Thursday, January 10, 2008

Italian food safety

The recent uproar about the trash crisis in Naples has brought to the fore the real situation of the environment in Campania, the area of which Naples is the capital. And the real situation there is one of incredible contamination.

Comedian and activist Beppe Grillo and others have rightly been emphasizing the unacceptable shortcomings of the Italian media. But I have also found that information is indeed there if you look for it. And today I went looking for my answer to the question: if Naples and its surroundings are in fact poisoned, how does this affect the food chain? With special reference to those products that may be imported such as mozzarella di bufala dop and pomodori di San Marzano dop. In other words, the famed (and expensive) buffalo cheese and tomatoes that enjoy the protection of the denominazione di origine protetta label (means you know where they're coming from).

The answer, which I had already guessed at, was bad. Really bad. Much-maligned Italian TV provided the rather horrifying facts, figures, and images which can be seen in this mid-December 2007 program, presented by the beauteous Ilaria D'Amico, on La7. It's in Italian, but even those of you who are scanty in the lingo can take a good, long look midway through the video (at about 13 minutes) when the dying sheep are shown. Embattled farmers are interviewed, one of whom has a father who died of the cancer which has much higher rates in the region than elsewhere. He himself is shown to have very high blood levels of dioxin, which, as I stated in my recent post on Naples, is the toxin associated with the Vietnam War's Agent Orange.

What's more, as pointed out in the service, Italian law does not usually call for the regional identification of produce, only for the specification of domestic or foreign. So that you would not know, for example, if wine and olive oil came from grapes and olives from Campania. All the more so that the area is in the hands of the local mob, the Camorra. Which is also largely responsible for the environmental mess in the first place. Agricultural products from the South go all over Italy.

At this point, would I eat foodstuffs from this area? No. Buyer beware, eater beware. Give some thought to where your next Caprese salad is coming from.