Some northern Italian food producers are sounding the alarm after sludge from an oil spill that’s working its way along the Po River reached the province of Parma on Thursday, the Associated Press is reporting.
That’s raising fears that the home of Italy's famous prosciutto, parmesan cheese and other agricultural staples could be at risk of water contamination. Which is a horrible thought, both for producers and for consumers (like me!) who love these products.
AP reports that Italian farm organizations are divided over just how much of a threat this oil slick poses. Farm lobby Coldiretti insists that Italy's food chain is still safe because the Po River isn’t now being used for irrigation. However, another group of farm owners, Confagricultura, has warned that the spring planting season, particularly for water-intensive rice crops, might be at risk unless clean water is ensured.
I spent a few weeks in the region last June, including a few days in Parma itself. The city is delightful, and it’s very clear just how important its food products are to the economy, to say nothing of the pleasure a salty, tangy chunk of parmesan can produce.
Here's a photo of Parma's Duomo from my visit:
According to AP, the Po River valley, which extends 71,000 square kilometers (27,400 square miles) across several northern regions, produces a third of Italy's agricultural output and represents 40 percent of the country's GDP.
Officials are warning that farm output might be already be affected, along with the extensive damage the slick has already caused to the area's wildlife.
Authorities say the spill began Tuesday, when someone opened the cisterns at an oil refinery turned depot near Monza, letting tens of thousands of liters (thousands of gallons) of oil pour unimpeded into the Lambro River, a tributary of the Po. Some say that it appears the act was deliberate.
By Wednesday, despite efforts to contain the slick with absorbent pads and the closure of hydroelectric locks, the oil seeped from the Lambro into the Po, Italy's longest river, which flows west-to-east across the country, AP reports.
The farm lobby Coldiretti says food produced in the region is safe since farm production is low at this time of the year, and heavy rains have meant that the Po won't be needed for irrigation for awhile. It also argues that rain forecast in coming days means that the oil will be further diluted and the residue will be dispersed, according to AP.