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Mazzini (Coop Italia): “The risks of the food sector, from the climate to the demographic winter”

Exclusively at EFA News, one of the speakers at the Dss+ conference (Bologna, 20 May 2024)

Climate risk is an issue that we must live with and for which, at the same time, we must constantly seek concrete solutions. The agri-food aspect of the problem was addressed exclusively with EFA News by Claudio Mazzini , head of Freschissimi Coop Italia. The manager will be one of the speakers at the conference "Agri-food Resilience: how to build the road to perfect food" (Bologna, 20 May 2024, 09:30-16:00), promoted by Dss+ (participation is free while places last To register click on this link ).

Specifically, what does it mean to talk about climate risk in agri-food?

The event organized by Dss+ is an opportunity because, for the first time, we are starting to talk not so much about whether climate change exists or not but what the practical effects are and what actions need to be implemented in order to manage it also from an economic point of view. I believe that this is precisely the great news, given that 2023 was certainly an emblematic year from a production point of view: historically the climate has always had effects on primary agricultural production and, consequently, on the entire supply chain but normally it affected one or two categories. Last year affected practically all of them, even with new inflationary effects, to the point that, for the first time, we are starting to talk about climate-related inflation. Therefore the comparison we will hold is very interesting, because there are a series of new methodologies and above all new ways of approaching the problem, which will become absolutely indispensable to continue doing agribusiness.

Will there be a real and concrete problem, even in the short term, in our Western worlds, of food security, i.e. the ability to safely access food?

Unfortunately, I absolutely believe so. I report a case that will also mention the day of the event: in Sicily it has not rained significantly since 8 June 2023. Projections state that in October Palermo should remain without drinking water. Sicily produces 17% of what we consume in Italy. You understand well, then, that moving Sicilian production, with all due respect, is not like moving a car factory.

On the consumer side, is there a perception of this problem?

Perception is linked, as always, to the peak moment, to the extreme event. Everyone remembers last year's flood, but the fact that that same flood was preceded by a period of very long drought and frosts which compromised production and then the summer was one of the driest ever, probably it's something you don't remember. In other words: people remember the extreme event that is reported in the media but not the daily change. It's a bit like the parable of the boiled frog: little by little you get used to the increase in temperature, until you end up boiled. Well, I believe that citizens and consumers are getting used to this change which, unfortunately, risks being linear.

Another relevant issue, perhaps less perceived in public opinion, is the widespread and large demographic decline in Western Europe and, in particular, Italy. What impact could this phenomenon have?

We will also mention this because it is connected to the topic of climate change. Italy, according to the most pessimistic estimates, is at risk of falling below 40 million inhabitants within 50 years, therefore it has a now endemic and structural need for manpower that cannot be found in Italy. Over 50% of what is "Made in Italy" passes through non-Italian hands throughout the process and along the supply chain. This is also a topic that, in terms of risk analysis, absolutely needs to be put on the table, like climate change. Speaking with some agricultural product operators, it emerges that they no longer make planning based on the potential market but based on the availability of manpower. This represents an absolute novelty in the last two years, which did not exist before: previously, plans were made for how many vegetables one would be able to sell, not how many one would be able to harvest.

There is also, in perspective, a decline in consumers and, therefore, in consumption. For those who, like you, work in large-scale retail trade, what will this mean?

It is not certain that the new Italians have the same tastes and eating habits as the previous ones. Therefore, this is one of the most relevant issues: it is evident that consumption is destined to decline because the population will decline and will not be replaced with the same quantity of citizens, therefore it is evident that the belly of the market within 10-15 years it will begin to noticeably thin. Therefore this is certainly one of the elements of risk analysis.

However, from the point of view of food safety, from the health, well-being and wholesomeness of food products, are there new risks compared to the past?

Over the last thirty years we have worked with an intensity and a unity of regulatory intent that is probably unprecedented, both at a European and international level. If we think about all the new regulations on the topic of food safety, animal welfare, chemical reduction, if as much energy had been invested in climate change, perhaps we would be talking differently today. So, I don't see any particular problems with this. The standards are all very high and very homogeneous, fortunately.

Then there is a social problem linked to gangmastering and security. Do you have any comments on this?

I believe that either we hurry up and manage labor flows to be able to continue producing not only primary goods or we risk going into a very deep crisis. Then it is clear that this involves an ability to adapt activities to new people who operate and who have different histories, traditions, cultures and religions. Therefore, there is no question that all this increases complexity: it is unthinkable to imagine that everyone can adapt to a single culture, a single religion, a single model of life. Anyone lucky enough to travel to some European capital perceives what the future is. The issue must be handled very well and it is a very, very complex topic. Using simplifications does not solve any type of problem.

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