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COWS

Italy’s top cheeses ‘products of cruelty’: campaign

Two of Italy's most famous cheeses, Parmesan and Grana Padano, are being produced with milk from emaciated, sometimes lame cows kept permanently indoors, an animal welfare group said on Saturday.

Italy's top cheeses 'products of cruelty': campaign
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) released film it said it had recently obtained from nine farms in Italy's Po valley exposing the “shocking” conditions endured by exhausted cows wallowing in their own excrement.

The charity is using the footage to launch #notonmypasta, a campaign aimed at pushing producers of the two cheeses to introduce welfare guidelines for their milk suppliers, who manage an estimated 500,000 dairy cattle for a business with annual sales of some five billion euros.

“What our investigators exposed was the misery of life in a factory farm,” said Emma Slawinski, CIWF's Director of Campaigns. “There were extremely underweight, overworked animals being treated like milk machines, suffering just so we can add a topping to our pasta.

“Parmesan and Grana Padano cheeses are marketed as 'high quality' when in fact the reality for the cows couldn't be further from the truth. It's time to put these animals back on the land where they belong.”

A spokesman for the consortium of producers of Parmigiano Reggiano confirmed that production specifications for the upmarket cheese did not cover animal welfare because “it is not something that has an impact, if not marginally, on the quality of the product.”

But he insisted producers cared about welfare standards and said the consortium was in the process of introducing a certification system designed to ensure minimum animal welfare standards are observed.

CHEESE

Cheesed-off Italians swap banks for Parmesan bonds

Fed up with their banks' reluctance to lend, an Italian dairy cooperative has raised €6 million by issuing bonds guaranteed by huge wheels of Parmesan cheese.

Cheesed-off Italians swap banks for Parmesan bonds
An Italian dairy cooperative has raised €6 million by issuing bonds guaranteed by Parmesan cheese. Photo: Francois Guillot

“We already have some loans but, after a certain point, the banks don't want to give you any more,” Andrea Setti, the financial controller of the 4 Madonne cooperative, told AFP.

The cooperative, based near Modena in northern Italy, produces the famous cheese from milk supplied by some 40 dairy farmers. It has seen business boom in recent years with production rising to 75,000 wheels a year and turnover hitting €24 million in 2014.

But when it sought additional funding to boost its presence in the US market and concentrate on longer-aged cheeses, the cooperative ran into a wall of indifference from traditional lenders still recovering from the 2007-08 financial crisis.

The solution lay in an Italian government-backed mini-bonds scheme under which investors provide funding for six years in return for a five percent yield backed by cheese assets valued at a 120 percent of the bonds' worth.

The principle behind the scheme is not entirely unheard of in the region; several banks already hold hundreds of thousands of parmesan wheels as guarantees of loans to local producers.

And the use of bonds to offset the capital costs involved in storing luxury products until maturity is already common in the whisky and wine industries.

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