Canadians have gone hardcore as notorious cheese smugglers.
NPR reports a “large scale Canada-U.S. cheese smuggling operation” has been brought down, after an international investigation tracked criminals who were skirting import duties and Canada’s higher cheese prices.
“The investigation revealed over $200,000 worth of cheese and other products were purchased and distributed for an estimated profit of over $165,000,” Niagara police said.
The smugglers — one current and one former police officer, and one civilian — reportedly sought out pizza restaurants to move their merchandise. News emerged this week that charges would soon be announced against what Mark called a “mozzarella mafia.”
As Windsor, Ontario, pizzeria owner Bob Abumeeiz told the CBC, he has been asked several times if he’s interested in buying cheese smuggled from America, where prices are anywhere from a third to half what they are in Canada.
“Cheese is the white gold in the restaurant business. Cheese is 50 percent of the taste on a pizza,” he said. “The price is rising every year two or three percent.”
The network operated in Ontario, where two of the accused have worked for the Niagara Regional Police Service.
Giuseppe Mandara, whose mozzarella is sold by British supermarkets and UK-based online food suppliers, was also accused of producing batches contaminated with ceramic shards from a faulty machine.
The Telegraph reportsinvestigators said his Mandara Group had received significant injections of cash from the Camorra mafia, the organized crime group based in Campania, the region where mozzarella is produced.
Police seized assets worth more than £78 million, including the company.
They said the 56 year-old, who once described himself as the “Armani of mozzarella”, had struck up a secret commercial relationship with the Casalesi clan of the Camorra in the 1980s after he ran into financial difficulties.
The clan is based in and around the town of Casal di Principe, at the heart of a region famous for its mozzarella, which is produced from the milk of domesticated buffalo.
Police said Mr Mandara, who was photographed chomping on a cigar as he was led away by officers, was arrested on suspicion of mafia association and endangering public health. They said two tons of the company’s mozzarella may have been contaminated with minute ceramic fragments from a broken machine.
The company was also accused of passing off ordinary provolone cheese as being of a more superior quality with false labelling. Following news of his arrest, Mr Mandara was expelled from the Consortium for the Promotion of Buffalo Mozzarella after an emergency meeting of its council, which described the allegations as “very serious.”
The illicit and highly-lucrative trade in shellfish is putting the health of many thousands of people at risk with tonnes of potentially contaminated seafood feared to be entering the food chain.
The Independent reportsUK health officials and food watchdogs are concerned that a boom in the illegal harvesting of cockles, clams and oysters for sale to restaurants and wholesalers threatens outbreaks of serious food poisoning.
The thriving seafood rustling industry, which sees unlicensed gangs of pickers target beaches and mudflats across the country to steal molluscs worth thousands of pounds at a time, has prompted a crackdown by the authorities.
But with some pickers operating in organized gangs, fisheries protection bodies say they lack the resources to effectively tackle the problem.
With an annual value of at least £250m, the legitimate shellfish industry is a major part of Britain’s food economy. Properly gathered molluscs are subject to strict purification treatments, including ultra-violet light and filtering, to ensure they are fit for human consumption.
But shellfish taken from prohibited or unclassified fishing grounds, or sold before being properly treated, put the public at risk of serious illness caused by E. coli, norovirus, and salmonella, which can all be found in contaminated molluscs.
An investigation by The Ecologist and The Independent has been told that in the event of a major health scare, the illegal trade would make it difficult for officials to verify the origin of some shellfish despite strict documentation procedures which are supposed to ensure traceability of all consignments of shellfish moved or sold on a commercial basis.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it received “regular” reports of illegal shellfish harvesting and warned of the risks it poses to consumers.
Highly-organised gangs, some believed to be operating directly on behalf of fish merchants, others run by gangmasters, are known to have targeted shellfish stocks in Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria and Teeside, amongst other areas, in recent years. Parts of north Wales and Scotland have also been affected.
Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia said Wednesday that worms were found in some of the fish seized across Italy between Dec. 10-23. In other cases, mussels defrosted months earlier were passed off as fresh, and fish coming from Asia was passed off as domestic.
Zaia described the food as "garbage" including brine jellyfish, and said organized crime was likely behind it.