Expo 2015: 5 partners of the event you (probably) don’t want in the future food industry

Today (1st of May) the World Exposition has kicked off in Milan. This time the wider theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, so food production, its sustainability and future.

Indeed it is an interesting topic and surely a critical one to be discussed between world leaders if humans want to stick around for some more years. And being the hosting country, Italy, one of the greatest exporters of high quality food products, it is also a strategic one for the Bel Paese.

Apparently, the event fails its premises as Expo 2015 S.p.A, the organisation who manages the event, is partnering with companies that have demonstrated poor sensibility towards the environment, health and food. Is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” what the fair will be really about?

McDonald’s, Coca Cola and other multinationals are sponsoring and will get
significant space during the event, while, as explained by University of Milan’s academic Vittorio Agnoletto, if the official theme was the real one “the lead in the event should have been in the hands of associations of small farming enterprises and organisations who have fought for land, food and water rights”.

Below five of the big corporations that will, instead, be at Expo 2015. The list will be further updated.

Riso Scotti S.p.a.

The company has always been in the Italian imagery as the symbol of genuineness. This huge family business was founded in 1860 and since then members of the family has been running the company.

In 2012 the president Angelo Dario Scotti was arrested for illicit waste management, fraud and corruption for the activities of subsidiary Riso Scotti Energia, accused of burning hazardous waste, mixed with waste produced by the rise production process, for which the facility was meant.

Then the company would label the energy produced out of the incineration as green, claim public subsidies and sell it at a higher price.


One of the major symbols of corporate America is also one of the sponsors of Expo. It contributes 6 million Euros to the sustainability activities in the event.

However, the same company has also a long record of sustainability controversies. Last year a plant was closed in India due to exceeding quantities of groundwater was used in the drink production and after it emerged the facility released pollutants above legal limits in rivers.


The largest Italian industrial multinational is making great efforts to improve the sustainability of its activities. It is listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices and claim to improve the lives of Sub-Saharian Africans through targeted investments in the area.

These operations might have gone too far from its initial target as the corporation has been accused to practice landgrabbing in Africa.
The organisation GRAIN included ENI in its database of landgrabbing deals in Africa and it is one the big companies buying more land in the continent.

The 70,000 hectares bought in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be then employed to cultivate palm oil for biofuel. In times of food insecurity as the ones ahead the company invests in one of the poorest and starving countries in the world to produce food for fuel.. and it sponsors an event on food sustainability.

Eni stands for National Hydrocarbons Authority and, how the name suggests, make most of its profits from oil and gas extraction. As recently highlighted by the Guardian in its “Keep in the ground campaign”, if we are going to extract all the hydrocarbons currently in the ground we will never achieve the 2 °C limits set by the UN to have a chance against climate change.
Therefore Climate change = Food insecurity


The king of fast food will have a significant presence in Expo. An entire restaurant will be used by McDonald’s to cook and serve food. The company has committed to make its products as more sustainable as possible and to feed the world at little cost.

In Expo website, it is explained that 80% of the products sold in Italy are supplied by local agrobusinesses – what about the 20%, a fifth of their ingredients?. However, the giant has been credited to cause diabetes and obesity.in US. The UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said that the presence of McDonald’s at the London Olympics sends the wrong message to kids. What would they said about its presence on an event dedicated to the future of food?

Fast food is bad for children’s health while the company massive marketing campaigns targeting low age groups make an image of trustworthiness to what they sell. On this point it was epic and outrageous the Italian TV ad in which a kid chooses a Happy Meal over a pizza, a traditional Italian food and candidate for UNESCO Human Heritage.

Also beef, an important ingredients for hamburgers, is considered far from sustainable by the UN, as livestock production accounts for a fifth of the global greenhouse gas produced and western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable.

In comparison a partnership with start-up Ento, which promotes gourmet insect-based food would have been more on the point of the event’s theme and far more ethical. But I’ll leave the alternative companies Expo2015 S.p.A. could have partnered with to another post.

Debate: what’s wrong with GM?

This Storify gathers the relevant tweets from the recent debate organised by Scidev.net.

Panellists reflects on the importance of an healthy debate and an accurate risk/benefit assessment.
To view the entire debate with longer statements and many scientific resources go on the comments section of the webpage.
What’s your opinion?
Do you feel safe with GMOs in the market? Do we need better labelling regulations?
Do small farmers in developing countries benefit or there are other methods out there?
Write a comment below and let’s discuss…

EU Agri-subsidies 2012: among millionaires and shadows

Curious about “Who gets What” from the European agricultural subsidies in UK?
Among the millionaires 11 names are currently unknown for privacy reasons, two are aristocrat and five recipients got half of the fund entitled to market support.

