GMOs, between proclamation and reality, the Italian paradox


We often witness signature collections against GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in Italy. A topic of renewed relevance in the face of the recent signing of the CETA agreement between the European Union and Canada. As well as the recent acquisition of Monsanto by the German-based Bayer Group. But beyond the proclamations, what is the reality of GMOs in Italy?

Italy is the leading European producer of soybeans, strictly non-GMO, in quantities ranging from 700 thousand to 1 million tons. Italian soybeans are partly used to produce flours, at three small plants located in northern Italy (Italgreenoil, Cerealdocks, Oleificio San Giorgio), otherwise destined for roasting. But “Made in Italy” soybean meal is mostly exported to Germany, Austria, Croatia and Hungary to meet the demand for non-GMO flours.

Instead, GMO soybeans are pressed in Italy at two large plants, in Venice (Cereadocks SpA) and Ravenna (Bunge SpA, formerly Cereol Italia – Eridania SpA, formerly Ferruzzi). In considerable quantities (about 800,000 tons of seed, of which 150,000 are used for roasting and use as is), to which must be added those of soybeans-also GMOs-that come from importers (among which Cofco, Chinese-owned, excels), who bring in between 1.2 and 1.5 million tons of meal from Argentina, Brazil and the United States.

GMO crops are banned in Italy, as in several other European countries, but the use of GMO raw materials for feed production is not banned. And the main source of protein for farm animals is precisely soybean meal, which can reach a protein share of up to 48 percent, as well as having an amino acid profile that is essential for the animal’s growth. The options for offering soybean meal in the market are therefore two, squeeze non-GMO Italian soybean seed (thus obtaining oil, for various uses including food, and flours) or directly import GMO flours.

Italy is therefore both an importer of soybean (GMO) and exporter of soybean (non-GMO). In fact, German and Austrian operators-as well as Croatians and Hungarians-can afford to purchase feed at a much higher cost (considering transportation costs as well), as they are able to value animal-derived food products that come from supply chains traced as non-GMO, Italian-sourced. Conversely, the supply chains of excellent “Made in Italy” products, from Parmigiano Reggiano to Grana Padano, as well as DOC raw hams such as Parma and San Daniele, continue to be supplied with GMO feed of American origin.

The paradox is the fact that prominent foods in the Italian agribusiness are made from animals fed with GMO soybean meal, outside of those only certified as organic (1). While multinational corporations-from Germany in primis-have decided to opt for traditional supply chains, even as well in the production of pet food, so-called pet food, which in turn boast “GMO-free” (!) on the label. Thus, there is a concern to offer more guarantees on the safety and quality of food for dogs and cats than those offered on milk and dairy products, hams and cold cuts.

The reason why is quickly stated, while in Italy people spend time collecting signatures instead of carrying out campaigns to raise awareness of the real value of traditional crops, in Germany there is a tendency to prioritize the integrity of the European “from stable to table” supply chain. Even on such deprecated foods as Bavarian mozzarella or milk, and many private label products, distributed even in “discount stores” such as LIDL and marked precisely as “VLOG” (i.e., “without genetically modified material”).

For in-depth studies on the topic of GMOs, we recommend our free download publication “GMOs, the Big Scam.”

Dario Dongo


(1) In livestock production chains that follow the organic method, and the respective rules, no feed that contains or is derived from GMOs shall be used