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Italy's corn production comedy


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 the European corn borer and a drought, and things took strange turns

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…

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Nov 8, 2013

Stupid is as stupid does. No end of stupidity in Europe, but we have voted for more European style governance in this country too, turning more of our life decisions over to our elite betters in Washington DC. healthcare fiasco gets the current headlines, but the assault on private business, including agriculture is being waged by every federal agency to the maximum extent they can get away with. EPA, IRS, EEOC, the list is long. If we get much more progressivsm over the next 3 years we will be importing our food too.

on Nov 9, 2013

I do not believe Italy is automatically wrong for refusing to allow GMO crops to be introduced and used in their agricultural industry. The United State’s agricultural industry and USDA has been corrupted by corporate lobbyist with deep pockets, we are just beginning to see some of the potential problems arising from the use of GMO crops in this country, and they may eventually cause the demise of our AG industry. I have yet to see non-bias independent research into the potential problems caused from the cross pollination and herbicide resistance in weeds, much less the potential of cross pollination and problems caused by food crops genetically designed to be toxic to specific forms of biological life in order to control crop destroying insects. The USDA should have been extremely cautious in regard to allowing the use of certain GMO traits in crops prior to allowing their use within the AG industry.

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