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Belgrade - Four Balkan states sought to calm fears on Tuesday over toxin levels in milk and animal fodder, saying the situation was under control and that they would step up monitoring and hygiene measures.
Laboratory tests have indicated higher-than-permitted levels of aflatoxin, a potentially carcinogenic toxin, in milk in several ex-Yugoslav republics following a long drought last year that experts said had affected the quality of fodder.
The scare came as much of the rest of Europe is dealing with a scandal over the mislabelling of horse meat as beef in some processed foods.
A Dutch food safety authority said on Tuesday three shipments of maize from Serbia and Romania also containing large amounts of a toxin have been delivered to Dutch animal feed producers since December.
The maize, containing large amounts of aflatoxin, was used along with other ingredients, mainly to produce pig feed.
“There is hardly any danger for human health,” a spokesman for the authority said.
Last week, German authorities said they had found high levels of aflatoxin in animal fodder produced from maize imported from Serbia.
Serbia denied responsibility, and under-fire Agriculture Minister Goran Knezevic said on Tuesday the country had not exported any maize to Germany in the last 14 months.
“We agreed to step up monitoring of fodder and milk, to raise storage hygiene levels and increase communication,” he told reporters after meeting agriculture ministers from neighbouring Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia in Belgrade.
Knezevic drew fire last week when the Serbian government, in response to the scare, raised the permitted level of aflatoxin in milk from the European Union-standard of 0.05 micrograms per kilogram to 0.5 micrograms.
He said the level would be restored.
“It was a forced step aimed at saving small milk producers and we'll very soon return to 0.05,” Knezevic told reporters.
New results from laboratory tests of milk samples from Serbia are expected on Wednesday.
Serbia's ruling coalition has accused the opposition of fuelling the scare in a bid to topple the government, with agriculture accounting for 20 percent of exports last year. - Reuters