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Made in Italy? New smartphone app targets foreign fakes

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Made in Italy? New smartphone app targets foreign fakes
This pasta may be lovely and colourful, but is it Italian? Now you can find out. Photo: Katrin Gilger/AFP
10:21 CET+01:00
A new, free smartphone app aims to protect the 'Made in Italy' brand by helping consumers spot the difference between genuine Italian produce and foreign fakes.

Shoppers can scan products' bar codes to find out if they are really of Italian origin. The app, created by non-profit organization Reliabitaly, can be used in Italy or abroad, and also gives information about how the item was made.

"The aim is to protect and preserve the global prestige of 'Made in Italy' products," its creators explained.

The app is a step towards combating 'Made in Italy' fraud; cheaper foreign products being passed off as authentically Italian. And Reliability has committed to "reinvest 100 percent of revenues in the promotion of Italian countries".

Italy has more products than any other country - 221 - which are protected by the EU's geographic labels of origin (DOP), including buffalo mozzarella, prosecco, and Modena balsamic vinegar. Under EU laws, products receiving DOP status must be produced according to specifications and in the designated region - but this can be tough to regulate.

The production of these foods, including Italian wines, balsamic vinegar and cured meats, involves 300,000 businesses and is worth an estimated €13.5 billion a year, so protecting them is crucial to the national economy.

Online sales of foreign fake parmesan alone cost the country €60 million each year, according to Italy's Agricultural Ministry. The ministry has worked with online sales platforms including eBay to crack down on the counterfeit foods.

READ MORE: How the grate parmesan scam costs Italy millions

The problem is particularly acute in the olive oil industry, with Italian farmers struggling with competition from lower-priced, lower-quality foreign oils, which are often passed off as Italian. The standard of extra-virgin olive oil in Italy is strictly regulated, and farmers have to follow a lengthy process to ensure their oil complies.

Last year, Italy toughened laws over olive oil packaging, making it compulsory to state on packaging when non-Italian olives had been used, and banning 'misleading' use of Italian symbols such as the national flag.

Consumer organization Coldiretti warned last September that olive oil fraud had seen a record increase. Their report claimed that there was more Spanish than Italian oil on Italy's supermarket shelves, and that labels denoting the origin were either absent or almost impossible to read, due to very small writing or awkward placement.

But the new app won't just crack down on food fraud. Consumers can also check the origins of clothes, accessories and other items that claim to be Italian, such as leather or products purporting to be made of Merano glass.

The app's database is still a work in progress, as it's up to manufacturers to decide whether to sign up. However, Reliabitaly has encouraged Italian brands to do so in order to tackle the foreign fakes.

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