Organic Food “Yes”, Organic Food “No” A Discussion between Specialists with the Italian Parliament in the Fray

Review Article

Anthropol. 2020; 4(1): 1012.

Organic Food “Yes”, Organic Food “No” A Discussion between Specialists with the Italian Parliament in the Fray

Aubert M1, Banas D2, Bernier N3, Blouin M4, Bolzonella C5, Bonneval K6, Brun JJ7, Fritz I8, Giannini R9, Hager H8, Katzensteiner K8, Lowenfels J10, Menta C11, Micheloni C12, Paoletti MG5, Pelosi C13, Piccolo A14, Ponge JF3, Singh SK15, Tassinato E16, Teo G17, Tomasi M18 and Zanella A5*

1UFR Sciences and Techniques, University of Rouen, France

2University of Lorraine, France

3National Museum of Natural History of Paris, France

4UMR Agroecology, Agrosup Dijon, France

5University of Padua, Italy

6Strasbourg School of Decorative Arts, France

7IRSTEA - Center of Grenoble, France

8University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria

9University of Florence, Italy

10Garden Writers of America, USA

11University of Parma, Italy

12Italian Association for Organic Agriculture (AIAB-FVG), Italy

13UMR 1114 EMMAH, INRA, Avignon University, France

14University of Naples Federico II, Italy

15Punjab Agricultural University, India

16Wigwam Network, Italy

17ColBel Farm, Pieve di Soligo, Italy

18PAN Studio Associaton, Merano, Italy

*Corresponding author: Augusto zanella, Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry, University of Padua, Italy

Received: December 16, 2019; Accepted: January 10, 2020; Published: January 17, 2020


The SETA group (Agricultural Science and Technology) sent a letter to the Italian Parliament advising them not to adopt a legislative measure that favors organic and biodynamic agriculture compared to the conventional one. Another group of scientists thinks instead that the Italian government should favor organic and biodynamic agriculture and explains its reasons. The current article lists the SETA letter and the point of view of other Italian and international ecologists, economists, pedologists, ecologists, writers and artists, which are tendentially “protectors of nature” but not idealists. Nor are they so much in agreement with each other. Judge for yourself in scrolling through the Discussion chapter. The divergence leads to the “why” it is necessary to switch to organic farming not on the “need” to do so. There are also disappointments about the use of GMOs or the costs of highly technological agriculture.

The situation is such on planet Earth that it is necessary to involve the whole society to get out of it. In addition, politicians are also needed to structure the collective action that only if conceived by the whole society and not by individuals or by non-coordinated organizations can save our species. We are convinced that agriculture and soil are among the fundamental levers of this action.

Keywords: SETA; Humusica; Organic farming; Organic food; Food production; Global change; Agriculture; Biodynamic; Italian parliament


Recently, a group of Italian people belonging to the SETA group (, encompassing some agronomists, some university academists, some farmers and some citizens interested in the debate addressed a letter to the Italian Parliament. The goal was to arrest a decree that the Government intends to apply for fostering organic farming.

With the present article, we would like to address to the Italian Parliament another point of view, to support the decree and promote a sustainable organic agriculture in all its different variants in Europe as elsewhere in the world.

Letter Sent to the Parliament by the SETA Group

“Dear Deputies and Senators of the Republic,

- From different sources, we learn that among the priorities of the new Government is the approval of the law decree 988 - Measures for the protection, development and competitiveness of organic farming, agri-food and aquaculture production. Given that every farmer who is respectful of the law is free to produce as he wishes, we would like, as citizens and scholars, to call the attention of our institutional representatives the following concepts that most often do not find space in the public debate;

- Organic crops are less environmentally sustainable than those with the conventional / integrated method. This is because they give rise to a 20 to 70% lower yield, in equal farmed areas, therefore their generalized extension would require 20 to 70% more land to become cropped, leading to a massive destruction of forests and natural grasslands;

- Compared to conventional agriculture, organic farming leads to 50% higher greenhouse gas emissions in pea crops , 70% higher ones in wheat, and 300% higher ones in rice; emissions result moreover 61% higher per kg of bread produced;

- Organic products are marketed at prices up to 150% higher than comparable conventional products (source: EU - https:// domesticproduction- and-imports-see-large-increases-2019-mar-07_en), which should lead us to reflect on the economic repercussions for the consumer (or for the State, when it comes to school canteens obliged to supply only organic products);

- Organic products do not show significant differences with respect to the others in terms of healthiness or nutritional characteristics as emerges from the scientific work of [1] and from the EFSA reports on pesticide residues in food (https: //www.efsa.;

- Already today 45% of the net income of organic businesses is guaranteed by EU funding compared to 31% of conventional farming (source: Bioreport Crea, 2017-18 edition; Senate Research Department, note 108, June ‘19);

- With the law decree 988 an esoteric practice like biodynamic agriculture, achieves a formal clearance, being equated to organic farming. The biodynamic method is certified by a registered trademark owned by a multinational company and features an average turnover per hectare of 13,309 euros against the 3,207 euros of conventional farms and the 2,441 of organic ones (source Bioreport Crea, edition 2017-18). We hope that this Parliament will not want to be remembered as a reverse Robin Hood who takes away from the poor to give to the rich;

- Law Decree 988 refers to a niche sector (66773 organic and 286 biodynamic companies, which accounts for 4.5% of the 1,471,000 Italian farms - source Bioreport Crea, ed. 2017-2018);

In conclusion we would like to point out that the law decree 988 promotes organic farming by appealing to an alleged “national interest” for such agriculture. As SETA group we wonder what national interest is meant to be guaranteed in a decree which not addressing the crucial issue of controls on organic productions, undermining the national seed system, weakening the university agricultural education system, introducing a plethora of unnecessary territorial bodies, and stimulating low-productivity farming, will further increase our dependence on foreign countries, which is already close to 50% of the national demand for wheat and animal feeds. In this context the support offered to an esoteric practice such as the biodynamic practice, in the same country that along with Galileo Galilei gave birth to the Scientific Method as a system of knowledge of natural phenomena, is particularly striking, sounding almost like a new abjuration.

For the SETA group - prof. Luigi Mariani”

The Point of View of Other Scientists (Authors of the Present Article) on the Future of Agriculture

We agree with the following points contained in the letter from the SETA group:

1) Organic products are sold at higher price compared to the others;

2) More accurate and safe controls over organic products should be done;

3) Agriculture is very important for humans.

For the rest, however, the different issues are unjustified. The authors claim that conventional agriculture is cheaper than organic farming but do not consider the costs related to

a) The environment (two aspects -› a1: pollution, climate alteration, soil impoverishment in structure, stability towards erosion and organic carbon reserves, biodiversity loss and -› a2. soil fertility and the ever-increasing effort with conventional machinery to keep yields at a high and not durable level),

b) Human health in an environment forced to cope with added chemicals and

c) The indebtedness for technological machinery, which is increasingly required from conventional farmers to keep up with market standards.

These oversights could have been tolerated 30 years ago, but not now. It is out of place today to continue to undermine the house in which we live. Organic farming and its different versions are answers that are certainly more sustainable than conventional ones. Sustainability is expressed in an already established organically operated agriculture in almost closed cycles for nutrients and organics, which leads to a natural soil fertility that is independent from a steady unidirectional flow of nutrients and much less dependent on fossil energy sources. Natural soil fertility is based on an increased content of organic matter (humus, to be precise) with associated higher soil biodiversity and microbial activity.

Today’s agriculture (be it conventional, organic, integrated, precision-farmed, conservative, regenerative, biodynamic, agroecological) has the onerous task of feeding the planet, but at the same time needs to be environmentally and socially sustainable. Therefore, comparing systens just on the basis of economic costs is no longer acceptable as our chance of continuing to use the resources of this planet depends on its own stability. When the alternative is ‘nofuture’, any other issue comes to an end. The role of research is to provide scientific support to this critical path, without uncritically espousing partisan positions. Although Italy is the place where Galileus developed the scientific method, as stressed by opponents of the law project on organic agriculture, it is also the same country where he was imprisoned by his contemporaries.

