Mid-March 2023: at the port of Genoa, Italy, the Italian Customs Agency officials stop and sanction an illegal import of 7 tonnes of pesticides declared as fertilisers.

Early March 2023: the Italian ‘Guardia di Finanza’ seizes 380 tonnes of wheat seed in Puglia and Sicily for which the fair remuneration to the breeder had not been paid, also detecting illicit blending with uncertified wheat by some grain traders.

February 2023: the Central Investigative Unit of the Italian Ministry of Agriculture (ICQRF) discovers a multi-million Euro fraud in Caserta, consisting in the marketing of almonds and tomatoes falsely declared to be organic. As a result, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Santa Maria Capua Vetere investigates seven people for criminal conspiracy aimed at ideological forgery and aggravated fraud.

The list could go on and on. Agri-food piracy is a sad reality that expresses itself in various forms and affects various sectors, causing significant damage, both economic and in terms of image, to the entire system. According to the Observatory on Crime in Agriculture, in 2019 illicit turnover exceeded 24 billion euros per year (+12% on the previous year), with the value of seized goods and assets exceeding 2 billion. The actual damage is probably even higher and all links in the chain, from the farmer to the consumer, are affected.

Serious damage for the entire supply chain

Illegality, in its various forms, penalises all players in the production systems. First and foremost, farmers, who risk using input factors that are not controlled and therefore of dubious efficacy. For example:

  • seeds that are not certified by law in terms of quality and phytosanitary aspects, as well as varietal identity, making it impossible to guarantee product traceability and origin;
  • fertilisers and phytopharmaceuticals smuggled in and placed on the market without the control of the producing companies.

As a result, seed companies lose resources to reinvest in plant research and see their turnover drop, as do agrochemical companies and traders in agricultural products. The processing industry and large retailers are unable to ensure the origin of the product and its health. All this reflects on consumers, that is, on all of us, who are deprived of some of the most sought-after requirements in the food we buy, namely the guarantee of origin and the conformity of the various processes that take place from the field to the table, as well as being exposed to the risks of fraud and counterfeit brands.

In addition, illegality is to be considered a damage to society because of the tax evasion that accompanies it; to public health and the environment, due to non-compliance with the laws in force; and not to mention to public order, since organised crime is often behind these facts.

More can be done

All actors in agricultural production systems are taking initiatives to counter the phenomenon, each in their own sphere of action. For example, the seed world has launched ‘Road to quality’, a project recently presented to the Chamber of Deputies, to ensure quality and traceability of horticultural products from seed. This will protect consumers and companies in the sector from fraud and guaranteeing the Italian origin of products. A computer system and blockchain technology manage the information on each batch. By scanning a QR code, it is possible to access the entire path taken by the various products.

Since illegalities are a threat to the entire supply chain, the most effective action can only be conceived and implemented in a joint and concerted manner. The supply chain policy, which is beginning to yield important results in organisational, structural and commercial terms, must also find a common strategy in the fight against illegality.

Published on November 1st, 2023

Editor’s Note: Franco Brazzabeni is Commercial and marketing consultant in the international agribusiness, Member of the Board of Assosementi and of ISF Groups, writes a blog on