Agriculture minister says Italian ham and Parmesan ‘under attack’ from UN plan to reduce salt intake

Italy’s populist government and producers of Parmesan cheese and Parma ham have sworn to "wage a very hard battle" against any attempt to blacklist fatty and salty traditional foods by the World Health Organisation.

Proposals related to warning labels on unhealthy food mooted in a recent WHO report are set to be discussed at a meeting in New York in September.

The report did not mention any specific food products by name but the respected Italian business newspaper Sole 24 Ore  set off a furore by reporting that the UN agency could target Parmesan cheese and ham from Parma as well as pizza, wine and even extra-virgin olive oil.

The Italian agriculture minister, Gian Marco Centinaio, described the prospect of Italian foods being blacklisted as “pure madness".

"Do they think that products like Coca Cola light are good for you? And then they condemn Parmesan or other Italian gastronomic products. We will wage a very hard battle against this," he said, calling he move an "attack on Italy".

He was echoed by the Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, who tweeted “at the UN they are crazy, hands off Italian products", while Senator Giancarlo Serafini, vice president of the Italian parliamentary Agriculture Commission, said: “the Italian government must immediately block at birth this raving mad proposal.”

The Italian agriculture minister, Gian Marco Centinaio, described the prospect of Italian foodstuffs being blacklisted as 'pure madness'

Riccardo Deserti, the director of the Parmesan Consortium representing producers, said the organisation had studied the document, titled "Time to Deliver".

"It is obvious that the WHO does not accuse either Italian excellent products or Parmesan from Reggio Emilia, which is well known to be healthy and natural, because it is easily digestible and its high calcium and mineral content," he said.

“However the WHO does make recommendations in favour of adopting rules for labelling products to highlight the presence of salt and saturated fats. 

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"This point opens the risk of a system with great confusion, or, even worse, that some countries may manipulate such recommendations to introduce new trade barriers.”

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