Sustainability of the environment is a function of the extent to which we will rely on existing ecosystem services while balancing them with new technologies. If the perpetrators of the harmful consequences of intensive agriculture are to be sought, they are not among the farmers. Farmers in general follow the indications coming from science and the market. Probably as scientists and merchants we might have to pronounce a “mea culpa”. When we believe in unlimited progress, we fail to consider natural resources as a precious good to be preserved for next generations. When we strive to grow plants in systems without soil and with artificial illumination, we are overlooking and turning our back to nature-inherited assets of earth and light as if we were already planning our escape to the next planet. This does not sound as a workable solution for an increasing population.

On the opposite, we believe that cultivating and reconciling scientific and social spirits of humanity could lead to new levels of balance, in first instance a clearer view of the relationship between resources and the number of humans. And when we imagine how to go further, we should try to do it not just as humans but rather as Earth’s ecosystems, where humans are not daring brains leading the forefront of reality but one of the biological species integrated in it.

In conclusion, there are at least three scientific reasons for preferring organic and biodynamic farming over conventional agriculture:

1) The best quality of the food produced (at least regarding pesticide content and flavour) and the positive consequences on human health;

2) The best conservation of planet’s biodiversity;

3) The action of storing carbon in the soil in the form of humus with a consequent positive impact on climate change.

For the scientific basis of these three conclusions, instead of focusing on individual works, we prefer to refer the reader to three reviews [2,3,4]. They contain respectively 154, 60 and 141 selected scientific publications with data or ecological proved deductions that support these conclusions. Other more specific references are given below in the discussion part and/or are reported at the end of the list of References.

Discussion among the Authors of this Article to Explore the Horizon of Agriculture on Planet Earth and Program the Future of Mankind

Surinder S Kukal, Ph D, FNAAS, FISSS - Professor and Dean, GS Khush Distinguished Professor - College Of Agriculture - Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana-141004, India

I, as a Soil Scientist, believe in carbon cycle and whatever biomass has been created through photosynthesis and carbon dioxide should go back into the soil to sustain soil health as well as environment and reverse the disturbed carbon cycle.

But, in a country like India we need to feed millions and cannot expect to produce at the same rate as being done presently, at least during initial few years. However, I strongly believe in organic agriculture at first instance (as far as possible) and if required (of course it will be) followed by or in combination with Integrated Agriculture (IA). I see the integrated agriculture (with combination of organic inputs + need-based inorganic inputs) to sustain our environment and at the same time to sustain agricultural productivity.

Efrem Tassinato - Head Office Wigwam Clubs Italia. Non- Profit Associative Network for the Fair, Solidarity and Sustainable Development of Local Communities

I agree and therefore certainly, I endorse the petition on behalf of the associative network I represent.

As soon as the definitive document is available, we will share it in the Wigwam Local Community network and, as far as we can, spread it even further.

Jeff Lowenfels - Scientist, Gardener and Writer, President of Garden Writers of America, Us. Books: Plant A Row For The Hungry/Teaming With Microbes, Teaming With Nutrients, Teaming With Fungi!

A resounding yes!

Cristian Bolzonella - Phd Technicien at the University oof Padova, Economist

Agriculture is changing. Moving from an intensive sector based on chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides to an agriculture where the production process is integrated in the natural cycles.

This change is highlighted also by the recent proposals of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). CAP is paid by European taxpayers who have declared their intention to continue to support agriculture in the future only if does not pollute and produce positive environmental effects.

The objective of the old post war agriculture namely the quantity products maximization in order to feed the growing population has reduced importance given way to other goals such as: production of high quality products containing the lowest chemical residues, land management with the maintenance of meadows and pastures through extensive farming and the direct support for small farm income which continues to be lower than other sectors.

Worldwide the undernourished population is significantly reduced. The hunger is not due to production but rather to distribution issues. New problem instead is the increasing number of obese people feed by junk foods.

