A Ban on Many Italian Pork Products Will Be Relaxed

Apr 30, 2013 1728

The United States Department of Agriculture will relax a decades-long ban on the importation of many Italian cured-pork meat products from some regions of Italy starting May 28, including sought-after staples such as salami.

On Friday, the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services announced that an in-country assessment had determined that four regions and two provinces of Italy are free of swine vesicular disease, a dangerous communicable ailment that infects pigs, and that "the importation of pork or pork products from these areas presents a low risk."

Some pork importers and producers welcomed the changes, saying they would allow more Italian cured-pork products to make their way to American tables. But many were unable to judge the scope of the ruling because the Inspection Services did not specify what standards would now have to be met by Italian producers, nor the expense of meeting them. The agency did not immediately provide more details about its decision.

"Once this rule is in effect, imports will be approved," said Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for the Inspection Services, referring to the May 28 date, "but some individual shipments may need to be certified in the future." Since the ban, believed to have been in effect since at least the 1960s after a series of European livestock diseases, some cured pork products were still imported from Italy if they were inspected and certified according to stringent standards. But only certain producers could afford the expense of trying to win certification. It is unclear how certification methods will change as a result of Friday's ruling.

"Many artisanal salamis will still not be able to come in from Italy because they can't spend the money for certification — possibly $100,000," said Marc Buzzio, the president of Salumeria Biellese, a New Jersey producer of artisanal salamis and charcuterie products. He said large-commodity Italian salami producers would be more able to afford the importation process.

Nevertheless, some Italian farmers and importers were jubilant. "This is a momentous event," an Italian importation association, Assica, said in a statement, according to the Italian news agency ANSA, adding that it was the result of 15 years of work in lobbying the American government.

A farmers' organization, Coldiretti, said the ban had cost Italian salami producers $325 million in yearly export revenues, according to ANSA.

The areas in Italy where the salami importation ban will be relaxed include the regions of Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Piemonte, as well as the provinces of Trento and Bolzano.

If artisanal salami is approved for importation, "it could open up a new world of Italian salami to the United States," said Joseph Bastianich, an owner of the high-end Eataly grocery stores in the United States. "Americans have been eating bad salami forever," he said. "But now the end is near."

The relaxation of the ban could be "a game changer for the commercial producers of salami in the United States," Mr. Buzzio said, "since the Italian commercial product will have the buzz behind it."

George Faison, a partner at DeBragga and Spitler, a meat and poultry retailer, said that the Italian regions specified by the Agriculture Department produce some of the best salami in the world, but that the American importation standards "will determine the quality of what comes over from Italy."

He said that in the long run, a future increase in Italian imports "won't harm United States artisanal producers, because it will show Americans just how good the quality of their own producers has become."

Other reaction was more cautious. "As an American, I welcome it with open arms," said Pat LaFrieda, an owner of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors. "As long as the Italians import just as many American products." There are restrictions on importing American beef and other meats to Italy.

In recent years, the federal government has rescinded restrictions of the sale of some Italian cured meats, including varieties of prosciutto and mortadella. But if the relaxation of the ban permits more artisanal salami to be imported, it would also change a way of life for many delicacy-loving tourists and Italian-Americans, who have smuggled in Italian salamis for private consumption, and sometimes for sale, despite the vigilance of United States Customs and Homeland Security agents.

by Glenn Collins / The New York Times

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