Stung by heavy losses, Italian producers began a campaign today [Friday] for the EU and WTO to take definitive measures against “food-piracy” – imitations of products of “protected origin” but readily available around the globe.

At issue are some 550 food products – Italy has over 100 of them – considered by the EU to have Denomination of Protected Origin, but apparently powerless to prevent fakes outside EU, necessitating WTO intervention for any effective global action.

A main producer association, Coldiretti, announced that its study shows “generic” cheese carrying the label Parmesan readily available in the US, Japan, Canada, Argentina but also in the UK and Germany. Or San Marzano tomatoes in California; Pecorino Romano Cheese in Wisconsin, Chianti Classico in Argentina; Marsala and Lambrusco wines in Australia; Tuscan olive oil in UK supermarkets. The case of an alleged German imitation of Italian cheese is at the European Court of Justice.

Italian producers are demanding action on three fronts: global acceptance of the principle of protected origin, a multilateral system of registration through WTO and guarantees for the protection of such products from fakes.

In Italy, the so-called “protected” foods account for 7% of the total agricultural production, generating annual sales of Lit14,000bn (US$6.6bn). The exact loss is not known, according to Coldiretti, except that it says they run into the thousands of billions of lire.

By Hilmi Toros, correspondent