Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Italian buffalo mozzarella probe as tests find cow milk

A mozzarella maker in southern Italy
The buffalo mozzarella industry is worth 285 million euros a year

Italian buffalo mozzarella producers fear their reputation could be undermined after it was revealed some were using cow's milk in production.

An investigation is under way after random tests found about a quarter of sampled cheese was adulterated.

The cheese has protected status under EU law, as it is made from the milk of domesticated water buffalo raised in designated areas of southern Italy.

That allows producers to charge a premium.

The Italian Agricultural Confederation said the discovery could harm the reputation of an industry worth some 285 million euros (£250m) a year, reports the BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome.

'Venemous campaign'

Random tests on more than 500 samples revealed that about a quarter had been partly made with cow's milk.

The adulterated cheese has been traced to a dairy run by the head of a consortium of cheese makers in the southern region of Campania, where most of the cheese is made.

But the head of that consortium says he is the victim of a venomous campaign by competitors, our correspondent reports.

A team of inspectors will now examine cheese production for the next three months.

The revelations come two years after police investigated claims that batches of mozzarella had been contaminated with the chemical compound dioxin.

The scare cost the industry an estimated 40m euros in cancelled orders after some countries suspended imports.

The government has rushed to reassure consumers that the current investigation concerns quality and not contamination.

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