Mafia, Mozzarella, Dioxin and Brucellosis

If you asked ‘what is the link?’ I am going to tell you right away.

Let’s start by saying that mozzarella is a big and profitable business in Italy, with an annual turnover of $500 million. Out of 33,000 tonnes of mozzarella cheese produced each year, about 16% is exported.
The water buffalo herds, the source of milk for making mozzarella, are concentrated around the city of Naples, in the Campania region.
The Naples mafia, or Camorra, is heavily involved in waste disposal in the Campania region around the city of Naples (Do you remember Tony Soprano’s main business? Waste disposal, right?), on agricultural land used for pasture.
Toxic waste contaminates buffalos’ food. The result?
In about two weeks interval, Italy was confronted with two problems: Brucellosis – found in herds- and dioxins- found in mozzarella cheese.

First problem: Brucellosis
Brucellosis is an illness characterized by fever, night sweats, extreme tiredness, loss of appetite, weight loss, headache, and arthralgia (pain in the joints). It is caused by an infection with bacteria of one of the Brucella species. The infection occurs worldwide. Areas currently listed as high risk are the Mediterranean Basin (Portugal, Spain, Southern France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, North Africa), South and Central America, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
Anyone can get brucellosis if they are infected with bacteria of one of the Brucella species. Persons at highest risk for brucellosis are those who work with animals that are infected, such as veterinarians and ranchers, and persons who consume raw milk or cheeses or ice cream made with raw milk.
Brucellosis is spread to humans through contact with tissues or bodily fluids of animals who are infected with Brucella bacteria, and although direct person-to-person spread of brucellosis is extremely rare. Mothers who are breast-feeding may transmit the infection to their infants. It can also be transmitted through food to humans, causing severe intermittent fever – though the milk which produces the cheese is perfectly safe when it is pasteurized.

A preventive measure to avoid being infected with Brucella bacteria is to not consume raw milk or anything made with raw milk.
Treatment for Brucellosis: antibiotics.
Usually, doxycycline and rifampin are used in combination for 6 weeks to prevent reoccurring infection. Depending on the timing of treatment and severity of illness, recovery may take a few weeks to several
months. Mortality is low (<2%), and is usually associated with endocarditis

According to Italian papers, the Brucella bacteria had been present in herds for the past 10 years, spreading to about 30% of them, and the local vets who are supposed to test and put down infected animals have been intimidated by the Camorra – who also controls some of the farms. As an extreme measure, the Italian government will start the slaughter of 32,000 buffalo, infected with Brucellosis. In the coming weeks, armed police will accompany government vets to help with the cull and it’s going to cost Italian government closer to $97 million.

Second problem: Dioxin
Most people heard about dioxins in relation to the plastic containers heated in microwave (myth or not, it’s not up to debate right now)
Dioxin is the name generally given to a class of super-toxic chemicals, the chlorinated dioxins and furans, formed as a by-product of the manufacture, molding, or burning of organic chemicals and plastics that contain chlorine. It is the nastiest, most toxic man-made organic chemical; its toxicity is second only to radioactive waste.
Dioxin is a powerful hormone disrupting chemical. By binding to a cell’s hormone receptor, it literally modifies the functioning and genetic mechanism of the cell, causing a wide range of effects, from cancer to reduced immunity to nervous system disorders to miscarriages and birth deformity. Because it literally changes the functioning of your cells, the effects can be very obvious or very subtle. Because it changes gene functions, it can cause so-called genetic diseases to appear, and can interfere with child development. There is no “threshold” dose – the tiniest amount can cause damage, and our bodies have no defense against it.
Dioxin accumulates in the fat cells of the animals, and re-appears in meat and milk. Dioxin is virtually indestructible in most environments, and is excreted by the body extremely slowly.

The contamination in mozzarella cheese emerged during checks last week. Dioxins were found at higher than permitted levels at some mozzarella producers.
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.
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- which I would say it’s pretty scary, considering that it’s almost a quarter of the total production sites.

To be objective, we have to mention that dioxins could be found not only in mozzarella, but also in beef and pork, and this, only if we don’t want to touch the subject of many chemicals around us that we are happily using without realizing how much damage they bring to our health, among them chlorine bleach and all the bleached products, including food like flour (that’s exactly the reason for buying unbleached flour).

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