This Europe: Threat to pasta people stirs up lashings of controversy

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Millons of Italians awoke yesterday to the terrifying news that their treasured tortellini, tagliolini, trofie and tagliatelle were about to be banned. "Europe wipes out fresh pasta" screamed one newspaper headline, "Fresh pasta axed by Brussels" trilled another.

It seemed that the faceless bureaucrats had turned their beady eyes from bendy bananas to Italy's national dish, with murderous intent.

"Within a few days the historic difference between fresh and preserved pasta will be eliminated ... the scandal is the fruit of the latest heinous European food standards that set rules for fresh pasta" warned Rome's la Repubblica newspaper.

Until now hand-made pasta had to have a maximum shelf life of five days to qualify as "fresh". Under the new order to be imposed by the EU, the papers said, industrially produced supermarket pasta – the kind that has to be refrigerated but with preservatives and vacuum packing guarantees a shelf life of up to two weeks – could be labelled fresh.

The Confederazione Nazionale dei Artigiani, (CNA), the association that speaks for thosemicro-companies who turn out orecchiette, lovingly shaped "little ears", strozza preti (priest stranglers) and egg-golden fettucini, said the measures would spell ruin for traditional family firms.

Consumers, said Fabio Cameletti of the CNA, would no longer be able to tell the difference in supermarkets between the industrial and thehome-made model.

Except that in Brussels, David Byrne, the EU's health and consumer affairs commissioner, pleaded not guilty, saying the problem "did not derive from any EU directive or norm".

Much digging found the euromyth originated in an EU directive (2000-13) on food packaging passed by Rome's parliament last month. How the rules are applied and what fine print is attached is up to the Italian government and nothing has been decreed yet. The headlines had more to do with lobbying the Italian government than with Brussels.

But that matters not. Local food traditions are jealously preserved and conspiracy theories – as much a part of daily life as fresh agnolotti – that suggest multinationals are threatening family-run, small Italian businesses are heartily gobbled up.