The Malta Independent 15 July 2024, Monday
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Malta placed at centre of huge organic products fraud

Tuesday, 12 April 2016, 14:30 Last update: about 9 years ago

An Italian journalistic investigation has placed Malta at the heart of a multi-million euro scam in which ordinary grain is fraudulently being sold in Italy as organic.

The claims were made on Ballaro’ on Rai 3 a couple of weeks ago.

The news report explained how big the ‘organic’ industry is in Italy and how billions in fake organic products are sold every year. The industry is worth around €2 billion in Italy alone and around €60 billion worldwide.

In Italy, if you want your agricultural land or shop to be certified as organic you have to go to one of 13 private companies, which fall under the supervision of a state authority. Essentially you have to pay a private company to be certified as organic farmer or seller.

The report focuses on an investigation being carried out by the prosecutor of Verona, which it says is the largest investigation in Italy. “Farmers, businessmen and certification companies were passing non-organic products into the market as organic. This amounts to fraud of around €220,000,000. Six people have been found guilty so far.”

The investigator says farmers in the Verona area grow large amounts of grain and soya under “an incredible cloak of omerta` (a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to the police). This is because the fake organic products have turned people who hardly had enough money to get by into rich people.”

A former employee of one of the investigated authorities, speaking anonymously, explained how more than half of the product could be conventional, grown with the use of pesticides and other chemicals. However, it is mixed with organic products and passed off as being genuinely organic. “On paper it all becomes organic.”

One farmer explained how he ordered two trucks to pick up his organic and non-organic corn. But just one truck was sent and the two batches were mixed together “because in the end it would all be the same.”  The results of testing for pesticides were also falsified.

The news report also explained how, in one particular case, grain, soya and corn were exported from Moldova, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan to Malta, thus entering an EU border. “Here, the relevant authorities certified the product as being organic, when in actual fact it was grown using pesticides and weed killers. The product was then exported to Italy, where it was placed on the market.”

The Ballaro’ journalist spoke to one of the businessmen who were allegedly involved in this scam but the latter insisted he had no connection to the Maltese company and that he had no idea the product was not organic.

Another scam involves buying cheap organic land abroad as a cover. A farmer could buy a small piece of land in an Eastern European country and at the same time grow or buy conventional products in Italy. Because they have organic lands abroad, it seems that the product is being imported from there. The price they can fetch for their ‘organic’ product can be as much as double as the price for conventional product.

A spokesperson for Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture Roderick Galdes said “the Maltese authorities have been taking active surveillance and enforcement action in this field and reporting to the EU Commission and other Member States.” 

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