The war against the organic mafia

from Fraud in the organic farming sector has become a thriving
international industry made up of a complex network of companies that
bears all the marks of traditional organised crime.

Earlier, in the supposedly good old days, lone farmers or traders in
the organic business stooped to cheating at their worst. Here, they
sprayed a little pesticide on the field; there, they mixed in a handful
of conventional low-cost eggs with the pricey organic eggs. Since
neither the volume nor weight changed, hardly anyone twigged.

But organic fraudsters in Italy have long passed that stage. There,
bands of professionals working with a whole network of companies in
different countries have recently been slapping ‘organic’ labels on vast
amounts of conventional products.

In April, it was announced that the public prosecutor’s office in the
Adriatic town of Pesaro is investigating 23 suspected members of a
counterfeiting ring. Although all are from Italy, they work in Moldova,
Malta and various places around western Europe and beyond. The suspects
even include members of the Moldovan branch of an organic inspection
agency from Italy, which should actually be on the trail of the

According to investigators, all of the suspects have been involved in
issuing fake organic certificates for conventional foodstuffs from
Moldova and Ukraine.
To disguise the trail of the goods, they exploited a
network of at least ten companies across different countries. The
public prosecutor has already seized 1,500 tons of maize and 30 tonnes
of soya in the large-scale operation tagged the Green War.

In previous cases, conventional goods were brought into the EU and
relabelled there. “Now, however, the product is stamped ‘organic’ in
Moldova for example, certified right on site, then exported and brought
to the market,”
Pesaro prosecutor Silvia Cecchi told TAZ. This ploy was
meant to make it even tougher for the authorities to uncover the scam.

Large quantities, international flows of goods, a complex network of
companies, corrupt supervisory bodies and notorious professionals –
that’s what’s behind the term “organised crime”, as defined by the joint
working group of the German judicial and police authorities in 1990.
Paolo Carne Molla, President of Federbio, the umbrella organisation for
organic producers, processors and distributors in Italy, also speaks
candidly of “organised crime” within the organisation.

They have been able to carry on, says Carne Molla, because supervisors
have failed time and time again to do their jobs. The Anti-Fraud
Inspectorate in the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, for example, was
headed until a few months ago by a man who is now under investigation
for corruption in a different matter.
That has already given rise to
deep doubts about whether a resolute investigator was staffing the top
desk in the supervisory authority.

So far, no suspicions have settled on the Italian ministry itself. In
Moldova and Malta, things are different. Federbio chief Carne Molla
finds it peculiar indeed that the imports into the EU, and hence the
customs clearance and control of goods, went through Malta, where there
is hardly any organic business. The investigation has been going ahead
without any collaboration with the authorities there – or in Moldova,
either. “We don’t know who we can trust to talk to, and we fear civil
servants are involved there too.” 

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