POSITANO, Italy — Emergency measures to protect Italians from fallout-polluted foods in the wake of the nuclear accident in the Soviet Ukraine have aroused more anger and confusion than any of Italy's recent crises, including terrorism and poisoned wine.
Last Saturday, the Health Ministry banned the sale of fresh leafy vegetables and forbade giving fresh milk to pregnant women and children under 10. As a result, powdered milk was quickly sold out, and the prices of frozen greens and "safe" vegetables such as carrots and potatoes skyrocketed.
As mixed green salads and the numerous special dishes that require basil and other fresh herbs disappeared from the nation's menus, restaurant trade declined. Open-air market stands, denuded of greens--broccoli, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, artichokes--were besieged by angry customers complaining about the inflated prices of what remained.
Cost Not Yet Determined
The cost of the crimp in Italy's food chain caused by fear of fallout is still uncertain, but farm and food organizations have given estimates ranging upward from $75 million to $600 million if the bans are continued much longer.
The Health Ministry initially suggested that everything would be back to normal in 15 days. But according to the Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero, the ban may be extended beyond mid-May despite favorable daily weather and radiation reports that show ground radiation levels almost back to normal.
The situation has aroused some unusual protests: On the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, Maria di Meglio filed a civil lawsuit against Soviet President Andrei A. Gromyko asking $750 damages for the loss of her vegetable crop and demanding that he appear before the Ischia magistrate to face up to his responsibility.
As police seized green vegetables from shops near Rome's busy Piazza del Popolo, two young women stripped naked, donned a few artichokes for cover and challenged police to seize them as well. The officers obliged them.
Farmers Stage Protest
Traffic came to a standstill for more than three hours Tuesday in Foggia, an agricultural center in southern Italy, when angry farmers chucked thousands of cases of artichokes onto roads and highways to protest the vegetable ban.
A number of food- or farm-related organizations, including the National Consumers' Union in Rome, protested that the ban was unnecessary. Citing reports by Italian and other European scientists, some from countries that had much more fallout from Chernobyl, the site of the stricken Soviet nuclear plant, the consumers' union said the level of radiation even in milk did not pose a health hazard.
Additional restrictions on food and other suspect imports from countries that reported heavier fallout have led to awkward pile-ups at some border stations. In the northern border city of Udine, about 900 Polish oxen are awaiting a decision concerning their fate, as are 200 Lebanese horses in the southern port city of Bari. The horses had passed through fallout-affected Romania en route to Italy.