Italian food industry outraged by WHO report that calls for warning labels on salty foods

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Italian food industry outraged by WHO report that calls for warning labels on salty foods
Parma ham, parmesan cheese and olive oil are key 'Made in Italy' brands. Photo: lisovskaya/Depositphotos"

Several key industry leaders have rallied against a World Health Organization report that calls for governments and national institutions to reduce citizens' salt and sugar intake as a move towards a healthier diet.


The report, titled 'Time to Deliver,' does not directly threaten the status of any Italian products, although some of the language used has set alarm bells ringing.

One of the WHO's objectives in the report states: "Reduce salt intake through the reformulation of food products to contain less salt and the setting of target levels for the amount of salt in foods and meals." 

It also aims to "reduce salt intake through the implementation of front-of-pack labelling," in the same way that cigarette packets carry health warnings. Italian stakeholders fear this could affect some of Italy's biggest gastronomic delicacies, such as parmesan, Parma ham and olive oil, according to an inquiry by Il Sole 24 Ore. 

The WHO's suggestions, even if approved at a global meeting scheduled for September 27th, would not force Italy to abide by any outcome as each country is free to adopt the norms or reject them on a national basis. 

Several Italian industry leaders and political figures nevertheless sought to put down any threat against the 'Made in Italy' brand.

"I cannot imagine that our products like Grana Padano, parmesan, Parma ham or oil could be considered the same way as chemical products," tweeted Gian Carlo Centinaio, Italy's far-right Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies, claiming that the report placed "Italy under attack." 

Gian Marco Centinaio:"Non posso pensare che i nostri prodotti come il Grana Padano, il Parmigiano, il Prosciutto di Parma o l'olio vengano considerati come i prodotti chimici che spesso vengono venduti...

— Lega Toscana - Salvini Premier (@LNToscana) July 18, 2018

"Parmesan, ham, pizza and oil are as damaging to your health as cigarettes," quipped Luigi Scordamaglia, president of Italian food and beverages lobby Federalimentare. 

Parmigiano, Prosciutto, pizza e olio nuocciono gravemente alla salute, come una sigaretta. #OMS e #ONU dichiarano guerra al diabete e alle malattie cardiovascolari con attacco strumentale e inaccettabile ad eccellenze agroalimentari #madeinitaly. #17Luglio

— Luigi Scordamaglia (@L_Scordamaglia) July 17, 2018

Scordamaglia said the report, which is part of an effort to reduce global deaths from cancer by a third by 2030, represents "a structural attack" on Italian brands and that it's "unacceptable." The report also takes aim at products heavy in sugar and fats. 

The WHO's recommendations have apparently sent shockwaves throughout the Mediterranean nations, according to Il Sole 24 Ore. French cheese, Spanish ham (jamón ibérico) and Greek olives could all be targeted, claims that report. 

The Italian business news portal says any new measures could favour chemical-based products such as Coca-Cola Light vis-a-vis traditional agricultural foods. 

The WHO's report also suggests quotas for sugar products and media awareness campaigns to highlight the dangers of high intakes of fats, salt and sugar. 

"A resolution of this type, although it does not involve the obligation to be incorporated by the Member States, would cause considerable damage to the image of the national food industry. Just think that wine, olive oil, parmesan and Parma ham, all symbolic 'Made in Italy' products, known and appreciated all over the world, could all be affected," Franco Verrascina, president of Italian agricultural federation Copagri, told Repubblica. 

READ MORE: The one dessert you have to try in each of Italy's regions




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