The cultivation of MON810 genetically modified maize as well as the cultivation of GMOs in general have been banned in Italy. The Ministerial decree has been extended for 18 months: no biotech plants can be produced on the Italian territory.
Everyone is happy now: no gluten-free pasta with GMO maize and especially no semolina or fresh pasta made with GMO durum or soft wheat. No risk for our genes to be transformed and no risk of having half-human half-strawberry babies in future.
It is not really like that, even though, unfortunately, lack of depth, ignorance and incorrect information lead many – still today – after so many years of research on biotech, to disregard GMOs. People often forget that science results are not to be feared; the point is to know what is done with these results and how they are actually used. For instance, nuclear fission is not evil. Evil is the use of nuclear fission to make bombs that are meant to kill off people.
Let us go back to the lawmaker’s decision and GMOs. The Italian decision applies also to other European Union countries. In Europe, genetically modified organisms are cultivated in 5 countries out of 28: Spain, Portugal, Czeck Republic, Slovakia and Romania.
Is Italy’s decision the result of a rational surrender option or will it prevent the country from seizing a series of opportunities? This issue was discussed during a Conference at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome, organized by Carlo Brera, the director of GMO and xenobiotics of fungal origin section of the Food Safety and Veterinary Public Health Department. Experts and representatives of the scientific community and the agro-food processing industry expressed their opinions.
So far, scientific data has proven that the health of animals fed with GMO plants is not affected. In fact, it seems that transgenic food does not pose any risk to human and animal health. Scientists state that there is no modified genes transfer during digestion. Still, in Italy, biotech plants are not welcome or, to say it better, Italians do not want to cultivate them. However, Italians use them. Just think of soybeans and corn used for animal feed.
According to some estimates, Italian production excellence would not even exist if agro-food industries could not rely on that animal feed. Hence, no more tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce, tortelloni stuffed with cheese, tortellini and maccheroni. Could you ever think of pasta with tomato sauce without the joy of sprinkling cheese over it?
Maybe, before demonizing and saying NO to GMOs, it would be better to invest on further technical, scientific and market research and rely on figures and actual data.
At the Conference in Rome, it has been pointed out that many Italian consumers have biotech phobia and they would probably not buy certain products if they knew they come from animals that are fed with modified soybeans feed – not knowing the slight difference between a GMO-free product (that should not contain GMOs) and a non-GMO product (that should contain less than 0.9% of GMOs). In fact, in Italy, products that contain less than 0.9% of authorized GMOs can be sold on the market without any indication on their label. «Moreover, products with a higher percentage of GMOs can also be sold – Professor Brera points out – provided that they are authorized by law. In this case, however, the producer is obliged to write on the nutrition label that the product contains GMOs according to article 4 of the EC/1830/2003 Regulation».
However, consumers seem not to pay too much attention to the nutrition labels. Hence, some Italian companies prefer to highlight “OGM-free” or “Non-GMO” product on the package. «However – says Brera – this claim is a purely commercial choice and the company runs the risk of being non compliant. If a higher GMO content is detected in a batch of products that have been declared as GMO-free, the company can be punished for misleading advertising. The company would indeed face serious financial, commercial and reputational consequences.
So much so that agro-food industries would not find it particularly beneficial to invest on GMO-free or Non-GMO chain productions other than organic productions. This has been proven by a study carried out by Professor Amedeo Reyneri of the University of Turin.
Reyneri described what happened to a dairy products company. This company offered both traditional soft cheese (made from the milk of cows fed with GMO feed) and a GMO-free product. The production chain of these two products remained separate, but, eventually, the second type of product was awarded a prize in Germany, but not in Italy. “This case and other recent examples – says Professor Reyneri – underline that it would not often be suitable for the industry to offer such products, since they seem not to be rewarded by the market. Moreover, for this kind of production companies have to take financial and bureaucratic commitments and – as it has already been said – they run serious risks of non compliance.
However, the industry is not interested in investing in GMO-free products; Italian farmers are unlikely to gain from it, as they stand against biotech, also because of lawmakers.