In this new scenario, organic farming will be important even if the experience on the fields shows that it this no always-possible follow a strictly organic protocol. For instance, in the viticulture sector the number of treatments varies greatly depending on the climatic conditions. In the more humid region of France, North Italy, Austria, Germany the main disease is Plasmopara viticola. The fungi defense requires 15-20 treatments that using copper-based products will exceed the cap of organic regulation. On the other hand, in the drier areas such as South Italy, Spain, California, Argentina etc. 4-5 treatments are enough and organic rules are easily satisfied.

Do we eliminate viticulture from France, Germany, Austria and North Italy? It does not seem viable at all! Is it better to produce a “fake organic” or a “true sustainable” products according to the condition of the area? Personally, I think that it is preferable produce sustainable products with the minimum input of pesticides. Important give a clear and correct information on the production process.

The current technology permits to know in real time treatments done, products used and who sprayed the cultivation. This information should be public because the pesticides effects are public on water, air, etc. and on the health of the citizens. So if this data will be public there will be a new and healthy competition between farmers in order to reduce treatments and the use the less detrimental pesticides.

All we need is transparency and ethic!! This could be a new direct certification without intermediaries and without extra costs checked directly by the comments of the consumers and more in general by the citizens. A model already implemented in other sectors (TripAdvisor, booking etc.) but in this case who write a comment has to public “the real face” in order to avoid opportunistic behaviour. A model of social and environmental control that existed in the small village where all the people knows each other and where the reputation was important.

Sustainable agriculture should be based on the widespread use of bio indicators. We have to understand what nature is telling us. For example, a tool as hive with his bees’ population give us many information about the health of the environment. A useful tool not only for farmers but also for all the inhabitants of a territory.

United Nations Organization has quantified pesticide victims in the agricultural sector for acute poisoning or poisoning at 200,000 a year, countless scientific studies have shown that exposure to pesticides prolonged over time - albeit in small doses - has important repercussions on health not only of those who work in agriculture, but of everyone [5]. A new agriculture is waiting at the door, an agriculture more complex that requires new environmental skills for the production of genuine products.

Alessandro Piccolo - Full Professor of Agricultural Chemistry, Università Di Napoli Federico Ii. Chief Editor of “Chemical and Biological Technologies in Agriculture”. Director of Cermanu Centro Interdipartimentale Di Ricerca Sulla Risonanza Magnetica Nucleare, Portici, Italy

I fully agree with the letter. As you may know we were among the few who published scientific papers on biodynamic compost, and we intend to pursue in this scientific objective direction.

- Spaccini R, Mazzei P, Squartini A, Giannattasio M, Piccolo A. Molecular properties of a fermented manure preparation used as field spray in biodynamic agriculture. Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

- Giannattasio M, Vendramin E, Fornasier F, Alberghini S, Zanardo M, Stellin F, Concheri G, Stevanato P, Ertani A, Nardi S, Rizzi V, Piffanelli P, Spaccini R, Mazzei P, Piccolo A, Squartini A. Microbiological features and bioactivity of a fermented manure product (Preparation 500) used in biodynamic agriculture. Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology.

Jean-François Ponge - Professor by the Museum National D’histoire Naturelle, Cnrs Umr 7179, Brunoy, France

I fully agree with the purposed letter. The point of view defended by the SETA group is a short-term vision of agriculture. It does not take into account the present and future health of mankind and, moreover, the need to live in a lovely planet. It is well-known that agricultural production does not increase anymore, even if the use of mineral fertilizers and pesticides is increasing and will still increase if nothing is done to arrest it. We cannot encourage conventional agriculture, rather we must discourage it, by helping farmers to turn to other, better sustainable, methods. Subsidies are necessary in a first time to achieve this target, acting as a primer to a self-reinforcing win-win process, like we know it in the soil when earthworms provide food to bacteria then bacteria to plants then plants to the soil through the decay of their dead parts.

