Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mystery of the Mothballed Mozzarella

One of Italy's most prestigious and profitable products, buffalo milk mozzarella, may have been soured by the European Commission's finding that it is contaminated with cancer causing dioxins. A European embargo was being set against the product. The Italian government had no choice but to recall the contaminated cheese destined for distribution in the country and for export to the USA, Japan, and European countries. The question of what to do with 33,000 tonnes of mozzarella made from milk of 250,000 buffalo herds in a few Italian regions caused a crisis that spanned the cheese producers, dairy farmers, milk distributors, and the entire dairy industry, that roughly employs about 200,000 people.

Buffalo Milk Mozzarella is a ball of milky cheese cushioned in its own protective fluid. It is considered one of the finest delicacies in the world and a staple of Italian cooking. Of total production, only about 20% or less are exported. The problem of contamination has decreased sales by two thirds and some cheese makers have stopped operations altogether. The biggest worry of most food manufacturers is that the catastrophe will put Italy in bad light and damage the country's enviable reputation for high quality foodstuffs. Talk was already being made about the decline of "Made in Italy" products which is feared to snowball against the country's entire manufacturing capability.

The Italian authorities were however, uncharacteristically quick to isolate the origin of the problem. The Health Ministry said that the contaminated mozzarella came from 25 producers in the Campania region near Naples. They also found an immediate clue, the recent garbage crisis in Naples; and a suspect, the local mafia control of garbage disposal may have also dumped toxic waste in the area causing the dioxins to contaminate the air, water or feeds. This is all so convenient, and the usual suspects will be rounded up for questioning. With this isolation, the Italians also found a loophole in the European Commission's findings: that the dioxins were over the stringent standards but not excessive, and not enough to cause cancer unless mozzarella is consumed three 3 times daily for three months!

With this isolation and counter argument, the Italian authorities vowed to take additional steps to decrease the dioxin levels of the recalled cheese that originated from 105 other producers in regions outside of Campania. France has lifted the ban and the UK has declared no immediate risk to consumers. European Commission Health Ministry said that it was satisfied with the measures taken by Italy and the threatened EU embargo was not necessary. Japan meanwhile is conducting its own test from the freshly delivered batch it imported.

The swift solution, less than seven days from the time the finding was announced, has everyone smiling and happy. How much cheese was being produced in Campania, and why were they sacrificed? Are they politically at odds with the government or were they the only plausible excuse to save the rest? Will they get compensated for their cheese? If they are really the source of the highest levels of contamination, does not the argument about "non-excessive levels" used by Italy's Health Ministry include their output? Is there a trade off here somewhere? Will their products be repacked and mixed with those of other regions? Or will these be given to the mafia to distribute as an "offer no one can refuse"? Would this not be cheesy?

There is really no way to find out since the EC and EU member countries seem to have closed the issue and are satisfied with the agreements made. The Japanese test could be the remaining verifier of the truth, unless the guilty buffaloes come out and plead openly or simply drop dead. Italian authorities will not force a confession from any of these animals fearing they might call a strike and all 250,000 of them will refuse to be milked. If that happens, cheese producers will have to find another quick solution, but there are serious doubts if mozzarella made from mother's milk will taste as good.



ZenDenizen said...

That was beyond disturbing.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Zen,

It's okay, so long as you don't eat it daily for 90 days, you won't have enough toxins to develop cancer.

Question is, how about it's mixture with our other toxins? And there was no figure mentioned in terms of amounts of dioxin. I suppose they will make this figure public, or they should make it public. :-)--Durano, done!

Speedcat Hollydale said...

A troubling cheesy dilemma!
While the buffalo herds have been dioxinated, the cutback to 89 days of mozzarella should be easy enough.
Cheese sticks for everyone!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Speedcat,

Cheese sticks won't cut it for most chefs and bakers, they want the real thing. But they risk losing customers. The European Commission Health Ministry should just release the dioxin levels to placate people's fears about the contamination; that is if they have nothing to hide.

On the other hand, if it is at high levels, then cheese sticks it is! :-) --Durano, done!

Debbie said...

Ewwwwwaaahhh! " there are serious doubts if mozzarella made from mother's milk will taste as good."

Really disturbing, because it seems everything we eat is coming under attack these days, now that wonderful cheese that goes on everything Italian?

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

Anonymous said...

Authentic mozzarella di bufala, tomato and mozzarella salad is the cats meaow..

Love it

Kim said...

very worrying indeed Durano...
Im looking at my Mozzarella in the fridge in a whole new light....and I can't imagine breast milk cheese tasting anything like it...eek !!

Tapline said...

Brad, I hadn't heard anything about this situation before. We eat boku mozzarella. yek,,,,Not anymore.....stay well....

Zhu said...

While I wouldn't be qualified to say whether mozzarella is dangerous (hope not, I eat quite a lot of cheese), I see "food crisis" almost everyday day now. Haven't we all turned a bit paranoid? I'm starting to wonder...

Great post as usual!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Debbie,

No word from Japan's test until now. I would credit that to their meticulous nature in doing such things.

I just can't convince myself that such a swift solution could be found by the Italian authorities and just as swift concurrence from the EC and EU. Something smells. I"m hoping it all works out but that safety of consumers is ensured; not safety of their margins or profits from the supply of mozzarella. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi DD2,

Sounds delicious and refreshing, especially if taken with sparkling wine. But feasting on these with the thought of cancer causing dioxins being ingested too can be disturbing and unnerving. :-)--Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

If your cheese was produced before 2008, then there's nothing to worry about. It's the batch produced this year that are the subject of this controversy.

As for mother's milk, well if the buffaloes can't produce safe milk or they go on strike, what other solution is there? I don't think they have that many goats at the moment. They do have a lot of people. Yikes, can't imagine eating that too. Thinking about what I wrote now..... bleeeaah, :-)--Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Tap,

As long as it is not this years batch, it's ok. I don't know if the EC is trying to hush this up but let's see how the Japanese tests go. I know they are thorough and meticulous.

I missed your posts. Thanks for dropping by. :-)--Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Zhu,

If we have turned paranoid, is it because we are so well informed now that what we took as truth before is now being exposed as a lie?

Is it also because we have seen so many lies that we doubt everything that speaks of anything absolute?

Can it be possible that what was truly believed as sound principles then are being challenged for their unworkable applications at this time?

So many things and so much doubt brought on by the information age. Perhaps we have become more cautious and more discerning because of so much information, some of which are contradictory. As a result, we have become paranoid. Could this be the direction people will take in the future? I hope not, otherwise, the world will stagnate. But also, there should be an end to lies and deception, or plausible deniability.

Thanks for the kind words. :-) --Durano, done!