Italy's agricultural sector is under siege from criminals, and new laws are needed to crack down on the perpetrators.
The report comes as the European Parliament has just passed new measures including better enforcement against those looking to commit food fraud or deception.
That is the conclusion of Italian farming organisation Coldiretti, whose latest report on the 'Agro-Mafia' suggests that there was a surge in this criminal activity last year, with 30 per cent growth to a staggering €21.8bn in value. It also says that figure is likely to be an under-estimate of the scale of the criminals' activities.
The opportunities for illicit profits are so great that crime syndicates are starting to specialise in particular agricultural products, focusing on Italy's most symbolic produce such as citrus fruits, cheese, olive oil and wine, and have also penetrated the restaurant and supermarket trade. Theft is now widespread, spanning produce, livestock, farm machinery and materials such as diesel and copper.
Earlier this year, police in Italy have arrested 33 people suspected of involvement in trading counterfeit olive oil and links to the 'Ndràngheta criminal network. The gang imported cheap and low quality olive pomace oil – the leftover oil squeezed out of pulp after the first and second presses – and mis-labeled it as extra virgin oil.
The annual report – the fifth produced to date - was prepared by Coldiretti, the Eurispes think tank and the Observatory Foundation.