Celine Pelosi - Chargee De Recherche Hdr, Centre De Recherche Provence-Alpes-Cote D’azur, Umr 1114 Emmah Inra-Avignon Universite

Studying the impacts of pesticides on some soil organisms for a few years, we brought some evidences that some currently used pesticides can harm non-target animals that provide key functions in soils, thus fragilizing the sustainability of agrosystems. I advocate a systemic approach to what is done and evaluated in the fields. Thus, not only do we have to consider farmers and consumers when thinking about the evolution of agriculture, but also we must account for the environmental legacy left behind (ecosystem quality for provision of services). The consequences of what we decide today can be long and difficult to observe but they affect the health of the ecosystems at long-terms and determine the orientations that we wish to give to our standard of living (health, recreational values of biodiversity, etc.). Although completely stopping pesticides is, for the moment, not so obvious to implement (integrated management being promising for instance), interfering in the adoption of environementally friendkly cropping systems is not so strategic to go towards more sustainable production systems.

Augusto Zanella - Professor of the University of Padova, Italy

The Val Di Non, A Case Study: I was fond of scientific agriculture. During my university studies in 1982, with my father (I went with him to follow a particular course at the Institute of San Michele all’ Adige, to learn how to do it) I destroyed a traditional orchard and replaced it with a modern one (it was said to be a “conversion”). The ancient grove was made of large apple trees up to 10m. To eradicate one of them, we utilized a big bulldozer (we couldn’t remove it with a hoe, even after a day of work). When I went to pick apples on these old trees, I found bird nests (goldfinches, blackbirds) in the branches. The Renetta apples remained fresh all the winter in the home-cellar, maybe the peel became folded like old skin, but under it, their pulp was delicious and never powdery. The new trees we planted were produced in The Netherlands (at this time, Dutch researchers were the best of the world on this matter; and it is still the case, probably).

There were different trees’ sizes: 1.5, 2, and 3, even one of 5 meters. Scientists advised the smallest because there was no need for stairs to pick the apples from them, one could stand simply beside trees. These trees were bearing fruit quickly, full production after 2-3 years, maximum 4 for the tallest. They had shallow roots and competed with herbs. It was not seen as a problem; at the end of their cycle (10 years of production), they were easier to replace. At the cooperative, they sold a weeding product that could be easily distributed, it was not dangerous for humans, no masks were needed. The grass dried out, leaving all the nutrients to the trees. Tree’ roots did not take enough water, because they were confined at the surface and around the trunk. This, too, was not a problem; it was enough to implement a drip irrigation system. With my father, we ordered the new irrigation system sold with the apple trees, it didn’t even cost so much. The ancient irrigation system was with high pinwheels that imitated the rain. The new water-supply plant was less expensive and much more effective. There was still a small problem that divided the producers: the plant protection products were no longer washed from the leaves by the irrigation system. This increased the efficiency of the products, but also the dust that was breathed when working in the countryside (some farmers showed allergies, not significant diseases, which were considered as physical weaknesses of the individuals, which were almost ashamed to have them). Apple growing has experienced many other technical innovations supported by the university and professional scientists of the Agricultural Institute of San Michele all’ Adige (Trento, Italy).

In a few years, the landscape of the Valley changed. All the orchards were converted, and irrigation systems changed. Powerful cooperatives were born and finally turned on a single “Melinda”. Farmers, even my father, had much more money. We changed the tractor, bought an “atomizer” for pesticide treatments, automated fruit harvesting machines, a flood of tools, built new roads. Today scientists drive from the Netherlands the computers that manage the apple production of the Valley. With a colleague who teaches students these things, I recently went to see a Val di Non’s cooperative. Each apple is photographed 82 times, and then a computer classifies it and guides a mechanical hand that put the apple in the right container that ends up in controlled storage. The apples can be sold all over the world, taking advantage of the best market windows, even 10-12 months after the harvest.

The competition is fierce, the manager of the cooperative explained. Today with a phone call, you can have a load ready after 5-6 hours from the order, with apples of the desired size and quality, to be sent to all parts of the world. The primary market is China. They compete mostly with Romania and France apple producers, which knew the same development. When I asked him about the quality, he replied that they do tests before harvesting to determine the right time to collect apples. It is about the hardness of the pulp and about the “quality of the fabric that allows it to be kept longer, fresh and good in a controlled atmosphere”. They spent millions to put apples in tunnels dug under the mountains in disused calcite quarries. I went to see them. It’s something like science fiction, workers with helmets, lights, computers, wifi connected with satellites and trucks entering the mountain to pick up apples.

