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Italy's farmers 'demonizing' Canadian wheat

Staff Writer | July 11, 2017
They came from up and down Italy, setting up their protest headquarters just a few dozen cobblestone steps from the Italian parliament in Rome. Their beef? Canadian food products flooding the Italian market.
Italian wheat
Food trade   Protecting domestic industry
"Canadian Parmesan Ruins the Reputation of Made in Italy," read one sign in Wednesday's protest. "No Meat with Hormones from Canada," read another.

"We're concerned about health, because Canada uses chemicals that are banned in Europe," said Patrizia Puppo, a farmer from the northern Italian region of Friuli.

"And also about the big size of Canadian farms. Italy has small ones, with high productivity, but it's hard to compete."

Mobilized by the largest agricultural organization in Europe, Italy's Coldiretti, the farmers converged to turn up the heat on Italian politicians faced with ratifying the controversial Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA.

Of chief concern for Coldiretti these days is Canadian durum wheat.

Italy grows just 60 percent of the durum it needs to meet the demand in this pasta-loving nation.

Imports from around the world fill the gap, and Canada's durum has a high protein content that makes it especially sought-after by Italian millers and pasta producers.

That's a problem for the country's 300,000 wheat farmers. "We're harvesting our new wheat crop, and at the same time ships of wheat from Canada and other countries are arriving — and the price of durum wheat is falling because there is more in the market than the demand of pasta producers," says Coldiretti president Roberto Moncalvo.

Plummeting wheat prices worldwide cost Italy's farmers the equivalent of $100 million last year alone, Moncalvo said.

The issue came to a head last month, when for the second time in two years a shipload of 50,000 tonnes of Canadian durum wheat was seized in the port of Bari.

Coldiretti says it alerted a branch of the Italian armed forces, who found it contained high levels of toxicity.

A few days later, another inspection by a certified laboratory found toxicity levels to be well within safety limits and the shipment was released — but not before articles appeared in Italian papers with headlines about "contaminated" Canadian wheat.