Italy crime groups control big food business: probe

MILAN Thu Jan 19, 2012 1:38pm EST

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MILAN (Reuters) - Organized crime in Italy controls agricultural and food businesses worth 12.5 billion euros ($16 billion) a year, or 5.6 percent of all criminal operations in the country, according to a parliamentary investigation presented on Thursday.

Organized crime has spread its involvement through the entire food chain from acquisition of farmland to production, from transport to supermarkets, Italy's biggest farmers group, Coldiretti, said in a statement.

"Italians find an additional invitee at their table: criminal organizations that eat up what Italians should have eaten," Coldiretti quoted Italy's chief anti-mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso as saying on the sidelines of the presentation.

Mafia-like criminal groups often dictate producer and consumer prices in their own favor by undercutting prices paid to farmers for their products and inflating prices paid by consumers in food stores, Coldiretti said. Its findings were used in the investigation by a parliamentary commission.

Italy's total agricultural and food processing industry is estimated at 300 billion euros per year, not including farmland sales, transport or retail parts of the food trade.

The Italian agriculture and food industry also suffer from the manufacture and sale each year of an estimated 60 billion euros worth of poor quality foreign food that masquerades as top-quality Italian brands ranging from cheese to ham to wine, Coldiretti said.

Grasso said Italian laws should be tightened to help fight the grip of Organized crime on agrobusiness and to stop the fabrication of false Italian foodstuffs.

Exports of Italian food and agricultural products could triple if radical action were taken against falsified products, Coldiretti Chairman Sergio Marini said.

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(Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova, editing by Jane Baird)

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