Italy to probe mafia's 'stranglehold on tomato trade'

tomatoes The claim has shocked many Italians, who take their tomatoes very seriously

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Tomato-growing is not usually associated with organised crime - but that could be about to change.

Investigators in Italy are to examine claims that the mafia dominates the distribution of Sicily's Pachino tomatoes.

Many food-lovers consider this particularly sweet and juicy variety to be the country's best tomatoes.

The investigation follows a popular TV presenter's call for a shoppers' boycott.

Outrage

Pachino tomatoes are widely acknowledged to be tastier than most.

So it was a shock to many - especially in a country that takes its food as seriously as Italy - when one of the best-known faces on daytime television accused the mafia of having taken control of their distribution and urged shoppers to stop buying them.

The moustachioed Alessandro di Pietro hosts "Occhio alla Spesa" (which translates as "keeping an eye on the shopping") - a price-watching programme popular with stay-at-home housewives that doesn't usually court controversy.

Shoppers, said Mr di Pietro, were being asked to fork out 11 times as much for Pachino tomatoes as growers were being paid.

The mafia, he alleged, was pocketing the difference.

His call for a boycott has outraged many Sicilians.

One, Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestagiacomo, warned that the claims could destroy the livelihood of up to 5,000 farmers.

Italy's parliamentary anti-mafia commission, however, responded to the furore by announcing that it's to launch its own investigation into the claims.

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