The dairy sector is a sort of two-faced Janus for the Italian economy.

While exports are flourishing, domestic consumption is sluggish, for a number of reasons.

A study by Agrifood Monitor presented at the Cibus Connect tradeshow in Parma shows that establishing a presence on international markets is the most important growth opportunity today for sales of Italian dairy goods. A challenge that these products of excellence are winning, as the doubling of export figures in the last 10 years shows (an increase of 92{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} from 2006-2016, compared with 72{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} for all food and agriculture exports). Meanwhile, domestic consumption over the same period has fallen by 11 percentage points.

Italian cheeses lead the way: with international sales worth 2.4 billion euro in 2016 alone, they account for 82{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} of the sector’s total exports, with extremely healthy growth rates.

Although the market is atypical and contradictory in many ways, there is a constant search and demand for quality among consumers.

But things have changed here, too, over the years.

Previously, preference in food and beverages was given to products and brands that paid close attention to hygiene and food safety, which consumers immediately perceived as being of higher quality; but this has changed to a certain extent with the integration of these characteristics by brands and products in order to specialise and differentiate themselves from competitors: a whole gamut of products has appeared that are GMO-free, lactose-free and so on. The latest market analyses indicate that product sustainability is the deciding factor.

And this is the root of the problem. While other food products are subject to internationally recognised assessment standards (UTZ for coffee, tea and cocoa, MSC for fish or PROTERRA for agricultural produce such as sugar and soya), there is no sustainability assessment standard in the dairy sector.

The market appears to suggest that preference is mainly given to goods with a certified zero-kilometre supply chain (as witnessed by the positive results for products with the Piemunto logo), but a common recognised certification standard would probably breathe life into a market that on the domestic front is suffering from the rise of vegetarian diets, life styles and consumption.

So how can the criteria of such a sustainability standard be established? A proposal comes from the CSQA certification body.

In this interesting article, a possible first step could be to identify a number of assessment characteristics within the three pillars of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) and from there define …«a system for sustainability assessment that testifies to relations with the environment, workers and the community, animal management (livestock breeding management conditions, animal welfare, pharmaceutical management) and any mitigation action with a view to reducing impact and improving farm and herd management, with close attention to productivity» (Maria Chiara Ferrarese, R&D Executive Manager, Business Development Executive Manager – CSQA Certificazioni srl).