24.10.2019 – Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS is once again drawing attention to the devastating animal welfare shortcomings that still prevail on many buffalo farms in Italy. New material leaked to the organisation shows emaciated and sick animals in filthy stables. These conditions give an unglamorous picture of the worldwide popular premium cheese 'Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP' – buffalo mozzarella in short. Following initial efforts by the industry to remedy these shortcomings, FOUR PAWS is now demanding more. Top of its requirements are better conditions for keeping water buffaloes in Italy as well as adequate consideration of animal welfare criteria in the controls.
Since FOUR PAWS began its work on buffalo mozzarella in 2014, there have been some positive changes, such as farms that are now striving for better conditions on their own initiative or supermarkets that demand new animal welfare standards from their suppliers. But, on many Italian buffalo farms, a cruel picture is still apparent: the animals are kept in small, dirty stables without access to green pastures. The water buffalos often lack the ability to bathe and cool down in water or mud according to their natural instincts. Some of the animals were severely malnourished.
“The conditions on the farms are shocking. For supermarkets, traders and producers to proudly claim market buffalo mozzarella as a premium product, the keeping conditions of the buffalos must also be of premium quality. We demand regular and obligatory animal welfare controls.”
Nina Jamal, Head of Farm Animal and Nutrition Campaigns at FOUR PAWS
Male calves as an annoying waste product
In August 2018, research conducted by FOUR PAWS also in Italy, revealed the immense suffering of male buffalo calves. Considered a worthless by-product, the young animals are often deliberately neglected. If they do not die as a result of poor husbandry conditions, they are slaughtered on average 30 days after their birth. But the situation of the male calves is slowly improving: According to a government regulation, farmers now receive a small premium if they take the calf to the slaughterhouse in an orderly manner. In addition, a new checklist from the Italian government ensures that the special animal welfare criteria for water buffalos are taken into account during inspections.
The buffalo milk business
74 percent of the approximately 400,000 water buffalos living in Italy are bred in Campania. There are more than 2,200 buffalo farms nationwide. The vast majority – 77 per cent – are solely milk producers, 14 percent focus on meat production and only nine percent use the animals for both milk and meat production. Buffalo mozzarella from Campania bears the DOP seal (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, protected designation of origin) and is the export hit of central and southern Italy. The main consumers of this luxury cheese are France, Germany, Great Britain, the USA, Switzerland and Spain.