February 6, 2011

Tomato Connection

An Italian television presenter has infuriated government ministers by telling viewers to boycott one of Italy's most famous varieties of tomatoes, claiming the mafia has taken over the trade and pushed up prices.

Alessandro Di Pietro, who appears on daytime consumer shows on the state network RAI, called for the boycott of the Pachino tomato, the small, sweet variety grown around the Sicilian town of the same name.

By controlling the distribution of the tomatoes to shops up and down Italy, mafia clans are ensuring Italians pay up to 11 times what growers sell for, and pocketing the difference, he said.

Investigators who arrested suspected mobsters in the fruit trade last year said that the Sicilian, Neapolitan and Calabrian mafias who had teamed up to control the business were also using produce trucks to smuggle weaponry.

Mafia clans are also profiting from the recruitment of illegal African immigrants to work off the books as fruit and vegetable pickers.

"The Casalesi clan, part of the Naples Camorra, has now eased the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta out of the running of the market – which has an €800m annual turnover – with the Sicilian mafia supplying them with produce," said Peppe Ruggiero, the author of The Last Supper, a book about the mafia's control of Italy's food chain.

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