My father died in 1998, still believing in science. He was born in 1912 and had a hard time when young. He argued: “On TV they say we are experiencing a moment of “crisis”. They don’t know what a real “crisis” is. This is not a crisis, but “what do you want my mouth?” He thought that science solved the problems of hunger, even though towards the end of his life, he wondered where the “boat” was going. He often said: “There is no more religion”. I know what he wanted to say, that there were no more principles of respect for the living and the environment; that it was enough to have so much and of everything. When he was down in the dumps, he also accused us of his children have ended up in a death trap. Two days before he died, he asked me: “Do you still believe in God?” I replied that I was a little lost. If God is the whole universe in evolution, with we all living inside Him, I believe that He still exists. My father proclaimed: “It is time for me to die, I no longer understand this world. Believe me, in the end, only God may help you, keep Him with you”. When I came out of his bedroom, my mother (10 years younger) noticed my despair and said to me: “Don’t pay excessive attention to father digressions, he still believes that there is a life after death, that sooner he will see his parents. The preservation of faith occupies a lot of time that perhaps could be invested differently by humans in search of peaceful satisfaction”.

The small farms disappeared from Val di Non. One of my family too. It was a part-time occupation, and none of the members had time to do the job. The properties concentrated in the hands of a few producers who work night and day, often indebted and with powerful machinery. A young man I talked to is already trying to use drones. Precision agriculture tests are carried out using satellites, and the cooperative/region would partially finance future investments. The whole landscape is homogeneous and resembles a vineyard made of small trees. Hail protection turns the Valley into a greenhouse. I asked my brother up there whether sparrows are still there; he thinks he saw a couple near home. In Padua, I don’t see these birds anymore (they were a lot of them in the 90s; sparrows, not pandas!). I remember there were so many when I was a child, that frrrrr flew away when you opened the door because they were chatting in the yard. There were also swallows that came back every year to nest under the balcony, beautiful, with a brown gag and a tail with two long spikes. My brother saw one more, in a village higher up and out of the way, just below the wood. I still buy Renetta apples at the Padua supermarket. They are still my favorite apples of all; I look for those from Val di Non and buy them. In addition, other varieties of Melinda apples, with names like Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith that were unknown in the Valley 20 years ago.

In the agricultural field, Veneto experienced the same evolutionary process as in Trentino, which can also be seen in other regions and throughout the whole world. Recently, I participated in the publication of an article about pesticides used in vineyards [6]. We found that the cost of the insecticide (the result also applies to fungicides) is inversely proportional to their potential damage to human health. There is the risk that to earn more, the farmers proceed with the purchase of products that are cheap and most dangerous for humans and the environment.

In Val di Non, organic apples are also produced (still not sold in Padva supermarkets). Organic apples sell better than others. 15% of the total production of the Valley is organic, and every year this percentage increases by a few points. I think that this is a healthy and futuristic choice.

There is a problem nevertheless that concerns all the agricultural production of the planet: organic, for scientists, does not mean produced with the living organisms, but with as little as possible of them. The less their number, the better. It is enough to eliminate them with substances that, for now, we do not know whether they hurt or not. Once we discover that they hurt, we replace them with others that we hope won’t destroy humans. These substances, also at the University of Padua, are still called and taught to students as Phytodrugs (plant-medicines).

A few days ago, on Sciences ( news/2019/11/new-genetically-modified-corn-produces-10-moresimilar- types), researchers presented transgenic corn that produces 10% more than other corn. How to say: in 4.5 billion years, Nature passed from a few cells to such millions of complex livings that we have not yet been able to fully inventory. Today, thanks to science, we humans succeed in fabricating new organisms that know how to take more resources than ever. They know how to avoid other bodies and grow faster than ever because we artificially put into them the potential of two or three organisms. This will lower biodiversity and give more resources to humans. Is this sustainable? Is this what we want? (Figure 1&2).