Agro-mafia earns billions from fake "authentic Italian" food
By Hanns-Jochen Kaffsack Jan 11, 2012, 2:06 GMT
Rome - Scandals involving food are making headlines in Italy, where the so-called 'agro-mafia' is making billions in the thriving olive oil, cheese and ham industries with fraudulent products.
Tasty Bresaola ham contains Uruguayan beef, mozzarella cheese is riddled with growth hormones - and guaranteed 'Italian' olive oil is also tainted.
The list of such violations - revealed in raids by the authorities and by consumer studies - seems endless in the country famed for its culinary delights.
Even spaghetti - regarded as the emblematic Italian product - sometimes originates outside the country, where production costs are lower.
One-third of food products marketed as originating in Italy have in fact been manufactured with ingredients imported from other Mediterranean countries. These were the findings of an extensive scientific study, which was conducted in co-operation with Italy's agricultural association Coldiretti.
The leading daily, Corriere della Sera, slammed the illegal practices as an attack on food 'Made in Italy' and coined the term 'Truffa DOC' for the fraud.
One of the biggest recent scandals concerned olive oil - one of the most revered ingredients of the famous Mediterranean diet - made in several locations.
Fraudsters claimed to be selling 'extravergine d'oliva,' olive oil renowned for its extra special qualities.
In fact - according to the Rome-based daily La Repubblica - 'low-cost' oil from Tunisia, Greece and Spain or Morocco had been mixed with olive oil native to Italy and launched on the market with a bogus label.
'The 10 companies which make up the cartel earn 5 billion euros (6.3 billion dollars) every year, and we end up with fake products on our tables,' the report said.
Customs, forestry authorities and financial investigators are still working out how to put an end to this lucrative business.
The Coldiretti report puts the agro-mafia's annual turnover at a minimum of 12.5 billion euros. That is only a fraction of the up-to 220 billion the Italian mafia earns annually from organized crime, according to estimates by the economic institute Euripides.
But mafia rings like Camorra, 'Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra are increasingly extending their investments to the booming food business, reports say.
In an era marked by economic crises, thrifty consumers will opt for bargain, yet supposedly high-quality, olive oil on supermarket shelves.
But in olive oil as in wine, price is an indication of quality, and there is concern that the frauds could eventually destroy the good reputation of Italian delicacies.
Authorities are monitoring the sector closely.
'A common good is at stake, and we should all be willing to protect it,' warns Carmelo Maiorca, a representative of Sicily's Slow Food movement, which works to support the production of good food whilst caring for the environment.