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Blue mozzarella alert sparks labelling debate

By Guy Montague-Jones , 21-Jun-2010

The discovery of a batch of mozzarella cheese that turned blue on opening in Italy has prompted calls for mandatory country of origin labelling from the agriculture lobby.

Around 70,000 mozzarella balls have been confiscated by authorities in Italy after consumers reported that the cheese developed a blue tint when exposed to the air, according to Associated Press.

No adverse health effects have been reported but the cheese is still being tested and a contamination warning has been sent out under the European ‘rapid alert’ system.

The alert warns of ‘blue coloured’ mozzarella from Germany that is possibly sold in Italy and Slovenia. The cheese was produced by a German manufacturer for an Italian company but neither party has been named.

For the Italian agriculture lobby Coldiretti, the case illustrates the need for tighter rules on the labelling of mozzarella. It is campaigning for mandatory country of origin labelling, arguing that many consumers are not aware that much of the mozzarella sold in Italy is made from foreign milk.

Mozzarella production

Consumers may assume that Italy is the home of mozzarella production but the manufacturing reality is somewhat different. According to cheese market experts Proteus Insight, today’s market is dominated by processors in Germany, the US and Australia.

The blue mozzarella alert is not the first potentially damaging story to hit the industry in recent times.

Only a few months ago, the agriculture ministry disbanded a consortium of buffalo mozzarella producers after inspections exposed widespread use of cow’s milk. Under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin status, this prized and expensive version of mozzarella should only contain buffalo milk.

Prior to that, in 2008 buffalo milk was found to be contaminated by high levels of dioxin from rotting piles of rubbish in the Naples area.

Despite such negative publicity, the market for mozzarella has remained robust. Proteus Insight data indicates that the global market for mozzarella reached about 2.3 million tonnes in 2009 and has grown at an average annual rate of 2.2 per cent since 2000.

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