Southeast Europe acts to improve food quality control


After a tainted milk scandal hits the region, the European Commission proposes new rules.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 26/02/13


Bosnia and Herzegovina has banned the import of milk from Croatian companies Dukat and Vindija. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]

Food inspectors in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) confirmed the destruction of more than 20 tonnes of milk imported from Croatia that contained the carcinogenic substance aflatoxin.

The BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations and the Veterinary Office of BiH banned the import of milk from Croatian companies Dukat and Vindija after the substance was found.

In response to this incident and others, the European Commission proposed 20 measures intended to improve the safety of consumer products and market surveillance of all non-food products. Among the provisions is stronger co-ordination of control bodies on EU borders to ensure that information about approved products is shared between nations.

If the European Parliament accepts the new rules, manufacturers will need to specify the country of origin and the company name and address on the packaging of consumer products.

"Inspectors had been ordered to carry out rigid control of all dairy products from Croatia and we can say that the controls will continue," Duska Makivic, spokesperson for the Republika Srpska Administration for Inspection Activities, told SETimes.

The Croatian Ministry of Agriculture reported that the detected levels of aflatoxin are slightly higher than those allowed in the country and the EU, adding that the tainted milk represented an isolated case.

"Found levels of aflatoxin, in products withdrawn from store shelves on February 8th, are only slightly higher than the strictly regulated EU standards," the ministry told SETimes, adding that only long-term consumption of the milk in "unusually large quantities," could cause health effects.

Authorities have not determined the source of the elevated aflatoxin levels in the Croatian milk. Possible causes include the livestock feed or the packing process.

On Friday (February 22nd), Serbian Minister of Health Slavica Dukic-Dejanovic announced that all suspicious milk products had been removed from the shelves, and that milk in the stores was safe. Officials in Croatia, BiH and Montenegro are double-checking food products for contamination.

Regional countries and the EU are aware of the importance of controlling food transported across borders.

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A scandal erupted in England on February 12th, when horse meat was discovered in lasagna cans. After speculation that the meat had come from Romania, it was determined it had come from France.

"Romania has fully implemented, observes and applies the European laws concerning slaughtering and meat exports," Sorin Minea, head of the Romanian Meat Processors Association, told SETimes.

"Not observing these very strict rules comes with a very high risk, namely cessation of inter-communitarian meat exports for years, a situation which we cannot afford. This is first of all the very reasons we undergo severe checks. We know we can have controls from the European agencies any time."

SETimes correspondents Paul Cicoiu in Bucharest and Kruno Kartus in Zagreb contributed to this story.

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