BELGRADE, Serbia, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The Serbian government's slow response to the presence of aflatoxin in milk will cost the country millions of dollars in agricultural losses, an expert says.
Agricultural economist Goran Zivkov says damage to the Serbian milk industry would have been about $1.3 million if the government had acted as soon as grain contaminated with the toxic fungus was detected last fall, the Tanjug news service reported Tuesday.
"The Ministry of Agriculture is doing everything it is supposed to now but the question is why it did not do this sooner," Zivkov said.
By December, he said, the economic damage had risen to $13 million.
He said some farmers "showed more knowledge than the government" by separating the contaminated feed.
Agriculture ministry officials disputed Zivkov's claim.
The government did everything possible as soon as the problem was detected, said Danilo Golubovic, a state secretary with the Ministry of Agriculture.
He blamed a discrepancy between standards for animal feed and those for milk and dairy products. The guidelines for animal feed permit a level of aflatoxin 10 times higher than allowed by the European Union, Golubovic said.
Agriculture Minister Goran Knezevic said manufacturers of genetically modified organisms had initiated the aflatoxin scare because they wanted the country's cattle feed declared carcinogenic so their products could be brought into the country.
He asserted all milk for sale in the country was safe and called for the public to stay calm until the results of tests on samples from Serbian milk were completed in the Netherlands.