Above: over the last decade, organically branded food shops, like this ice cream shop and café, have flourished across Italy.
In late May, the Italian senate approved a sweeping bill that would create a new “Italian organic” brand, officially recognized “organic districts,” and sweeping subsidies for research, development, and monitoring of organic farming practices. The bill would also integrate the organic farming supply chain through government oversight.
The legislation, which is widely expected to be approved by the Italian chamber of deputies, was adopted with one vote in opposition and one abstention.
One point of contention was a brief and arguably vague line in the proposed legislation that would elevate the status of biodynamic agriculture, “putting it on a par with” organic agriculture.
Biodynamic farming’s embrace of spirituality and mysticism, say critics, including Italian senator for life Elena Cattaneo, who delivered an impassioned speech on the senate floor before the vote, make it a discipline not based on science.
Cattaneo, the only senator to vote against the legislation, lobbied unsuccessfully to amend the line about biodynamic agriculture. Her failed efforts were called a “resounding defeat” by the mainstream Italian media. In her address to her colleagues, Cattaneo, known for her groundbreaking work in stem cell research, called organic farming a “niche sector,” noting that it represents a small fraction of Italy’s farmland. She also pointed out that it would provide subsidies to fallow pastures where no food is produced.
The bill, she said, “offers no guarantee of greater health benefits or greater nutritional value” for Italian citizens.
In 2019, when the bill was first debated in the Italian parliament, Cattaneo called organic farming “a beautiful but impossible fairytale.” She and nearly 400 other Italian scientists signed an open letter to the Italian parliament in which they opposed the then nascent legislation.
“In order to justify pricing often double [that of conventionally farmed products],” she said at the time,
- we have been told that organic farming is the only way to save the world and help us to live longer and better. It’s an illusion. There is no scientific proof to confirm this. In fact, the opposite is true: analysis reveals that organic products are not qualitatively better and that large-scale organic farming is unsustainable inasmuch as it produces up to 50 percent less when it comes to top agricultural products. Large-scale organic farming would require twice as much land. In order to convert the world to organic farming, we would have to use hundreds of millions of hectares of currently fallow land, including forests and prairies.
Supporters of the bill see it as part of a wider EU initiative, known as “Farm to Fork,” to safeguard natural resources, to protect the environment, and to create a more robust organic farming supply chain across member states.
“We are extremely pleased that the senate has approved the bill,” said Maria Grazia Mammuccini, president of FedBio, a trade association that has lobbied aggressively for the creation of the “Italian organic” brand. “We have been waiting for this for more than 15 years. This much awaited legislation is finally moving forward.”