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News 05 Mar 13

Serbia Axes Officials Over Milk Scandal

Aleksandar Vucic, the deputy prime minister, said four state officials will be dismissed over the scandal of toxin levels in milk, which has shaken consumer confidence.

BIRN
Belgrade

Deputy Prime Minister Vucic on Monday said four state officials will be removed in connection with the scandal over aflatoxin levels in milk.

They are the director of the administration for plant protection, the head of the plant protection’s department for plant health and quarantine, the chief of phytosanitary inspection and head of veterinary administration.

Vucic also said the permitted level of aflatoxin in milk will be cut from 0.5 to 0.05 micrograms per kilo over the next 15 days.

The government raised the maximum allowed concentration of aflatoxins to 0.5 micrograms per kilo from 0.05 micrograms on February 28, claiming that the new level presented no risk for people’s health.

Goran Knezevic, the agriculture minister, will also be grilled in mid-March, along with other ministers, Vucic continued.

“Knezevic offered to resign but I thought it would not be fair to discuss it before considering the work of all other ministers,” Vucic noted.

The dispute over milk started in February, when Goran Jesic, Agriculture Secretary in the Province of Vojvodina, leaked results of an inspection in the province showing that levels of aflatoxins in more than 30 samples were up to 200 per cent higher than the legal limit.

The samples were then sent for analysis in The Netherland, as recommended by the EU Reference Laboratories. The results are to be published on Wednesday, March 6.

However, Jesic presented results of another analysis conducted in Germany, on the demand of the Province of Vojvodina, which showed that aflatoxin levels in milk were far higher than 0.5 micrograms per kilo.

In an interview on March 4, Jesic stated that in some samples the level of aflatoxin was as high as 1.2 micrograms per kilo.

Danilo Golubovic, from the ministry of agriculture, responded by saying that the only relevant results would be those awaited from The Netherlands, and that the milk currently on sale is healthy and safe.

Aflatoxins, toxic substances formed by a fungus on foodstuffs, are considered potentially carcinogenic, which is why EU member states and Serbia's neighbours insist on low permitted levels of only 0.05 per kilo.

It is believed that the aflatoxins got into the milk chain through concentrated animal food.

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