Brussels, 12 Oct 2004
In a move that has split the government, the Italian Council of Ministers has blocked a motion, put forward by the Agriculture Minister Gianni Alemanno, aimed at regulating the future introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Italy.
Following last month's decision by the European Commission to allow EU farmers to commercially grow up to 17 different types of genetically modified (GM) maize seeds, Mr Alemanno had proposed a law strictly regulating the planting of GM crops.
'There is still a lot to know on GMOs and if we show ourselves to be too flexible now, we might one day find ourselves in an ungovernable situation,' said the minister, explaining his cautious approach. 'We must also take into account that 12 Italian regions have declared themselves GMO-free,' he added.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, however, branded the measure 'illiberal' stating it violated citizens' liberties. As a result, the government is now split between those who feel the proposed measures are too strict and those who say GMOs go against the Italian tradition of biological products of quality.
Antonio Marzano, Minister for industry, has sided with Mr Berlusconi, stating that 'Italy cannot renounce on the development of GMOs', as has Giancarlo Galan, president of the Veneto region, who said in a statement: 'I think that scientific research can't and shouldn't stop. [...] Scientific research stops in front of nothing. If we don't do it here, someone else will do it somewhere else. If we don't do it in Europe, they will do it in Israel or Egypt. It is unstoppable.'
'The traceability of the product is what matters,' he added. 'We must demand to know what we are eating and drinking.' Altero Matteoli, the Environment Minister has also called for a less rigid decree.
Siding with Mr Alemanno, Mr Ermete Realacci from the enviromental association, Legambiente was reported by Greenplanet as saying: 'I understand the pressure Mr Berlusconi is under from foreign heads of states and powerful economic lobbies, but it is not possible to sustain that tourism and food quality are the petrol of Italy and then burn the well.'
The Italian Cooperative Confederation said in a statement that 'the first objective to pursue is the defence and valorisation of the authenticity of Italian agriculture, which is clearly not orientated towards GMOs. In this optic, we support the initiative of the minister Alemanno aimed at regulating the issue and which promotes above all traceability and therefore guarantees transparency for the consumers.'
Despite the fact that the cabinet broke up without an agreement on Mr Alemanno's proposed rules, the agriculture minister declared that 'I will bring my decree forward come what may. If it proves impossible to get it through the council of ministers we shall have to find other ways.'
In a recent survey, 68 per cent of Italians were found to distrust GM fruits and vegetables.