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Liberate Gastronomy: Say No to Counterfeiting and the Agromafia!

Moussa is from Burkina Faso but now he lives in Calabria’s Gioia Tauro plain. In 2010 he managed to escape the beatings during the Rosarno revolt by a miracle, and thanks to Libera Terra his life has now been turned around, from a laborer exploited by the ‘ndrine [the basic unit in the ‘Ndrangheta criminal organization] to a worker with dignity and recognized rights in the Valle del Marro cooperative.

No more Campanian oranges, no more starvation wages, cold, violence or exploitation. Now he is cultivating land confiscated from the mafia, growing vegetables for the production of spicy chili paste, eggplants in oil and many other high-quality products.”

Tiziana Di Masi is an actress working in socially engaged theater, and in her show, Mafie in pentola (Mafia in the pot), she tells us the stories not just of Moussa but many other migrants like him, who have ended up caught in the toxic system of Italy’s food industry. At Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, Tiziana will be talking with Don Luigi Ciotti and Gian Carlo Caselli at the conference Criminal Taste: Food, Agro-Mafia & Counterfeiting.

What is the agromafia?

Agromafia, ecomafia and agropiracy are some of the words coined in the last 20 years to describe new criminal phenomena. Neologisms for food industry crimes are sprouting like mushrooms these days as the sector booms, attracting mafia interest due to its high profitability. “Their logic is that they want a slice of the pie,” explains Gian Carlo Caselli. “There’s plenty of money to be made in the food business, particularly when playing with a rigged deck, which is the mafia’s specialty. And so we find them everywhere, from land deals to restaura05_09_Gastronomia liberaDEMASInts, via production, processing, transport, distribution and sales.” Don Luigi Ciotti gives two examples: “Matteo Messina Denaro owned a large percentage of a chain of Italian supermarkets and he’s been a fugitive for many years. And 34 restaurants and pizzerias in Rome were seized by the courts because they had been in the hands of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta.”

He continues: “The phenomenon of caporalato [illegal hiring of farm laborers for very low wages] does not just affect the South. It’s on the rise everywhere, as shown by investigations into agricultural work in the vineyards in the Langhe and Chianti and in the Latina countryside.” And consumers are increasingly oblivious: Around a third of an Italian family’s food expenditure will directly or indirectly fund production systems that operate illegally.

What is the law doing? Not much, says Gian Carlo Caselli. “The current legislation is old and full of holes, like Swiss cheese! If someone is wondering if it’s worth breaking the current laws in the food production industry, they are going to conclude that the risks are minimal and the advantages can be enormous.”

But recently there has been some movement. According to Don Ciotti, “the reform that was approved in the Senate on its first reading on August 1st fills a gap in the current legislation because it strengthens the tools for fighting against caporalato, hitting profits with the confiscation of illegally acquired assets. What’s more, for the first time it extends criminal penalties to the employer who uses, hires or employs labor, subjecting workers to exploitative conditions and profiting from their state of need. Now we hope that the Chamber will act quickly so that it effectively becomes law, even if a legislative intervention on its own is not enough, because the complexity of the phenomenon demands cultural and economic prevention actions as well. Alongside all of this, an intervention on the active policies regarding seasonal agricultural work, collective negotiation and the price of agricultural products is absolutely necessary.” In short, we must not lose hope. We can start to see light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.
Not just illegal labor

Misleading names, the crime of “sounding Italian,” is just one of many offenses in the great cauldron of counterfeiting, a business that’s worth €60 billion a year. “Consumers are easily deceived,” explains Caselli. “For example, each year tons of foods produced in other countries come into Italy and end up in products presented as being made here. The profits are enormous, but so too are the problems, because it is practically impossible to know anything about these ingredients, which often don’t need to be listed on the label. Basically there is a strong need to know t05_09_Gastronomia liberaCASELLIhe provenance and how they were obtained, to ensure they haven’t undergone treatments that are banned here because they are harmful. So we need greater transparency, with better regulation of traceability and labeling.”

What can we do?

The good thing about complex problems is that they may have many potential solutions, a wide range of actions that if all added together can produce the best possible resolution.

Gian Carlo Caselli would solve everything with the narrative label, in other words “a label that tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the product in question. The aim is to accompany consumers from field to shelf and then to the table so they are informed about what exactly they are eating and drinking in order to protect their health, food safety and honest producers and retailers.”

Libera would like to see a focus on youth education: “We have long been promoting education on responsible consumption in schools and with the young volunteers in the Estate Liberi summer camps, as the start of responsible citizenship,” says Don Ciotti. “Italians still have very little perception of caporalato. That’s why Libera was one of the signatories of the ‘Experimental Protocol Against Illegal Labor and Exploitation in Agriculture’ which involves not only the improvement of inspection services, healthcare and accommodation, but also the organization of cultural and leisure initiatives aimed at mutual understanding, social interaction between the targets of the interventions and local citizens and initiatives in memory of victims of caporalat05_09_Gastronomia liberaCIOTTIo.”

My artistic work aims to push people to ask questions, to be informed, to take responsibility for their own future through sustainable and legal purchasing choices,” says Tiziana Di Masi. “We are the ones who decide the economy and we must not delegate these decisions, hiding behind relativism or comfortable ignorance. It is not at all simple to reconstruct a production chain at the moment of purchase, but if we buy with our eyes closed, emergencies such as caporalato and counterfeiting will never be resolved. Raising awareness among buyers will only come about by making them understand what the real cost of these goods is. Every time that I buy a product at a knock-down price, it means someone else has paid for me.”

Unfortunately our consumption of fruit and vegetables can end up being complicit in the shame [of caporalato], because it is almost impossible to be sure that a tomato, a melon, a watermelon, an orange or a clementine has not passed through those desperate hands. Certainly, if we knew, nobody would buy them. Those workers are not free, and neither are we. Unfortunately this too is gastronomy, and it must be liberated in this sense as well.”

(C. Petrini, Food & Freedom. How the Slow Food movement is changing the world, Slow Food Editore)

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