The food spies. Guaranteeing excellence
In the beginning, there were cheeses and cured meats, then the long hand of food falsification extended its tentacles to other prestigious, Tuscan made products including oil, wine, milk, pasta (and the tomatoes with which it’s served) and vegetables. According to a survey by Coldiretti, almost half of our food products actually comes from abroad or is processed with ingredients from outside Italy, although the Italian flag is officially shown on the label.
Our country – and Tuscany in particular, which boasts a high number of PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGIs (Protected Geographical Indication) – floods the world markets with “pimped” products. It’s a business worth many billions, which brings to their knees our companies that choose to work according to the regulations.
In Tuscany, Brunello di Montalcino, Lardo di Colonnata and oil made out to be extra-virgin are some of the products that are pimped the most.
That’s why consortia and trade associations decided to go on the counter-attack, setting up real anti-pimping spy teams. This is the case of Coldiretti and the various product protection consortia, which have entrusted this check to the analysis of supervisory agents, professional figures who work in close contact with the forces of order. Just consider that the qualification of the public safety agents is issued by the local prefecture.
They are usually graduates in Farm Sciences or agronomists with special competencies (the power to issue fines first and foremost) and capable of checking whether products claiming to have been made in Tuscany are just that.
Fiammetta Nizzi Grifi is one of these spies. She works for the Chianti Classico extra-virgin olive oil consortium. “I check packaged products and intervene directly in sales and on the shelves to check the correspondence between the effective quality of oil and the contents on the label. I buy a bottle like a normal consumer and carry out a series of traceability checks using the information on the numbered band on the label to understand whether the contents in the bottle correspond to what is actually stated on the label.” Fiammetta Nizzi Grifi works in Italy and abroad. She adds, “Another aspect of my work consists in tracing products on the market that bring a certain designation to mind, but whose ingredients were not grown by the members of the consortium or oil that wasn’t bottled in the designated places. These are products that can easily be mistaken for others subject to protection in the eyes of the distracted consumer.” About 10% of products that fall short of at least one of the highlighted aspects are generally seen during the checks, especially in the nerve centres of food import, like frontiers and ports.
If almost 15,000 pork shoulders were discovered some time ago in Brenner and Frejus that had come from Holland, Denmark and Germany and which were destined to become Italian hams, it was down to the PDO Tuscan ham consortium – the first to employ a supervisory agent – and its own spy, Walter Giorgi, who guarantees the utmost protection. “We can act during the marketing stage,” confirms Giorgi, “to check what happens before the sale. We check the labelling, branding and everything that a ham must have to be within the norm. We also buy similar products from the point of view of the name and when we discover irregularities, we issue reports and fine that are paid to the ministry. What’s the last frontier? The sale of hams online. In that case, we send notices to retailers, warning them that those products do not have the requisites and they might have to pay a fine.”