 2003, 300 were registered by name with various anti-GM organizations. This year 6,200 are on the lists. Commercial cultivation, they believe, is illegal since it does not conform to official European directives on the planting of GM crops.
Proponents and producers of genetically engineered foods and crops have made a poor job of marketing them to consumers in the EU member states as safe to health and the environment. The EU's ruling body has been unable, despite voting on more than 10 occasions on allowing their formal introduction, to reach any agreement.
So far, the map of GM fields in France appears on the Web site of the Confederation Paysanne, the peasant farmers' union formed by José Bové, the militant French farmer who has destroyed a Novartis seed production factory and a branch of McDonald's as part of his fight against GM crops. Bové, who wants to see the creation of an independent world court that would protect non-GM agriculture, has called for the continuation of their destruction.
If you want to find a maize flour that doesn't come from GM -- or rather genetically engineered -- corn to make this spiced-up bread, you'll have to go to a health-food store.
-- 1 cup all-purpose flour
-- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
-- 4 teaspoons baking powder
-- 15-ounce can cream-style corn
-- 1 cup butter, melted
-- 1 cup white sugar
-- 4 eggs
-- 1/2 4-ounce can chopped green chile peppers, drained
-- 1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
-- 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
-- 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
-- 1/4 teaspoon salt
-- Preheat oven to 300F.
-- Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
-- In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar.
-- Beat in eggs one at a time.
-- Fold in corn, chiles and chili, and the cheeses.
-- In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
-- Add flour mixture to corn mixture and stir until smooth.
-- Pour into pan and bake 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into center of the pan comes out clean.