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Italy uncovers buffalo mozzarella fraud

21 January 2010, 19:42 CET
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(ROME) - Italy has placed producers of prized buffalo-milk mozzarella under watch after inspectors discovered traces of cow milk in samples of the product, the agriculture ministry said Thursday.

Analysis of protected-status buffalo mozzarella detected "the presence of traces of milk in about 100 samples out of the 530 purchased at points of sale throughout Italy," ministry spokesman Giampiero Beltotto told AFP.

The investigation will involve inspections at all 130 members of a buffalo mozzarella makers' consortium, of whom around 15 have already been identified as breaking the rules -- including the consortium's president Luigi Chianese.

The European Union's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) means a product must be produced in a given geographical area using recognised procedures.

Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia told Italian public radio that the move was not prompted by health concerns, since "buffalo mozzarella is absolutely safe," but to protect the "Made in Italy" label.

Mozzarella was at the centre of a health scare in 2008 when samples of the cheese were found to have raised levels of dioxin, which increases the likelihood of cancer.

More than 100 buffalo mozzarella farms were quarantined and several countries temporarily banned imports of the delicacy.

Beltotto said consumers "could not tell the difference" between mozzarella made from 100 percent buffalo milk and that containing cow milk.

"The problem was not the taste of the product, which was good. But since the state finances the promotion of this PDO mozzarella it must enforce the procedures used in its production," he said.

Consumer advocacy group ADUC demanded the break-up of the consortium, arguing that in some cases the proportion of cow milk exceeded 30 percent.

The farmers' association Coldiretti voiced concern over the impact of the scandal on the mozzarella production sector, which employs 20,000 people.

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