The Italian government has moved to quell fears that buffalo mozzarella is not safe to eat.

With concerns over the safety of the soft cheese intensifying, Italian trade groups and the Agriculture Ministry today (26 March) looked to calm the situation.

"We need diplomatic action to prevent international panic over the safety of buffalo mozzarella from the Campania region," a spokesperson for the Italian farmers' group Coldiretti told just-food.

Last week, high levels of cancer-causing dioxin were discovered in milk from 66 buffalo herds around the city of Naples.

Officials have linked the contamination to the area's chronic waste disposal problems and the illegal dumping and burning of industrial waste in the Campania countryside, contaminating the water, soil and air.

With the Naples Mafia allegedly heavily involved in waste disposal in the region, this issue has caused considerable controversy in Italy.

However, Coldiretti said the discovery of dioxins in milk was the first explicit effect on the economy caused by delays in dealing with waste.

The contaminated buffalo herds were put into quarantine on Friday but the move has not been enough to quell fears that mozzarella produced in Campania could be unsafe.

South Korea and Taiwan have imposed import bans on Italian mozzarella while the EU and Japan have urgently requested information on the crisis from the Italian authorities.

The Italian Agriculture Minister Paolo De Castro has said that these moves represent an unjust "negative campaign" that could have a severe economic impact on the mozzarella industry.

Moreover, Castro suggested that the move to quarantine the contaminated herds demonstrated the effectiveness of Italy's safety procedures.

"On an issue this sensitive it is important to have maximum clarity and absolute fairness - not to penalize the entire sector and all those honest businessmen, who are the vast majority, who daily work for a product that it is the pride, even abroad, our agri-food quality," De Castro said.

Italy produces 33,000 tonnes of the cheese annually. Around 20m people are employed in the industry.

Unless the situation is resolved, Coldiretti said that it fears sales could decline by as much as 60%.