Tommaso Mazzetti from Pietralata
On August 23, 2017, the carabinieri of the NAS carried out a series of seizures of eggs suspected of being contaminated by Fipronil, the insecticide prohibited on animal farms for human consumption. In Viterbo, the seizure involved 53 thousand eggs for human consumption plus 32 thousand for zootechnical feeding, as well as 15 thousand hens; in Ancona 6 thousand eggs and a breeding of 12 thousand hens. In the following days positive samples were found in Campania, Marche and Lazio. It is natural that a case of this magnitude has brought food safety back to the center of the public debate.
Today, "Food Safety" is certainly considered a priority, also in order to contain healthcare expenditure which has a significant impact on the budget of each nation, and therefore falls within the broader sphere of protection of public health. For some time, therefore, the need has been felt to guarantee the whole food chain by certifying the origin and history of production, the latter now very complex also in light of the development of intensive cultivation and breeding techniques, which are necessary to meet the constant growth of food needs in the world.
In this complex situation, also characterized by the need to obtain an eco-sustainable development of intensive food production, constant monitoring is required on compliance with the regulations, prevalently of EU origin, in order to decrease the risk factors for chemical and biological pollution. also identifying which nutritional alterations of foods are tolerable. This control is carried out by the Anti-Sophistication and Health Units operating at the Carabinieri Corps, the institution of which, supported by the awareness in our country of the insidious phenomenon of food sophistication and related risks for the community, was received on 15 October 1962. following agreements between the Ministry of Health (now the Ministry of Health), the Ministry of Defense and the General Command of the Weapon aimed at achieving the objective of "to supervise the hygienic discipline of the production, marketing and sale of food and drinks, to protect public health".
Who defends our meals? The role of NAS
An idea of the extent of the phenomenon of food fraud and sophistication emerges from the NAS report for 2002, which reported that in the 27.042 inspections carried out at factories, shops and supermarkets 13.892 infringements had been contested, of which 2.856 with criminal relevance: therefore a very high percentage of infringements, since they are found in more than 50% of the controls, many of which also, almost 25% are criminally punishable. The typology of fraud detected by NAS in that report highlights that no sector is immune to it.
As far as drinks are concerned, 729.000 expired beverage packs were found in a company on which the expiry date was falsified: in another case bottles of chlorine mineral water were seized. Significant sophistication also concerns wines: for example in Treviso a wine producer was reported as having added the product with carbon dioxide and tannin to speed up fermentation. But even oil does not escape abuse, as evidenced by the cases of seed oil labeled as olive oil.
Fraud has also been identified in the trade and production of meat and fish.
Among the most serious and particularly dangerous frauds for consumer health are cases of fishing for molluscs in highly polluted areas. While, with regard to meat, cases of illegally imported cattle have been identified, with animals affected by infectious diseases that have just escaped the prescribed health checks. Further sophistication regards milk and its derivatives, even in baby food, as in the case where baby milk containing genetically modified soy proteins had been marketed. In the sector there are episodes of dairies that illegally import products from abroad or that sell "anonymous" cheeses such as "doc" cheeses.
In the first years of activity, the staff of the NAS was rather small, since it consisted of a Superior Officer, seconded to the Cabinet of the then Ministry of Health, and 40 non-commissioned officers located in major Italian cities. Over time, also in relation to the consistent results achieved, the presence of NAS men on the territory has progressively increased, so much so that the department, having acquired the current name of Carabinieri Command for Health Protection, has taken on a new organizational physiognomy, arriving at have more than a thousand units of highly specialized personnel. The NAS are included in the main community alarm systems for food and drugs. The department's supranational projection has seen Carabinieri of NAS gain a leadership role in recent years to become a point of reference for the most important European bodies and institutions.
It can be said with certainty and a small dose of pride that the carabinieri of the NAS represent a national and European "unicum", as the current Minister of Health recently recalled, commenting on the renewal of the NAS summit in June 2017: "The high specialist vocation and the deep technical knowledge that distinguish this department of the weapon are a great added value for the health of Italians and represent one of the best business cards for the security of our health system.".
The activity of the carabinieri of the NAS takes place at present in two macro areas, since to the original "food and drink" has been added that of "public health", which includes inspections at hospitals, private nursing homes and accommodation for the elderly (also not self-sufficient) functional to the repression of offenses against the National Health Service; checks on the legitimate exercise of professions and health care arts; technical inspections at "pharmacovigilance", with a specific action to combat the trafficking and illegal distribution of medicines and their counterfeiting. In addition to the production chains, food and drink supervision also includes places for the sale and administration of food and drinks (bars, restaurants, supermarkets, company canteens).
The operational successes achieved by the NAS, in addition to the aforementioned positive effects in terms of highly opportune strengthening of staff and structures, were crowned by numerous awards including four gold medals for public health merit to the Carabinieri and lastly , on 17 October 2017, from the awarding of the prize in RomeFriend of the consumer 2016", Recognition that every year Codacons assigns to those who have distinguished themselves for their commitment to citizens, as proof of how sensitive consumers are to the topic of sophistication and how widespread and appreciation can be said to be widespread activities carried out by this fundamental department set up for the public supervisory and control function to protect the fundamental health good.
The comics transposition carried out by Topolino, a well-known weekly for children, in which the same functions, this time of course to protect the health of the paperopolese, are assigned to the GNAM corps (Gruppo Nuovi Municipal Tasters), in clear allusion to the experience of which it is intended to spread the knowledge lightly among the very young.