Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

Italy recalls tainted mozzarella

Buffalo mozzarella production at Mondragone, about 50km from Naples
Mozzarella production is big business in Italy

The Italian government has recalled from sale the mozzarella cheese linked to dioxin contamination.

Italy's health ministry said the affected cheese came from 25 producers in the Campania region near Naples, where buffalo mozzarella is made.

France has now lifted a ban on sales of Italian buffalo mozzarella. In the UK, officials said there was no immediate risk to consumers.

The European Commission says it is "satisfied" with Italy's measures.

A Commission health spokeswoman, Nina Papadoulaki, signalled that a threatened EU embargo would not be necessary.

"The Commission is satisfied with the progress made and continues its intensive contacts with the Italian authorities," she said on Friday.

She added that the dioxin levels found in the Italian case "are not excessive".

Earlier, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said his government was taking "the steps agreed with the European Union to withdraw from the market products that do not comply with standards."

Buffalo herds produce the best milk for mozzarella
The contamination emerged during checks last week. Dioxins, which can cause cancer, were found at higher than permitted levels at some mozzarella producers.

The affected cheese is the finest traditional variety, made from buffalo milk.

The French agriculture ministry on Friday ordered shops to withdraw the imported buffalo mozzarella as a precautionary measure. But it later reversed the decision.

Italy says it has traced the farms at the source of the contamination, and destroyed their milk.

Japan and South Korea imposed an import ban on the cheese.

Suspect rubbish dumps

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency said: "We are currently not aware of any contaminated buffalo mozzarella being distributed in the UK.

Campania map
"However, we take any risk very seriously and are currently talking to Italian authorities about this issue."

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the mozzarella industry is very profitable, employing 20,000 people, with an annual turnover of nearly 315m euros ($500m; 250m).

Market experts expect sales to recover once the contamination is rectified, because the traditional mozzarella is so popular, he says.

Italian officials told the European Commission that 130 mozzarella production sites had been checked and dioxins above the EU limit had been found at 25 of them.

Police are investigating whether feed given to herds around the city of Naples was tainted.

It is believed the cause is toxic waste, illegally dumped by criminals on agricultural land used for pasture.

Mozzarella is big business in Italy, with herds of a quarter of a million buffalo producing a total of 33,000 tonnes of mozzarella cheese each year, 16% of which is exported.

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Mozzarella production in action in Italy



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