Inspired by the work of the farmsubsidy.org team, I have started working on a project on the Commom Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies.

The personal choice of  the UK case is essentially connected to the quality of the information released by the government. Indeed the database of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) includes all the amounts paid by the delegated government bodies to the companies, despite its cover-up of the physical person names, according to the European Commission Regulation No 259/2008.

In the visualization below it is possible to see the millionaire beneficiaries of last year CAP payments round.
The red ones represent the recipients whose names we don’t know.

As it can be seen the covered beneficiaries are 11, and the most significant is ranked 4th in the chart.
At this point, while the policy that regulates the release of the names and the payments looked to follow an obvious right to privacy, now might appear damaging another important right, the citizen’s one to know where his/her taxes are spent.

In this case, are the citizens morally entitled to know who received almost 4 million pounds?
Is this privacy law in need to be limited to payments under one million pounds?
The renewal process of the CAP for the period after 2013 is in realization, but in the proposals these questions are not included.

By the way, the unknown “Scrooge McDucks” considered together account for 15 millions pounds.

While fortunately the policy doesn’t interest the majority of the millionaires’ names, globally the payments taken by the noted recipients are 20% of the total amount.

And the 80% is more then 3 billion pounds and covered behind a question mark.

         The big five and the market support 

The CAP payments are divided in two pillars: the first one includes direct payments and market support funding, while the second is for rural development payments.
While the direct ones are based on the land size, the rural development funding aims to foster those projects, companies or farms that are committed toward a development of the rural society.
The payments reserved for market support are in existence for different reasons, including situations of market destabilization and exporting refunding.

In UK the sum of these amounts to more then 30,5 million pounds. It is shared among 310 companies, but last year 5 of them cashed half of the money, leaving the rest to the others.

Harvest the Harvesters!

What does get more than 1/3 of the total European budget? Agriculture!
Despite the recent drop in the funds given to the fields, from the next year the Old continent’s farmers will get about 39% of our money, which makes it one of the two sectors most funded by the Union (the other is the sustainable growth).

The group of activists and journalists behind the cross-country data journalism project farmsubsidy.org, led by Brigitte Alfter and …..

Jack Thurston, will hold a session at the next Friday Data Harvest event.
There they will release new data about subsidies given by the EU to landowners and we (I’m going!) will be able to work on them.

The question is: What is it supposed we can use them for?
Answer: to check how much the farming companies .really get
In fact in the farmsubsidy.org website, it is possible to see the names of the recipients and how much they get. So if you want to see the funds given to Nestlè you can do it. But it would be a useless data if we don’t compare it with others, such the other less famous farms listed there.

Or, better, we might stumble on something really interesting in the case we combine those ones to other data, like a list of farms by size or type of agriculture system.
For this reason I have done a list of theme that I will ask to help me to sort out to the programmers at the workshop:

  • the amount given to the European big farms and a comparison between these and what the small ones get
                               Despite we know that the subsidies are based on a certain amount per hectare, I would  
                               like to know who the major European landowners are and how much they get in order 
                               to lay a question: Is it all this fair for the independent landowners?
  • the numbers of the financial help given to the farms of each Country, to see how much the ones that have joined the European Union before the 2004 get compared to the ones that have joined later
                              The two groups get theoretically different amounts, as for the before-2004 one the 
                              system takes into consideration, in addition to the farms’ hectares, the historical criteria 
                              and the aid model of the country. 
  • several comparison between what different farms typologies get:
                             – growers vs livestock farms (the latter are likely to be less sustainable);
                             – organic vs traditional (the Eu commission has stressed its intention to be more organic);
                             – etc..

  •  Is the landgrapping companies funded by the EU? 
                             find in the list of recipients available at the data harvest the ones that own lands abroad.
The only negative part is represented by the fact that the farmsubsidies website and community have been able to collect just a small part of the information related to the money every farms get. In fact due to new privacy rules the names of the beneficiaries are less than 8%, making the website properly useful for that countries, like Sweden and UK, that have an high transparency index.  
The Austrian journalist Hans Weiss took farm subsidy reporting to a new level. He analysed the political power in farmers’ unions, connections to political parties, he found farmers under pressure from the dairy companies and neighbours, and he unveiled the enormous power of agricultural Raiffeisen Bank. 
Compared to his work my questions look like from a 15 year-old student. 
And you? What are you interested on? Any suggestion? 
Please feel free to add any issue that you would like to focus on once the data will be released.