An exemplary punishment

Read time: 6 mins

Last July 2014 the Forest Guards of the Friuli Venezia Region destroyed two GMO corn fields both owned by Giorgio Fidenato. In these two cases, however, two different laws were implemented: a regional one in the first case and a national one in the second one. The simple fact that the laws coming into force are always new and always different is self-explanatory. For those against GMOs this proves the dynamism, the initiative and the capability of the various executives in adapting to challenges - also legal ones - that are always new and more and more complex. For those in favour of GMOs this is the proof of a mixture of impotence and improvisation. For those who do not deal on a daily basis with this matter, it shows how complex is this subject, where rules and laws change as soon as turn your head and perhaps more than one person gives up in getting involved in this topic, waiting for a solution to come by a wave of magic wand.  

By growing GMO Bt-corn in 2010, Fidenato broke the law that had regulated GMO cultivations until spring 2013, law n. 212 of 2001. A law he challenged in a three years long hearing which ended by showing its non-validity in Italy, since it had never been notified to Brussels and was therefore to be considered illegal. The Friuli Region had also issued local rules that banned GMO cultivations, subsequently declared illegal too, since they had never been notified to Brussels either. Because of these national and regional laws issued against European regulations, an infraction procedure has been launched against Italy on February 7, 2014.

After the law 202 of 2001 had been “demolished”, the Letta Government issued an interministerial decree on July 13, 2013 (signed by De Girolamo, Orlando, Lorenzin, then-Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Health). This decree forbade Bt-corn crop because of the fear (only theoretical) that some unpronounceable insects might not like the presence of GMO pollen in the surroundings. However, this decree did not include any sanctions or envisage any actions for managing the GMO corn that, as soon as law 202 had been cancelled, had been grown in the field owned by Silvano Dalla Libera and in Giorgio Fidenato’s one, both in Friuli.

The year 2013 ends with the public threshing of GMO corn in Dalla Libera’s field. In October 2013 the harvest is conducted at the presence of police officers, besides hundreds of farmers and citizens, and under the electronic eye of TV cameras and the local Forest Guards.

Once the corn has been harvested, the media attention fades away and the topic “sinks” for a few months. But, on the contrary, a couple of details must be explained. What happened to that GMO corn? Has it been hidden, smuggled or sold to the black market? No, it has not. That GMO corn has been simply and legally sold and used by those many people who asked, wanted, paid and used it. But not only. That Bt-corn, as all non-GMO Italian corn, has been subsidised by the CAP (Common Agriculture Policy): therefore, growing GMO Bt-type corn means being able to ask for and receive European funds that are given to all farmers who cultivate authorised vegetable varieties.

Now, let’s see what happened on July 14, as mentioned at the beginning.

Last March 2014, the Friuli Region issues the law 5 of 2014 which bans the cultivation of Bt-corn. On the basis of this law the Forest Guards destroy the first field of Bt-corn owned by Fidenato. It may look incredible, but this law too has never been notified to the central competent authority in Brussels and, once appealed, the European Union explains that not only the law is not valid, but that the Italian judge must disapply it. Now that the corn has been destroyed who is going to pay? And how much? This is reiteration of violation for a Region already under infraction procedure, they will not dare using money from the taxes to pay for these choices that are only politics! An institution that commits such infringements should not look into the citizens’ pockets to find the necessary money to pay these fines: perhaps they should use personal money of whom made the mistake instead?

But the national Government wants to show its activism and issues a legislative decree, the so-called DL Competitiveness that, like any other decree, enters into force on its release date on the Official Journal, June 24, 2014, even though on August 1, 2014 the Legislative Decree under discussion had not been converted into law yet. The public prosecutor Dal Tedesco, in Udine, cannot not wait and decides to use a provisional legislative decree for destroying the second field owned by Fidenato where Bt-corn was cultivated. This corn was already finishing blooming and, even though it had not reached full maturity, its spikes were well grown. The haste for destruction had to be justified with some urgent motivations and the public prosecutor Dal Tedesco cited some not better described health reasons. The Public prosecutor must be aware of evidences unknown to the whole Scientific Community, to the Agency for Food Safety of Parma, to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and to all the Central Offices of the European Union and the World Health Organization. It will be very interesting to analyse in depth the technical motivations used to support this choice. For sure the health reasons and the concerns for insects described in the Decree of July 2013 are much different and the last decree cannot pretend to interpret the 2013 Decree with penal sanctions.

But, in this case too, it is interesting to notice what happens as soon as the media attention fades away. What happened to the corn harvested by the Forest Guards? What do they do with it after threshing Bt-corn plants and spikes? In 2010, the first harvest of Bt-Corn that had initiate the penal procedure against Fidenato, that same corn had been dried and stored and made available to the judiciary authority for being sold. In 2013 it has been harvested by farmers and sold as animal feed. This practice has nothing strange as Italy imports GMO corn of the same type since 1996, which has been included into animal feed for 18 years now, also for products denominate DOP and IGP. But not this time. In 2014 the same corn that we have been buying from abroad since 1996 becomes special waste and is sent to the incinerator, not used for biogas or biofuel, not for animal feed, simply burnt by the incinerator like garbage, with a cost for the citizens of 6,000 euro. It should be clear that also this incinerated corn will receive the usual European funds by the CAP: the European Union subsidises what the Public Prosecutor Dal Tedesco incinerates. It would be nice to know if this 6,000 euro will be taken from the citizens’ pockets too. If the Public Prosecutor is right, Fidenato should pay, but if this is not the case, who is going to pay, “dear” Office of the Public Procurator of Udine?

In conclusion, I am certain by now that the reader has learnt a lot, therefore I can finish with a simple question: do you think that the Legislative Decree Competitiveness, which introduces those sanctions (up to 50,000 euro in one of its last version, but not so long time ago there was also reclusion for three years) that have authorized the destruction of Fidenato’s second field and the subsequent corn incineration, has been notified to Brussels before entering into force?

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