GMOs, A Global Debate: Italy Focuses on Corn Rebel, Animal Feed

BARI, Italy—If you are wondering what Europeans think about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), ask Monsanto. 

At the end of May, the GMO giant and producer of various agricultural products decided to retire from the GMO market in most European countries, including Italy.

A study by Futuragra, an Italian association of farmers and supported by scientists, reported in November 2012 that 55 percent of Italians think research on GMOs in Italy should continue. But it’s a different matter when it comes to GMO food.

A 2012 study by Coldiretti, an Italian agricultural organization, showed that 71 percent of the interviewees considered GMOs less safe than traditional products. Italy’s Senate also asked the government in May to urge the European Union (EU) to implement a safeguard clause on the only GMO permitted for production in Italy—the corn Mon810. 

Mon810 is permitted in the EU, except in countries with the safeguard clause. In June, the House of Deputies took up the same call as the Senate, and also urged the EU to change its rules on GMOs and Mon810 in particular. The Italian government decided July 12 to put an 18-month moratorium on Mon810 in the country, during which time it may implement the safeguard clause. 

Before the July 12 moratorium decision, the government issued very few permits for growing Mon810, and those permits were usually for research purposes.

On June 15, Giorgio Fidenato, a pro-GMO businessman and activist, planted Mon810. Fidenato pulled a similar stunt in 2010, planting Mon810 without permission from the government in an act of civil disobedience to call for freedom to use GMOs. 

Greenpeace pulled up the Mon810 before it could spread to other crops in 2010, and they are prepared to do the same this time if the government doesn’t. The July 12 decree does, however, call for action to stop any possible contamination from Fidenato’s field. 

But GMOs are not only in crops—most meat and dairy in Italy comes from animals that have eaten GMOs.

Is GMO necessary in Italy?

Stefano Masini, head of the environmental department at Coldiretti, said GMOs are “absolutely not” necessary in Italy. “The economic conditions aren’t there,” Masini said. Italian food exports are based on quality, so Italy could benefit from being GMO-free, he said.

Silvano Dalla Libera, vice president of the Futuragra, has a different opinion. Dalla Libera said GMOs are “essential” in Italy. To produce its high-quality products, Italy is dependent on GMOs, according to Dalla Libera. 

He said that three out of five hams come from abroad, and the other two come from animals that have eaten GMO corn or soy imported from abroad. According to the Italian Confederation of Cultivators, three out of four hams are imported.

Masini said GMO livestock feed “can’t possibly have harmful effects on the surrounding environment.”

Studies in Italy on the Effects of GMO Food

According to Gianni Tamino, professor of biology at Padova University and author of many books on GMOs, it is difficult to study GMOs in Italy. The funds are short and research is done by private companies that are pro-GMO, he said. 

“When you insert foreign genes [in an organism], many other genes will be altered,” Tamino said. It is difficult to predict when other genes will be altered, or what genes will be altered because it is too complex, he explained.

Many Italian experts say big forces are against the research on GMOs. 

Manuela Malatesta, a former GMO researcher in Italy, told LifeGate Radio many others in her field distanced themselves from GMO research after her research attracted mass media attention.

According to a document on the WikiLeaks website classified by former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Melvin Sembler in 2003, the United States has pressured Italy to be more open to GMOs. 

A study conducted by Malatesta on mice found that “a diet containing a significant amount of GM food seems to influence the zymogen synthesis and processing.” Zymogens are digestive enzymes synthesized by the pancreas.

Another study by Malatesta reports other anomalies, but “no direct evidence that genetically modified food may represent a possible danger for health. … However, the scientific literature in this field is quite poor.”

Dalla Libera says the truth has been concealed about GMOs not being harmful to human health. He calls this alleged concealment “terrorism.”

The Epoch Times is exploring the issue of genetic modification, especially as it pertains to food products, with a series titled “GMOs, A Global Debate.” Each article in this series focuses on the role and reception of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a different country. 

See all articles tagged GMOs and Biotech here