Italian Farmers March to Defend ‘Made in Italy’ Products

Thousands of Italian farmers blocked the Brenner Pass at the border with Austria recently, protesting against food piracy and import of raw food ingredients of low quality.

Italian agricultural association Coldiretti claimed the so-called “false Italian food,” which refers to food made with foreign ingredients, but branded as Italian, is badly damaging the traditional agricultural and food production in Italy.

“Many products are partially or totally made with ingredients coming from abroad, but since they are assembled or processed in our country they can be sold as ‘Italian foods,’ and this  ruins our original production,” Rolando Manfredini, quality manager with Coldiretti explained.

This allegedly unfair competition has resulted in the closing of around 140 thousand agricultural businesses between 2007 and 2013, according to figures released by Coldiretti and Unioncamere, the Association of the Italian Chambers of Commerce.

Around 32,500 cattle sheds and farming businesses have disappeared just in 2013, with a loss of 36 thousand jobs in the farmlands, they said.

According to the organizers, 10,000 farmers from all over Italy jointed the demo, all of them wearing the yellow cap and yellow shirt of the farmers’ organization.

Dozens of farmers came with their own trucks and tractors at the border. Some protesters started to stop lorries entering the border, to check what products they were carrying and where they were destined.

They staged their protest only a half a mile from the Brenner Pass, because Brenner is a most relevant import-export gateway to Italy: of the 101.5 million tons of goods traded in 2012 through the mountain chain of Alps, which runs all along the northern Italian borders, 30 percent passed through Brenner.

According to Coldiretti, at least 33 percent of the food sold and exported as “Made in Italy” actually contains foreign ingredients. Consumers have no knowledge of it and are thus induced to buy those products as real “Made in Italy” food. This would result in an unfair competition, the Italian farmers complained.

“The false ‘Made in Italy’ food conceals the origin of its raw materials to consumers and takes advantage of the brand. It can be sold at a lower price on the market and the Italian farmer will be harmed by that, because his entire chain of production is original and his raw ingredients are more expensive,” Manfredini said. “In this way the ‘real’ Italian food becomes non-competitive and farmers are forced to shut down,” he added.

The Coldiretti representative took pork as an example, ham being a quite well known “Made in Italy” food: “Italian farmers are now paid less than their production costs for pork. How can they survive?” Manfredini asked.

Again, three UHT milk portions out of four sold in Italy originate abroad but are sold as “Italian,” and around one- third of Italian pasta is being made with non-Italian wheat, according to Coldiretti.

The Ministry of Agriculture Nunzia De Gerolamo attended the demonstration and talked to the protesters, trying to soothe the farmers’ worries and listen to their complaints. The demonstrators asked for more transparency in food information and labeling policies. “What we ask is very simple: every food must have a clear label which would say the country of origin of every single ingredient or raw material,” Manfredini said.

“We want the Italian government to quickly ratify a law to that effect, a law which already exists but is not yet implemented,” he added. “We also hope the European Union would change the labeling regulations, so that defending the ‘Made in Italy’ would become easier,” the farmer’s representative concluded.

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