Cremonini has become the subject of a criminal inquiry after the discovery of a BSE-infected cow at its slaughterhouse in northern Italy. “Fraud in commerce” charges have been bought on Cremonini by magistrate Raffaele Guariniello, which because of Italian law nuances making corporate officials responsible for company’s actions could leave the meat producer’s executives in line for a two-year jail sentence and a fine of up to €2,066.

The criminal action makes a mockery of marketing claims made last November that the meat producer was “officially declared as exempt” from mad-cow disease by the Office International des Episooties (OIE). The OIE, an international agency that deals with animal disease, has denied ever stating that Italy was disease-free in terms of BSE. Such a move is apparently extremely rare.

Cremonini’s defence, however centres around its maintaining that it removed the tag from the OIE’s website. It added that it has only learnt of the prosecution through newspaper articles, and was not aware that its actions could be called “fraud in commerce.”

Those who maintain the website in question however say that they merely made reference to the fact that no cases of BSE had yet been reported in Italy. That is not to say there were none, explained the OIE.

The Cremonini slaughterhouse became the centre of BSE attention after a diseased cow was noticed at the beginning of this month. The company supplies dozens of large-scale operations Europe-wide and also provided the first official case of mad cow disease known in Italy since 1994.

Guariniello has revealed that he is also investigating other Italian companies. Ten animal feed manufactures are suspected of utilising bone meal and animal ruminants in their feed, a banned substance for fear it is involved in the spread of BSE.