Italian officials presented a united front at a press conference at Del Posto yesterday which was moderated by Lidia Bastianich. The topic was the need to protect Italian products from “Italian sounding” products. Lidia, the famous chef, restauranteur, cookbook author and TV host, noted that 30 years ago she couldn’t get the products she wanted in the United States.While this is no longer a problem, the new issue is that there are numerous imitations of Italian foods.
For those who don’t know Italian products, it is very easy to get confused. They may end up buying a product that looks, feels and seems Italian but in fact, is not at all.
Luca Zaia, the Minister of Agriculture gave a forceful speech in which he outlined the perils for Italy from counterfeit products. He spoke of food safety and food traceability as well as the government’s efforts to protect designated products such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Radicchio di Treviso.
The Minister was joined by Walter Brunello, Chairman of Buonitalia which promotes Italian agricultural food stuffs and wines in the global marketplace, Aniello Musella, the Italian Trade Commissioner (ICE) & Executive Director. ICE is the government agency tasked with promoting business opportunities for Italian companies in foreign markets. Giovanni Mantovani, CEO of Veronafiere where Vinitaly is held was also present. Vinitaly is the largest wine event in the world. It is held each April and showcases principally Italian wines.
Francesco Maria Talo’, the Consul General of Italy started off the conference noting that “Chi mangia sano, mangia Italiano.” This push to promote the Italian diet as a healthy one is not new but the damage that Italian sounding products are creating for Italians has obviously moved to another level.
According to Minister Zaia, out of 10 Italian sounding products, nine have nothing to do with Italy. He noted that this is creating economic damage to Italy on the order of 200 billion Euro.
Italy boasts 4500 typical products (DOP,etc) as well as 500 DOC and DOCG wines. Zaia noted that the place to fight these battles is in international organizations. He spoke a lot about the WTO trade rounds and Italy’s push to protect its products. He also asked consumers to be local ambassadors.
When asked how one can tell what an Italian product is, he said that people need to pay more attention to labels and declarations of origin of the products as well as trademarks.
All of the organizations present are looking to promote Italian products through education and through the huge network of Italian restaurants in the United States. These restaurants are the front lines in the battle to use authentic Italian products. While much work needs to be done, a united front by so many organizations is a great start.