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Wheat is foreign in one out of three packets of pasta: must the origin be indicated on the label?
Wheat is foreign in one out of three packets of pasta: must the origin be indicated on the label?

With fresh tomato or meat sauce, carbonara or amatriciana, in the form of tagliatelle, macaroni, spaghetti or lasagna, pasta is "the" dish that has always distinguished the tradition of our cuisine.

A close link, that between pasta and our country, in first place in the world in terms of production and consumption with almost three and a half million of tons produced in 2015, between fresh and dry, and a consumption of about 25 kilos each, again in 2015.

Whereas around the world around 14 million of tons of pasta, our country alone contributes 25% (still 2015 data) to international production, for a value of around € 4.6 billion, with € 2 billion coming from exports.

Yet, despite these numbers, a considerable part of the pasta produced in Italy cannot be said to be wholly “Italian”.

Not at least for its main ingredient: semolina.

How much pasta is produced each year in Italy

In Italy about 4 million tons of durum wheat, insufficient to cover the national needs which are about double, with the consequence that at least one third semolina must be imported from abroad, especially from Canada.

The reason why large quantities of durum wheat are imported is not just quantitative: to produce high quality pasta it is necessary to mix a part of "strong" flours with a high protein content, such as gluten, to the durum wheat flour.

In Italy, although cultivated wheat is generally of high quality, this “strong” durum wheat is in short supply.

This is not the case in Canada, and the Canadian "strong" wheat - harvested still green and therefore when the maximum amount of protein is concentrated in the grain - that Italy imports in large quantities to produce its quality pasta.

What the decree of the Italian government says on the subject

Regarding the origin and provenance of the wheat used to produce pasta, our Government, on 20 December, submitted to the EU Commission a decree that makes it mandatory to indicate the origin of the wheat used directly on the label.

In addition to this obligation, if the decree is approved, pasta producers should also indicate on the label the country in which the wheat was ground, and in the event that the wheat has been grown or ground in different countries, on the label it must the words "EU countries" or "non-EU countries" appear, while if the wheat has been grown for at least 50% in a single country, the label must bear the words "Italy and other EU and / or non-EU countries".

In addition to enhancing the production of quality Italian wheat by encouraging Italian pasta producers to increase the use of national wheat, the goal is to better protect consumers, as announced by the Minister of Agricultural Policies Maurizio Martina, because in practice a package out of three pasta contains foreign wheat without consumers knowing.

The new legislation also intends to protect the made in Italy food, enhancing one of the major national productions, just as happened with the dairy sector, for which a decree has recently been approved that obliges producers of dairy products and cheeses to bring label the origin of the milk.

Because Barilla is against the decree

But in recent days Barilla, the main Italian company in the sector, expressed itself in negative tones about the obligation to indicate the origin of the wheat on the label, arguing that the sole origin of the wheat is not synonymous with the quality of the final product, because wheat used import corresponds to precise quality standards.

A position also shared by Riccardo Felicetti, president of Aidepi - the Association of the Italian sweet and pasta industries - who recently explained: "we want to make people believe that Italian pasta is only that made with Italian wheat or that pasta it is of good quality only if it is produced using national wheat. It's not true".

But the Test-Magazine has overshadowed the hypothesis by the Emilian multinational of wanting to hide the quota of Canadian wheat used.

Before the decree presented in Brussels completes its path, is it useful to summarize where the wheat used to produce the pasta that we bring to our tables comes from for now?

Where does the wheat of the main Italian pasta factories come from?

Based on a recent Altroconsumo test, only a few brands offer pasta produced 100% with Italian wheat, a percentage that struggles to reach 23 % of the total market.

The brands are de Cecco, Garofalo, Free Earth, I rummo And Barilla, in this case only for its niche line Voiello.

The 43% of the national market is instead covered by brands that they also buy durum wheat from abroad, namely the brands Agnes, Barilla, Delverde And Divella.

The remaining 34% of the market is covered instead by manufacturers that they did not provide information on the origin of the grain used, ie Coop, La Molisana, Conad, Black Elk, long S, Carrefour, Simply, Granoro, Buitoni, Pam Panorama, Colombino (Lidl), Three Mills, Eurospin And Pasta Reggia.

Based on the same test, one-third of the companies contacted said they impose on their suppliers for greater security wheat traceability procedures.

A commendable ranking that sees Barilla among the protagonists, then Voiello, La Molisana, Carreforur, Carrefour Bio, Coop, Esselunga, Esselunga Bio, Libera Terra, Combino (Lidl) and Granoro.

60% of the brands also adopt specific procedures for the quality control of wheat, namely Agnesi, Barila, Voiello, Del Verde, Divella, La Molisana, Carrefour, Carrefour Bio, Siply, Coop, Esselunga, Esselunga bio, Libera Terra, Granoro, De Cecco, Garofalo.

Furthermore, most companies take into consideration the environmental impact, thanks to the analysis of the product life cycle, as well as the ethical aspect of the work (child labor, discrimination or other), which however does not present, for the pasta sector, significant problems as in other sectors.

All right then?

Only 23% declare that they use Italian wheat

Not really, because only 42% of companies declare information on where the wheat is purchased on the label (and here we go again).

The decree presented by our government to the examination in Brussels, however, seems to be a step forward to encourage a sector that, despite being perceived as above all "Italian", can only be defined as such in 23% of cases.

A little bit for our beloved national first course.

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