By NICOLE WINFIELD
Associated Press Writer
ROME (AP) - Makers of Italy's prized buffalo mozzarella took out
full-page ads in Italian newspapers Friday assuring consumers that
their cheese was safe after high levels of dioxin were found in
some samples of buffalo milk.
The tainted products came from a few buffalo dairies in the
southern Campania region, whose reputation as a top agricultural
producer has already been tarnished by a months-old garbage crisis
that has fueled fears of food contamination.
Over the past week, Italian authorities have searched dozens of
buffalo dairies and seized milk samples for tests after
higher-than-permitted levels of dioxin were discovered in products
from 29 mozzarella makers, news reports said.
Prosecutors in Naples have placed 109 people under investigation
in connection with the probe, on suspicion of fraud and food
poisoning, the ANSA news agency reported.
On Friday, the consortium of buffalo mozzarella makers in
Campania took out full-page ads in La Repubblica and other national
newspapers outlining the system of controls in place for its
top-branded mozzarella, which carries the designation DOP, meaning
it has certain protection and quality guarantees.
Health officials, police, agricultural and cheese authorities
all guarantee the safe production of DOP mozzarella, the ad said,
adding that the dairies involved in the police seizures were not
members of the consortium.
"Considering these norms, buffalo milk - before being
transformed - is placed under the most stringent health and
chemical controls which guarantee the safety and quality of
Campania's DOP buffalo mozzarella," the ad said.
The Italian agricultural lobby Coldiretti called for speedy
investigation to determine which dairies were to blame, since
buffalo mozzarella is such an important brand domestically and
The soft and subtley flavored mozzarella is a key ingredient in
pizza, but is also eaten uncooked, often alongside prosciutto or
with sliced tomatoes and basil.
Coldiretti said 33,000 tons, worth about $462.69 million, of DOP
mozzarella is produced annually, employing about 20,000 people.
Most DOP mozzarella is consumed in Italy, but some 16 percent is
exported, mostly to European countries but also to Japan and
Russia, Coldiretti said.
It was not clear what, if any, direct role Campania's garbage
crisis has had in the mozzarella contamination. However, earlier
this year, Naples health authorities began screening residents for
dioxin contamination amid accusations that toxic garbage was being
dumped illegally by the mafia-controlled garbage industry in the
Naples and its surrounding area have been plagued by garbage
crises over the past dozen years. Dumps close after filling up and
residents - afraid that toxic garbage is being dumped illegally -
block efforts to open new ones.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)