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Parma pushes food agency bid


People in Parma love food and many live by producing it so they see every reason why their city should be picked to host the European Food Safety Agency.

As next month's decision by European Union leaders draws nearer, talk in the city famous for prosciutto ham and Parmesan cheese is about little else.

Citizens say Parma is a logical choice because of the number of food businesses, ranging from family cottage firms to big industries, based in the northern area.

"We've accepted the challenge and I think we are up to fighting it on the basis of quality," Andrea Borri, president of Parma's provincial government, told Reuters in an interview.

Apart from its food business expertise, Parma is offering the backing of its university, the use of a 16th century building in the city centre and a heritage of food quality.

Parma's rivals to host the newest European Union seat, expected to employ 300 people, include Finland's capital Helsinki, Spain's second city Barcelona and Lille in France.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno will champion Parma on Thursday when they attend an agriculture forum in the city, seen as the culmination of 18 months of efforts to win the agency.

In a European sector haunted by scares over such issues as mad cow disease, Parma argues that it can lead by example with a tradition of excellence throughout the whole production process.

"We know how to do it all. We go all the way from the seed to the plate," Borri said.

"You could accuse us of wanting the European Food Safety Agency in Parma as the final jewel to complete the food crown of Parma," Borri said.

"But we chose not to go down the path of industrialisation. We chose the path of quality. We have married quality with efficiency and I think this is the contribution Italy can make to a food agency, Parma is at the very heart of this," he said. Parma's plains are the source of cured Parma ham, prepared by hand and dried for 12 months to achieve its famous sweetness.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is pampered like a baby. The city is also home to Barilla, the world's largest pasta producer.Its advocates say the city has not only upheld quality but has made it a part of cutting edge food technology.In warehouses dotting the misty plains, thousands of maturing cheeses are rotated mechanically rather than by hand to ensure the crust remains the same width throughout.

Parma knows that the Finnish capital is a formidable rival.

"Helsinki is offering different things - a guarantee of absolute independence and freedom, a huge amount of space, absolute neutrality," Borri said.

But ask anyone in Parma and they will tell you that linking Helsinki with food is like associating the desert with rain.

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