(By Stefania Fumo) (ANSAmed) - Bolzano, December 4 - Thousands of Italian farmers protested close to the border with Austria on Wednesday as agriculture association Coldiretti said food piracy was causing businesses to close in droves here.
Coldiretti said unfair competition from foreign produce branded to look Italian has contributed to the demise of 136,351 farms and agricultural companies since the start of the global economic crisis in 2007.
The farmers, some with their tractors, braved intense cold to gather before dawn at the Italian side of the Brenner Pass.
The protest coincided with the start of a Coldiretti campaign to encourage people to buy genuine Italian food products during the holiday season. It is entitled The Battle of Christmas, Choose Italy (La Battaglia di Natale: Scegli l'Italia).
Led by Coldiretti President Roberto Moncalvo, the farmers stopped several trucks to ask what they were carrying and where they were headed and showed banners calling for better branding of food products, so consumers can clearly see where goods come from.
They said they uncovered mozzarellas from Germany bound for Sicily, milk from Poland bound for Brescia, German ham destined for Modena and German potatoes headed for Sicily, Dutch plants on their way to Latina, flowers grown in Ecuador, brought through Holland, and shipped to Veneto and Tuscany - all of them labeled 'Made in Italy'.
''One in three hams declared to be Italian are from abroad'', Moncalvo said. ''We are de facto selling off a part of our national heritage, one on which we could be basing a sustainable and lasting economic recovery that would also be beneficial to the environment and to our health''.
Lawmakers reacted promptly as the protest wore on.
MEP Giancarlo Scottà, who sits on the European Parliament agriculture commission, called for more EU-level controls.
''It begs belief that our food and agriculture sector, which makes up 17% of GDP, should suffer such unfair competition within our own borders'', he said.
In the nation's capital, Democratic Party MP Susanna Cenni and others asked parliament's agriculture commission how it intends to combat food labeling fraud and preserve national farms and stocks.
Italy imports one million tons of pig meat a year, half of it from Germany, while three Italian breeders went out of business every month between 2012 and 2013, Cenni told the commission.
Also on Wednesday, 60 MPs signed a motion by Agriculture Commission President Nicodemo Oliverio and member Colomba Mongiello, both of them Democrats, for the government to combat fraudulent labeling and protect national farms and produce. ''We will meet with a delegation of the protesters tomorrow, to discuss the next steps that need to be taken in terms of lawmaking and to activate a national commission of inquiry into counterfeit labeling'', Oliverio and Mongiello told reporters.
The 'Made in Italy' label means ethical jobs and sustainable development, and is essential to remaining competitive and guaranteeing food safety, the MPs said.
Anti-establishment 5-Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo and the anti-immigrant Northern League expressed solidarity with the farmers.
The protest, which is being carried out in collaboration with police, will continue all night and into tomorrow, Coldiretti said in a note. (ANSAmed).