This is a post by Jonas Hulsens, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner from Belgium who is on our GE-free bus tour of Europe

This morning, standing on the balcony of our hotel room, the peaceful view on the snow-covered slopes of Mount Canigou in early daylight felt like a generous compensation for a rather short night, and so did the warm welcoming by the volunteers of the local Greenpeace group of Perpignan. We met them at the organic market on Place de la République, a rectangular square covered with bars and terraces in the centre of town.

Today, Greenpeace France launched its campaign against the use of GE in the production of French quality cheese. On 46 cheeses with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) – a quality guarantee system – 21 systematically exclude GE from the feed used to raise the animals that produce the milk. 10 others committed to do so in the near future. For the remaining 15 cheeses there's not the slightest guarantee. Greenpeace is pushing all producers of quality cheese to go GE Free.

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10/04/2010 The mayor of Perpignan, Monsieur Poujol, signs the bus.

At Perpignan, the group installed a few tables on the market, offered the passing people to taste some of the GE free cheese, invited them to send letters to producers and sign the petition Everything was there: 7 rainbow-coloured umbrella's, each one with a letter on, forming together “OGM NON!” (“No to GMO!”), a beautiful banner, a quiz on GMOs and cheese, a giant anti-GMO logo with a hole to put your head through and of course an extremely enthusiastic crew. Similar actions took place in 22 other French towns.

A short story about “le fromage” - the cheese

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10/04/2010 Doz Gerard, president of the FCPE 66, an organisation that is running a campaign for bio food in schools, signs the bus.

One of the already GE free quality cheeses is the Roquefort blue. It became a symbol of the struggle for good food and against GMOs in 1999, after the US government subjected its import to a 100 % tax levy.

In a reaction, Roquefort cheese producers asked their representatives to act. The EU held firm, and so did the US. In March 2010 the Obama government increased the import tax on Roquefort to 300 %. So the Roquefort saga continues and every day more people check the state of their food products.

No surprise that the organic farmers on the market of Perpignan didn't hesitate to have their message for EU decision makers recorded in grandma's kitchen and to sign the bus. They were joined by the Mayor, Jean-Marc Pujol, and several other local politicians.

During the morning I came across Pierre, an almond, grape, figs and olive producer all too keen to share his story. After 19 years of chemical agriculture, he converted to ecological farming. 3 years ago he got his organic certification. “In the beginning my motivation was purely financial”, he tells, “Little by little I realized all the other benefits, for the environment, for my own health and that of my children. At the time I was strangled by the operational costs of the farm, constantly indebted due to subsequent campaigns of spraying. The more treatments I did, the more finance I needed to buy the pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers, the more I owed to the input companies.” After his switch to organic agriculture, Pierre managed to get out of debt. “For the first time in many years, I'm getting an income out of farming”, he says. But what is even more: he became proud again to be a farmer! “I realized I had been farming for 19 years, without ever talking to the people about my methods, the spraying etcetera. Today it's exactly the opposite. I dare to affirm what I'm doing and I like to talk about it.”

The story of Pierre is one example on how ecological farming is a viable alternative to the financial treadmill of chemical agriculture, of which GE is only the latest development.

Jonas Hulsens