Many thanks to Roberto Pinton of Italy's Green Planet for all his input into this report.


Surveys have repeatedly shown that Italians strongly distrust GM foods and some of the most powerful resistance to GMOs in 2004 came from the people of Italy. 


Protests this year have included ones by farmers against the corporate takeover of agriculture and GM crops, and the blockading of Italian ports in protest against GM soya imports for animal feed.


The most remarkable achievement, though, has come in the form of GM free zones. By the end of the year approaching 2,000 towns and cities in Italy had chosen to declare their municipalities GM-free. Also opposing GM crops were 14 of Italy's 20 regions and 27 of its provinces.


When the European Commission decided in September to allow EU farmers to grow up to 17 different types of GM maize seeds commercially, Italy's Agriculture Minister proposed a law strictly regulating the planting of GM crops.

The law proposed that no GM crop could be cultivated without a regional law permitting it (remember, that 70% of the regions, not to mention the vast majority of Italy's territory, have already been declared GM-free). Farmers who contaminate neighbouring farms with GM pollen could receive 6 to 12 months' imprisonment or a fine of between 2,600 to 29,500 euros.


However, the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, intervened in an effort to block the proposed decree, branding the measure 'illiberal'. An offensive against the decree was also launched by pro-GM scientists. The Umberto Veronesi Foundation published a pro-GM manifesto entitled, Food Safety and GM Organisms. The manifesto aimed to combat what Professor Veronesi, a former Italian health minister, called "the absurd demonisation" of GM foods.


Hostility to GM foods, Prof Veronesi said, "was initially considered an understandable caution in the face of something of little importance, but in the light of studies on populations that for years have been living on GM foods, the US above all, it has become an opposition that must be eliminated because it is dangerous for our country." In fact, not a single study on "populations that for years have been living on GM foods" has ever been undertaken!


Veronesi and his supporters also launched an attack on organic agriculture. Veronesi claimed, "I would like to eat GM maize all the time, I would feel safer doing so. In the USA I eat it with pleasure, while in Italy I don't have the freedom to choose what is much safer than the so-called organic variety."

As well as attacking organic food in general, Veronesi's supporters attacked pesto in particular, which they claimed was a cancer risk. The Independent newspaper called the anti-organic, anti-pesto claims part of, "a last-minute offensive by pro-GM scientists" against restrictions on growing GM crops.


Slow Food President, Carlo Petrini, said the claims made about pesto were "verging on the ridiculous". Petrini said, "We want the world of gastronomy to send a clear message to the government to approve the decree to regulate GM foods. Farmers have already protested against the careless liberalization of GM crops, as have the populations of Italy's regions".

Green party Senator Loredana De Petris also criticised Veronesi's claims, saying she was surprised that an "authoritative physician and former health minister had said such a bunch of silly things."

The Agriculture Minister, Gianni Alemanno, said Veronesi's appeal, signed by about 40 scientists and journalists, was not convincing: "I read the letter and I get the impression they didn't read the decree. They're going on about a totally different thing. They mix up research with agricultural production, I'm dazzled!"


Despite the vociferous pro-GM campaign and several postponements, the GM coexistence decree was approved by the Italian Government in November.

The decree bans GM crops up to December 31, 2005. Regions are asked to pass their own laws not later than that. Laws have to set coexistence criteria, aimed at avoiding contamination of no-GM crops .

In the end only one of Berlusconi's ministers voted against the ban: Mr. Castelli (the Attorney General). But this was not because he is a GM supporter. On the contrary, he explained, "I am against to the coexistence decree as I am strongly contrary to GMO's: no coexistence is possible. My ideal law about this matter has only a short article: 'GMO's are not allowed in Italy'".


The passing of the decree was not a surprise given the enormous strength of the coalition supporting it. This included a majority of Italy's regional goverments, the trade unions, political parties (ranging from the conservative Alleanza nazionale to the new-communist Rifondazione comunista),  the two largest conventional farmers' associations, the organic farmers' associations, environmental groups, consumers' associations and national retailers' associations.


In early December, Green Planet found the first GM product sold in Italy (an oil). After an action coordinarted with Greenpeace, plus several articles in the Italian press, the GM oil was withdrawn from the market, but another product with GM content has been sighted.


The coexistence decree will be discussed by Italian deputies on January 17 2005 when, if approved, it will finally be turned in to law. A rejection of the decree is unlikely, but there is concern there may an attempt to water it down.