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Small producers under attack

[News from the members] Italy

The Slow Food Cheese festival is undoubtedly a moment of celebration, for the public of visitors, but above all for the professionals, for whom it is the opportunity to meet distant friends and colleagues gathered for 4 days in Bra, where joy and conviviality are combined alternating moments of discussion and reflection.

In the first days of Cheese I have been immersed more than ever, between meetings, conferences and chats with friends, in the world of small cheese producers, where concern can be felt.

If in the narrative of politics, public opinion and the collective imagination, the small producers who respect animals and the environment and populate the internal and peripheral areas, are examples of virtues to be followed and protected.

But in practice the situation is very different.

We are witnessing a sort of collective green washing, while the new regulations and standards that mark the productive life of this sector are silently transforming the work of small family businesses into an obstacle course and many are wondering whether it is still worth running.

This phenomenon is not just Italian, it affects all of Europe. After having participated for a whole day in the works of Face Network (European network of farmhouse and artisanal dairy producers), hosted in the House of Biodiversity by Slow food, it appears it is more evident than ever that there are structural problems in understanding the dairy sector in government offices, at all levels.

The crux of the matter lies in the fact that those who make decisions consider the sector as a unique, without any distinction between large industrial plants and related intensive farming and the small extensive realities mentioned above. Food safety and animal welfare regulations for clear reasons of numbers are sewn together to regulate industries and then applied to all operators without distinction.

This results in notable distortions: in some areas of Italy for example producers are asked to pasteurize mountain pasture milk, or like the Italian Classy Farm certification, a virtuous idea in itself: it is a check-list of 105 points created to guarantee animal welfare in intensive stables, those which welcome a large number of animals 365 days a year and which do not include outside grazing activities.

During the conference at Cheese entitled “The little ones under attack” moderated by Barbara Nappini, president of Slow Food, we witnessed these distortions.
Claudia Masera, a breeder of Friesian cows and cheesemaker, explained how several years ago she chose to convert her flatland farm to pasture grazing, recovering the meadows around the stable that had until then been cultivated with corn. Claudia, accompanied by a project from the University of Turin, also obtained the TSG Hay Milk certification. A few weeks ago she decided to accept the proposal to undergo Classy Farm on a voluntary basis, thanks to the health and longevity enjoyed by her animals, without imagining the outcome. To validate the check-list in her company, a veterinarian was sent by the health authority, extremely competent in relation to intensive situations. Completely misrepresenting the meaning of the rule, Claudia said the veterinarian applied it slavishly, raising a series of objections and asserting that her animals walk too much and don’t eat enough, going so far as to suggest the use of silage, the main fodder of intensive farming.

So how can you interact with an interlocutor who is still unprepared for new generation companies?

Cristina Rainelli, president of the Italian Association of Farmhouse Cheesemakers, also asked this question in the same conference, grappling with a new battle on raw milk, which in Italy seemed to be won until recently. From the perspective of prevention and food safety, preparation is needed, both among producers and among operators of the competent authorities, she said. It is now of vital importance that small production companies are considered and treated as such. These may perhaps seem like topics for “insiders”, but if you think about it, the fate of the entire production sector for small productions concerns all of us, at the level of cultural, territorial and environmental protection and the healthiness of the food we eat.

by Maria Cristina Crucitti

Cheese, piccoli produttori travolti da burocrazia e green washing
di Maria Cristina Crucitti
Published on the 17.09.2023 in La Repubblica  –  5 October 2023