- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

BRUSSELS — (LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH)— European Union officials have demanded tests on buffalo mozzarella amid fears that Italy’s famed cheese has become contaminated by carcinogenic chemicals linked to the country’s trash crisis.

Health officials are awaiting test samples taken from Campania’s buffalo herds and have set a deadline of April 1 for the Italian food-safety authorities to comply.

Campania is a region of southern Italy where European buffalo roam — a smaller and short-haired cousin of the American bison.

Paolo De Castro, Italy’s agriculture minister, yesterday criticized a ban by South Korea on mozzarella imports after the Seoul government claimed dioxins had been found in 29 samples of the cheese.

“It would be a mistake to infer anything from this and to create a dangerous panic,” he said. He said it would “unfairly compromise the image of an excellent product and which risks becoming heavily penalized in Italy and abroad.”

EU officials are concerned about southern Italy’s Mafia-linked trash-disposal crisis, which has left thousands of tons of waste uncollected or dumped in illegal landfill sites.

Officials fear the trash has contaminated the water for buffalo herds, which produce the best milk for mozzarella.

Last week, Italian environmental officials placed 66 buffalo herds in quarantine owing to unusually high levels of toxic dioxin chemicals.

Italy produces 33,000 tons of the cheese a year, made from the milk of about 250,000 buffaloes.

Mr. De Castro insisted that Italian checks had shown that the food-safety system was working.

“Nothing breaching dioxin levels has been found in the quality trademark registered dairies,” he said.

The Campania region has suffered from a chronic waste problem for the past 14 years, with a shortage of incinerators and lucrative Mafia involvement in landfill sites, which are used illegally to dump toxic waste from the north.

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