Tue, Jul 05, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Police halt Italian bear-meat banquet over documentation

UNPALATABLE:The meal was to bring attention to a bear repopulation plan, which organizers say has got out of hand as the population has risen to 35

The Guardian, ROME

Police have broken up a banquet of bear meat hosted by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s powerful coalition partner in northern Italy. The order to down cutlery came as about 200 people lined up to devour grilled and stewed bear at a rally in Imer in the Italian Dolomites organized by the Northern League.

Organizers said they had bought the meat legally in Slovenia to get round a ban on bear hunting in Italy, but food safety officers from Italy’s Carabinieri police objected to the lack of import documentation for the 50kg of meat.

Speaking at the event, Enzo Erminio Boso, a former League senator, said he suspected the raid had been arranged by members of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, who earlier demanded that League leader Umberto Bossi halt proceedings.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Tourism Minister Michela Vittoria Brambilla had condemned the bear feast as “a scandalous initiative,” while Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo described the get-together as “barbarous.”

In his blog, Frattini said the banquet was particularly offensive since Italian bears were “almost extinct and we are trying with great effort to bring them back to the mountains that have hosted them for centuries.”

The brown bear population has risen to about 35 in and around the Dolomites after 10 were reintroduced there a decade ago.

However, instead of celebrating their return, some locals have complained that the bears are attacking chickens and sheep.

Claims made for lost livestock rose to 100,000 euros (US$145,000) last year, and farmers were fed up, said Maurizio Fugatti, a member of parliament for the devolutionist and anti-immigrant Northern League.

“The idea was to attract attention to a bear repopulation plan which has got out of hand, resulting in locals being followed by bears through woods normally frequented by families. Even if the banquet doesn’t happen, we have made our point,” Fugatti said.

The Northern League has long specialized in controversial statements and stunts. In 2007, Senator Roberto Calderoli proposed dissuading Muslims from building a mosque in Bologna by parading a pig across the chosen site, defiling it.

Massimiliano Rocco, an officer with the World Wildlife Fund in Italy, praised the police raid on the banquet.

“If they wanted to provoke debate about the right way to manage the bears in the area, there was no need to illegally import the meat of a protected species,” Rocco said.

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