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Italy's corn production comedyItaly's corn production comedy

Hembree Brandon 1

November 4, 2013

3 Min Read

Just when we think things can’t get any nuttier in the anti-GMO universe, that the ultimate in craziness has been achieved, along comes another episode in wackiness.

This particular story of keeping the citizenry safe from the evils of crops with scientifically modified genes takes place in Italy, the land of art, music, fashion, and all things pasta.

Mischa Popoff, Greenville, Texas, a former organic farmer and inspector in USDA’s National Organic Program, now a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute, The Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, provides the details in an article for The Genetic Literacy Project(“Where science triumphs ideology”). He is also author of “Is It Organic — The Inside Story of the Organic Industry.”

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Corn has been produced in Italy for hundreds of years, he notes, and “has been as important to the Italian agricultural economy as potatoes to Ireland or Idaho — or at least until a few years ago.”

Enter corn’s arch nemesis, the European corn borer, a pest that took a heavy toll on the U.S. crop until the advent of GMO varieties, which farmers here have enthusiastically embraced.

Not so in Italy, where the head of one of the country’s most important regional agricultural departments, decreed that only organic methods could be used to fight the pest.

READ MORE: Opposition to GM crops: 'A form of madness'

When that didn’t work, he grudgingly allowed the use of synthetic pesticides. Only problem: The pesticides approved in Europe were ineffective against the corn borer.

While American farmers were planting GMO varieties and reaping bountiful yields, Italy, following the lead of other European Union countries, banned genetically modified crops. Then came a drought, producing corn very low in starch that was deemed unsuited even for animal consumption.

The solution: Blend it with corn contaminated by pathogenic fumonisin toxins and use it for animal feed. Tests, however, showed most of the Italian corn unsuitable even for animal use.

What to do? “After months of secret negotiations,” Popoff writes, there came a decision: “Clean corn from the U.S. could be imported to mix with Italy’s toxic corn” for animal feed. That’s right, the GMO corn Italian farmers couldn’t grow could be imported to save the day.

But nothing is simple in the EU. “A firestorm of controversy” followed, then yet another decision: The Italian/U.S. GMO corn blend wouldn’t be fed to animals, but instead would go to energy production.

Problem solved? Not quite: What would Italian farmers feed their pigs to make all that yummy prosciutto?  Yet another solution: GMO corn could be imported from the U.S. to feed the pigs. No blend — just plain GMO corn (which, because of the U.S. drought, had soared in price).

The upshot: Cost of the imported U.S. corn tripled while Italian farmers, prohibited from growing GMO corn, got “mere cents on the euro” for their crop.

And we think U.S. bureaucracy is bad…

About the Author(s)

Hembree Brandon 1

Editorial Director, Farm Press

Hembree Brandon, editorial director, grew up in Mississippi and worked in public relations and edited weekly newspapers before joining Farm Press in 1973. He has served in various editorial positions with the Farm Press publications, in addition to writing about political, legislative, environmental, and regulatory issues.

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