Govt.: Aflatoxin affair meant to pave way for GMOs

The government met on Friday in Belgrade for a regular session and concluded that milk and dairy products in Serbia were safe to consume.

Source: Tanjug

The cabinet also said that incorrect information released to the public amounted to an attempt "to create conditions for import of GMOs" - illegal under Serbia's current laws.

A statement issued after the session today also said that inspectors ordered the withdrawal from stores of those dairy products whose quality was "suspected in any way", and that samples had been sent for expert tests to "credible international laboratories".

Detailed extraordinary analyses of samples of raw milk and dairy products, as well as fodder, are being carried out, while controls of imported milk has also been stepped up, the statement added.

"The relevant services will carry out investigations due to the suspicion that incorrect information about allegedly unsafe milk was aimed at destroying the Serbian agriculture and market, in an attempt to create conditions under which Serbia would import cattle feed made from genetically modified organisms," the government concluded.

"Someone will answer for this"

Agriculture Minister Goran Knežević on Friday turned Agricultural Corporation Belgrade (PKB), where extraordinary inspection was being carried out, and said that political, monopolist and importer lobbies were responsible for the current crisis in the country's milk market.

Once the results of aflatoxin tests that are being done in the Netherlands come back, "it will become clear who's to blame and they will suffer the consequences," the minister said, and added:

"Someone will certainly answer for this, even if it turns out to be me."

But Knežević "took full responsibility for the claim" that the affair was a campaign directed against Serbian farmers, and that it was launched "from several sources".

According to him, the big importer lobby wants to start bringing genetically modified food to our market, while monopolists wish to replace domestic cattle fodder with that produced and imported by them.

As for the political side of the controversy, he accused the opposition Democrats (DS) of seeking to dispute "the good results" of his ministry and the government at any cost. Knežević also declined to comment on the latest claims made by Vojvodina provincial government's agriculture secretary and DS official, Goran Ješić, saying that his ministry was "a serious institution that has the authority to perform this work".

However, the minister noted that Ješić "told us nothing new or clever".

Knežević stressed that the government had invited the provincial government to discuss several issues, including last year's drought and a contract with a United Arab Emirates company, and that when it came to the aflatoxin affair, "it would have been most natural, even if things are as they say they are, for them to call us instead of posting this type of information on Twitter".

"Problems can be solved in 15 days"

On Friday, Goran Ješić once again addressed the public, this time in a news conference, which he attended flanked by Director of Food Technology Institute Jovanka Lević and Agricultural Faculty of Novi Sad professor Anka Vranješ.

"The problem with milk can be solved and corrected in about 15 days," Ješić said, and added that the provincial government had formed a team of experts and ordered gratis tests of fodder.

"I have received the results of the second analysis, but I will not publish them, because the method which is by the way absolutely precise is not accredited, so I will publish those results when the results of 'blind samples' sent to be analyzed by accredited methods arrive," he was quoted as saying, and adding that "it was true that the results of the second analysis were much worse than the first".

He also "thanked" the ministry for "admitting that milk is contaminated and withdrawing it from sales", and and added that the question of why this had not been done sooner should not be posed to him, stressing at the same time that "withholding data was a criminal act".

Ješić also "demanded" that farmers be given corn from the country's Commodity Reserves - something the authorities announced on Thursday - but, this official noted, "it must be checked if that corn is healthy, while farmers must be paid for the milk they produce even if it does not end up on the shelves".

He said this should be done because "peasants should not have financial expenses incurred by this situation, but rather those could have prevented the problem".

Asked whether milk in Serbia was safe to consume, Ješić noted that Minister Knežević had said that it was, while it was also being removed from the stores - "so based on that it can be concluded whether or not it is safe".

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