Consumers look for answers in milk controversy

02/03/2013

Despite political wrangling, the public said it has a right to know what is in its milk.

By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 02/03/13

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The Serbian government published a list of potentially questionable milk brands which were pulled from stores. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]

Recent moves by both government and opposition officials in the milk scandal have obscured a key issue -- the public's right to know what it consumes, bloggers said.

Goran Jesic, agriculture secretary of Vojvodina and member of the opposition Democratic Party, caused a public stir by announcing on Twitter that the milk in Serbia contains up to 200 percent more alfatoxin than the legally allowed amount.

Jesic -- an agronomist specialising in milk -- published the results of 29 out of 35 controlled milk samples in Vojvodina on his website and said he is astonished the laboratories are not doing their job.

"The state has jeopardised the citizens' safety, and someone must be held responsible for it," Jesic told SETimes.

Serbia Agriculture Minister Goran Knezevic denied the allegations, saying there is no need for panic as the government does all the required periodic checks, has all the relevant data and guarantees the milk is of proper quality.

"Since the beginning of this year, more than 1,000 samples of milk were checked for the presence of aflatoxin … The situation is not alarming. On the contrary, from 197 controlled samples in public warehouses, only four are not good," Knezevic told SETimes.

But Vladimir Jokic, a farmer from Gornja Bukovica, said the information is being subject to politicians' ambitions. "Our milk is controlled and is proper. Jesic's political delusions ruined us."

Krugolina Broup wrote in her blog "Right to Know" that the public deserves answers to its questions.

"I do not care whether the story of alfatoxin is under the veil of politics or not. We have not obtained answers to the real questions [about what milk and milk products can be safely used]."

"The fact alfatoxin is in the milk is not striking me as much as the officials' reaction."

She contrasts the situation in Serbia with alfatoxin and in the UK with horse meat, and decries the lack of trust in government that the lack of up-to-date information has brought about.

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Broup refers to articles 4 and 16 in the Law of Accessibility of Public Information to bolster her case.

"Does somebody really need to ask you for information officially by citing these articles of the law? Do not you think that the most natural and logical think is to proactively publish all information to maintain the public's trust?"

She asks politicians to systemically inform -- and engage -- the public instead of offering spin and verbal shout outs.

"You will not gain the public trust by asking us to blindly believe you, but only through transparency of your work."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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