Food sovereignty, an ethical concept to be defended

Culture - November 16, 2022

Among the novelties of the newly formed Meloni government are the new names of four ministries, including the one that was once the Ministry of Agriculture that has become the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty, and Forestry (Masaf) and has been entrusted to Ms Lollobrigida.

Although the new name has triggered easy and specious polemics from the opposition and biased press, the new ministry is nothing new in Europe, having a twin in France, ‘Ministère de l’Agriculture et de la Souveraineté alimentaire’.

The concept of ‘food sovereignty’ is in fact not new in the policies of many countries and organisations in the sector, and not even at the United Nations and the FAO, which indeed look favourably on the principle linked to it
But what specifically is meant by ‘food sovereignty’?

The term ‘food sovereignty’ was coined in 1996 by an international non-governmental organisation made up of small and medium-sized enterprises from more than 80 countries, via Campesina, which is committed to the sustainability of agriculture and the fight against exploitation by multinationals. Since then, the term and concept of food sovereignty has entered by right into institutions and governmental bodies around the world.

To date, there are several definitions used to summarise the principle of sovereignty in agricultural and food policies, for the Italian Rural Association it is “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy, culturally appropriate and sustainably produced food and their right to define their own agricultural and food systems”. At the international level, however, the concept was well defined in 2007 during the Nyéléni Forum for Food Sovereignty: ‘Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced through ecological and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food systems and agricultural models. Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets, prioritises family farming, traditional fishing and livestock farming, as well as the production, distribution and consumption of food based on environmental, social and economic sustainability’, a definition that is the result of synthesis work and is now the first article of an international document drafted and signed by countless associations, NGOs and international bodies.
In essence, food sovereignty is an ethical model for the use of food and natural resources that aims to oppose the economic model based on exploitation and standardisation that denies small local producers the right to choose what and how to produce.
The idea is that of a new model for managing the earth’s resources, one that prioritises satisfying food needs while fully respecting the environment and workers, even and above all in spite of profit maximisation.
It also wants to reduce the distance between supplier and consumer, combat waste and enhance the traditional culture of food production.

And it is probably for this reason that the decision to rename the Italian ministry has been applauded by many sector bodies, from Coldiretti to Italia Olivicola, from Filiera Italia to Slow Food Italia.
So it seems, outside the palaces of politics and instrumentalisation, that the choice seems to be liked and appreciated by those who work and believe in the sector.

In short, the call to the much-feared sovereignty shouted by the Italian left has little to do with the term food sovereignty, as is also taught by the example of Macron’s France.
And probably, ironically, the new name was also created to oppose the transalpine ministry and its Nutri Score.
Already opposed and temporarily blocked by Meloni’s party when it was in opposition, the Nutriscore, as it is conceived, represents a real ‘enemy’ for Italian producers, to the advantage instead of French and German ones.
But what is Nutriscore, and why does it arouse perplexity and hostility not only in Italy?
Born as part of the ‘Farm to Fork Strategy’, the strategy designed by the European Commission to transform the European food system, making it more sustainable and healthy, and to reduce its impact on third countries, it is a compulsory nutritional labelling system harmonised at EU level.
Created on a French proposal, and already adopted in Belgium and Germany, the Nutriscore, using the image of a traffic light, assigns a colour from red to green to each food based on the level of sugar, fat and salt, calculated on a reference base of 100 grams of product. Obviously, foods with a ‘green’ traffic light are preferable to ‘red’ ones.
The problem is that the analysis is done on a food-by-food basis and not on the result of combining foods in different doses, which penalises precisely the Mediterranean diet and many Italian products.

According to the thinking of the new government, supported by numerous experts and scientists in fact, the diet is an ‘overall behaviour’ and consequently is not ‘made up of just one food or a green colour that gives the idea of being able to eat at will or a red colour that makes a certain food appear forbidden’, and therefore not applicable to disconnected foods and quantities.

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a dish consisting of the sum of 100 grams of oil plus 100 grams of cheese and 100 grams of tomato to season 100 grams of spaghetti…

Hence the Italian proposal, an alternative to the French, which is called NutrInform Battery and evaluates not the individual foods, but rather their incidence within the diet. The label is designed as a battery and shows all the values for a single portion consumed. The symbol therefore shows the percentages of energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt provided by individual portions compared to the recommended daily amount. In practice, the percentage of energy or nutrients contained in the individual portion is represented by the charged part of the battery, so that it can be quantified visually. The aim is to help define a method for combating diseases linked to poor eating habits.
The Italian proposal was joined by numerous European partners, including the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Latvia and Romania, who were also concerned about the weight that a system such as Nutriscore could have on production and exports.
In short, a battle that is economic, but also linked to food traditions and the specificity of the territories, precisely what characterises the concept of food sovereignty and which, already from the new name of the ministry, seems to characterise the new Italian course.
It will be up to the new minister Lollobrigida to represent Italy and its tradition and specificity in the European forum, and we are confident that he will be able to do this better than his predecessors.

Born in 1972, Francesco Lollobrigida has a degree in law.
He entered politics at a very young age in the Fronte della Gioventù, the youth organisation of the Italian Social Movement, becoming head of the Rome province section until 1995.
He was town councillor of Subiaco from 1996 to 2000, national leader of Azione Studentesca from 1997 to 1999, and provincial councillor of Rome from 1998 to 2003. From 2005 to 2006 he was councillor for sport, culture and tourism in the municipality of Ardea.
In 2010, he joined the regional government, becoming councillor for mobility and transport until 2013, a post for which he received widespread praise for his work. On 20 December 2012 he left the Popolo della Libertà together with Giorgia Meloni and other PDL politicians to found Fratelli d’Italia. In 2018, he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies with FdI, becoming the party’s group leader in Montecitorio. He was re-elected in 2022, receiving the appointment as Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty.