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Italy Tests Cakes for Poison

December 12, 1998 GMT

ROME (AP) _ Officials tested samples of two popular brands of Christmas cakes from stores across Italy on Saturday and considered a recall after animal-rights activists claimed to have injected them with rat poison.

Tests on Friday found poison in two cakes sent to the Bologna and Florence offices of Italy’s ANSA news service. Notes with the cakes said the Animal Liberation Front was poisoning them to protest genetic engineering.

Both brands of panettone _ Motta and Alemagna _ are made by Nestle Italia. There was no word of any more poisoned cakes by Saturday.

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``We believe that there are no other poisoned panettone around,″ Bologna Prosecutor Lucia Mustia said. ``All the same, we ask that people check the cakes to search for possible syringe holes.″

Panettone _ yeast cakes laden with fruits and nuts _ are to Italian Christmases what fruitcakes and plum pudding are to the holiday in the United States and Britain.

Many Italians said they wouldn’t buy the cakes this year and stores were making individual decisions on whether to pull the brands or not.

Nestle suspended production at its plant in Verona through Monday, and company executive Yves Barbieux said the scare has already cost Nestle at least $30 million.

Authorities said they would question members of the animal-rights group. Health Minister Rosy Bindi said the government was prepared to order a recall if necessary.