Germany has been the largest importer of Italian food for years. Last year, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, oranges and many other products were imported for a total of five billion euros. However, little is known so far that part of the profits from agriculture and trade in Italy directly or indirectly benefit organized crime, says Helena Raspe from the association “Mafia No Thank You”, who held the conference “The Mafia in my supermarket? Bloody tomatoes and the struggle of the farm workers in Italy ”. The Italian investigative journalist Sara Manisera from La Repubblica and Arte, the ethnologist Gilles Reckinger and the activist Diletta Bellotti, who works as a researcher for the Osservatorio Agromafie Foundation in Rome, took part.

Kevin Hanschke


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According to a study by the Italian Agricultural Association from 2018, the Agromafia generates more than 24.5 billion euros a year.

The trend is increasing, say experts such as the book author Oliver Meiler.

The forgery of olive oil alone brings the mafia a double-digit million amount annually.

From counterfeit products to extortion of protection money

The association “Mafia no thanks” has been campaigning against the agromafia in Italy for several years. The focus was on the consequences for German society, such as money laundering in German companies, it said at the opening of the conference. The term Agromafia describes all organized crime activities that take place using commercial structures in agriculture and with which illegal profits are made. This includes offenses such as subsidy fraud, undeclared work, the exploitation of farm workers, counterfeit products and extortion.

The entire value chain is affected, says Diletta Bellotti, who investigated illegal work in Italian fields in various researches. "In Italy, more than 100,000 farm workers live like slaves in slums or tent camps and have no access to clean drinking water, while they work an average of eleven hours a day." There is a lack of clear definitions of these exploitation mechanisms in the German language, she says. Especially for the “Caporalato”, the mafia-like job placement and exploitation of seasonal workers in tomato and other fields, who often live under difficult conditions and hardly receive any remuneration for their work, there is no German translation. The phenomenon is a massive problem for European agricultural policy, says investigative journalist Sara Manisera.

Buffalo mozzarella production in Mafia hands

But other areas are also affected, such as the production process of agricultural products, says Bellotti.

Operation Aristeo made headlines in 2017 when several buffalo farms in southern Italy were accused of not meeting the criteria of the European DOP label of origin and protection.

One of the most common practices on these farms has been adding cow's milk to buffalo mozzarella, which lowers costs as buffalo milk is ten times more expensive than cow's milk.

In the province of Caserta, north of Naples, 80 percent of Italian buffalo are kept.

This core region of buffalo mozzarella production has been controlled by the mafia for decades.

The Casalesi clan, which belongs to the Camorra, is particularly active there.

In addition to the soft cheese, ham from Parma and San Daniele were also at the center of scandals with forged seals that sparked debates in Italy in 2018 and 2019.

Prosciutto worth at least 80 million euros was confiscated, which was not harmful to health, but did not meet the criteria of the DOP seal.

One solution could be a transparent supply chain law, which also obliges customer companies such as supermarkets to check and track supply chains, says the journalist Manisera, who helped uncover such cases.

The supply chain law passed last year and passed by the federal government is too sketchy and does not cover the human rights violations that fall under the “Caporalato”.

Such a law is currently being considered at the European level.

The association “Mafia no thanks” also demands that consumers be provided with more information so that they can track the supply chain of a product themselves.

Keywords: food trade, diletta bellotti, farm workers, italy, italian, exploitation, conference, crime, product counterfeiting, table, mafia, agromafia, work, addition, products