After a public debate that has engaged the Italian scientific community for months, Italy’s new law on organic farming was finally approved by the Parliament on 2 March. The draft version, that the Senate had approved in May 2020, proposed granting legal recognition and public funding to the biodynamic method, a farming practices with no scientific basis. The draft spurred protests from hundreds of researchers and several scientific societies, outside beyond the field of agricultural sciences. In February, the Chamber of Deputies has listened to scientists’ complaints and has amended the most problematic part of the bill, before sending it back to the Senate for the final vote. Despite the amendments, many unscientific elements remain in this law.
Most of the debate revolved around Article 1 of the law, that in its original version “equated” the biodynamic farming method to organic farming. While organic farming is precisely regulated by European standards, biodynamic agriculture has theoretical foundations and agricultural practices based on mystical and spiritual beliefs described a century ago by the founder of anthroposophy, the German philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. The foundations of biodynamic agriculture cannot be verified rationally, since they assume the existence of unspecified cosmic flows generating forces that would have a non-material origin. Additionally, the biodynamic certification is often awarded for a fee by private organizations.
Since the bill was brought to the Senate for discussion in 2019, after a hasty first approval in the Chamber, the Italian scientific community had been warning that it created the danger of granting several economic, educational and research funding privileges to biodynamic agriculture. Among those who are weighed in on the debate are President Sergio Mattarella, who publicly acknowledged the requests of the scientific community; the Nobel Prize winner Giorgio Parisi, who repeatedly spoke in favour of amending the laws; and members of Parliament, particularly Senator Elena Cattaneo.
The approved amendment deleted the sentence referring to biodynamic farming in article 1, thus deleting the legal equivalence between it and organic farming. Having undergone these modifications in the Chamber, the bill was then finally approved by the Senate on 2 March.
The bill still contains two references to biodynamic agriculture in other articles, whose elimination was also part of the changes requested by the scientific community. In particular, it indicates that a representative of biodynamic farming must be part of a technical committee that oversees the application of the law, and includes seed varieties “suitable for biodynamic agriculture” among those that must be covered by a national plan for regulating the production and trade of seeds.
The Government has adopted a provision that commits it to promote further legislative action to eliminate all references to biodynamic agriculture from the text. It is a positive sign, but all is postponed to future actions that are far from certain.
The law has been improved, but what is still missing in Italy’s farming legislation is the idea that all the different agricultural practices based on reason and experimental evidence should have equal weight. As we already pointed out in 2019 in an article signed by FISV, the Association of Agricultural Scientific Societies (AISSA), the Agrarian Conference and the National Association of Italian Biotechnologists (ANBI), the goals of food quality, animal welfare, protection of biodiversity and reducing greenhouse emissions do not belong just to organic farming. And the current ban on molecular techniques of genetic improvement has no relationship with the goal of a sustainable agriculture. There is only one agriculture, not a good one and a bad one. If this principle is dropped, gaps can be opened where irrational anti-scientific thinking can enter.