Biodiversity: An Interview with Slow Food Italy

In an interview with the new President of Slow Food Italy, Gaetano Pascale, we learn about projects to protect biodiversity, the future of Italian Presidia and priorities for the coming months.


Biodiversity will play an important role at the next Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. What is the situation in Italy and what are the priorities of Slow Food?


In addition to projects already being funded, such as the Presidia and the Ark of Taste which promote models of sustainable production, our goal is to raise awareness about biodiversity. To do this we need to work with producers to promote production methods that seek to protect biodiversity, as well as trying to change law and legislation. For example, we need a CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) that does more to incentivize producers who use local ecotypes. Secondly, we need to do more to get consumers to recognize the importance of biodiversity.


What is the future of the Presidia?


In Italy, we want the Presidia project to grow from being mostly local to national in scale. Obviously we still want to maintain a degree of national variation. What I mean by that is that we want to create a list of national Presidia dedicated to products we use every day such as milk, oil and corn. In addition to this we want to involve more producers and make their products more accessible to consumers, without compromising the nature of the Presidia project – our commitment to small-scale agriculture.


Protecting biodiversity means protecting our countryside. How do we tackle recent scandals such as the toxic waste in the Terra dei Fuochi near Naples and defend products from this region that are good, clean and fair?


Our goal has always been to raise awareness among consumers. To deal with any food scandal the first step is to be informed. We need to get consumers asking not only where products come from, but also if they are produced in an eco-friendly way that respects animal welfare and the environment. The Terra dei Fuochi is a good example and requires consumers to be aware and producers to be clear about how things are produced. For example we have put a narrative label on many Presidia products, and this idea could be extended to producers from areas where the environment is at risk of being destroyed. In doing so we can display information from along the entire chain of production, which can reassure consumers by guaranteeing the quality of their product.


Legality is another important issue that concerns our food, the safeguarding of the environment and our health. What is Slow Food doing in this area?


It is vital that we know that our producers respect the law pertaining to the environment, health and safety, as well as financial law. We at Slow Food fight to create positive examples and our producers respect the letter of the law. We would like to ask producers of Presidium products to sign up to a protocol where they promise not to use manpower that is paid cash in hand and kept off the books. All our producers currently respect this rule, but having a signed protocol would send out an important message to producers who are not currently working with Slow Food. Respecting the law also means managing your waste in the right way. In order to help us here we are asking policy makers to simplify the law which is sometimes far too complicated and bureaucratic.


What can we do to help combat urban sprawl, which is destroying our beautiful coastlines and countryside?


Here in Italy it’s not a fair fight. Agricultural land has a commercial value much lower than land that is designated for building. Farmers must be real heroes to resist the temptation to sell up. Right now, in addition to protecting and sustaining these farmers we need to fight to protect areas that should not be developed for any reason and should be safeguarded for their agricultural value. Here in Italy we work with the South Milan Agricultural Park as well as the pressure group Save the Countryside to try to guarantee the protection of these areas against useless re-designation and development.


A final question about the event itself: Why is it important that each one of us brings a product to the next Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre to add to the Ark of Taste?


We want to catalogue these products and create a network that starts with the products and finishes with the producers behind them. Bringing a product to the Salone means raising the status of producers and giving them a central role. It’s time we start to talk about farming with farmers and production with producers. It’s a simple-sounding concept, but let’s think about it for a minute. How many times do we talk about agriculture without involving the people who produce and work these products? So choose a product you would like to see on the Ark, and bring it with you to Turin!


Salone Del Gusto and Terra Madre will take place from October 23 – 27, 2014.

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