Friday, 15 January 2016

45th Sitting of the Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Committee

At the sitting held on 15 January, the members of the Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Committee discussed the ban on export into the countries of the Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan Customs Union, problems relating to the implementation of the Food Safety Law and monitoring, and the problems concerning vaccination against the bluetongue disease.

The sitting began with a minute of silence for the late Committee member Milan Korac.

Miodrag Petrovic, acting director of the Veterinary Directorate, informed the Committee members about the results of the agreement with the Russian Federation and the lifting of the ban on the export of products from Serbia into the countries of the Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan Customs Union. Petrovic said that out of the eight goods and products export facilities, six have been granted export permits, and two are yet to receive ones. The control and supervisory visit of the Russian Federation delegation has yielded results and Serbia’s guarantees have been accepted. On the occasion, the delegation visited two facilities, companies Matijevic and Imlek, and the Russian side was assured that the system is functioning and the noted flaws have been eliminated, added Petrovic. The guarantees for the export of meat and solid fats were confirmed, and the question of export of goods from Serbia toward the Russian market was also broached with the aim of reducing transportation length and costs. The officials also coordinated the work of laboratories so as to overcome the discrepancies in the analyses conducted by the two sides, added Petrovic.

In the ensuing debate, the Committee members said they were pleased by the agreement on the export of goods and products onto the Russian market, but also asked who was responsible for the previous halt and ban on the export. They also wanted to know whether there were adequate processing capacities in south-eastern Serbia which has enough products for export, whether the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection reacted to the Veterinary Directorate’s recruitment needs as regards inspection capacities, and also criticised the loss incurred during the ban on export to the Russian market, and announced the construction of an industrial facility for the territory of the entire state of Serbia, which would be made available to all agricultural producers. They also spoke about meeting Russia’s strict inspectorial requirements for the export of products onto the Russian market, announced the establishment of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Council, and discussed the safety of the products being exported and the import and distribution of poor quality meat.

After the debate the Committee members adopted a Conclusion, by majority vote, among other things, noting that the Committee endorses the Veterinary Directorate’s reforms and the progress made in reinforcing the control of export into the countries of the Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan Customs Union, recommending to continue the reforms and ascertain who was responsible for the negligence and economic damages incurred by malpractice and possible obstruction.

Opening the second item on the agenda, problems relating to the implementation of the Food Safety Law and monitoring, Committee Chairman Marijan Risticevic expressed his disapproval at the fact that the Committee has not been forwarded the relevant documents on food safety which it requested on several occasions, especially the documents concerning food safety monitoring, pursuant to the provisions of Article 69 of the Food Safety Law.

Nebojsa Milosavljevic, Head of the Plant Protection Directorate, said that the Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Committee had debated this issue so many times with good cause. He announced amendments to the existing Food Safety Law, adding that the veterinary and plant protection directorates would be launching an initiative with the ministries of agriculture and health to pass by-laws relating to the existing 2009 Food Safety Law i.e. to adopt food monitoring plans for 2016. Milosavljevic added that the Plant Protection Directorate has been monitoring the levels of mycotoxines in corn for three years now, as well as the levels of pesticides in food and animal feed. At the same time, the Directorate conducts inspections of viruses in raspberries i.e. screening relating to the difficulties in the export of Serbian raspberries.

In the debate the Committee members criticised the idea of amending and modifying the Food Safety Law without passing by-laws required by the existing Law, they spoke about meat inspections and the safety of its use on the market i.e. specific cases of which the management of the Veterinary Directorate was aware of. They requested lists of allowed and prohibited substances and compounds, and noted that the directorates had made no progress on the individual cases and again asked that the former Head of the Veterinary Directorate be held responsible. Some Committee members called for a special sitting dedicated to the topic, while the Committee also discussed GMO labels on products, especially imported meat, even though Serbia is a GMO free country, food prices and quality, residue monitoring and the work of institutes and inspections in charge of food quality control.

By majority vote, the Committee adopted a Conclusion recommending that the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Health pass the long awaited food safety planning documents as soon as possible and ascertain the criminal liability of all in charge of food safety. The Committee endorses the elimination of any and all irregularities and stands ready to hold a special sitting on the topic in cooperation with the Government and the ministries.

Budimir Plavsic of the Veterinary Directorate gave a detailed briefing on the vaccination against the bluetongue disease on the territory of Serbia. He reaffirmed that the epidemic broke out in 2014 when 644 epicentres were identified in the country. The disease affects cattle, goats and sheep, with insects viz. mosquitoes as carriers and is not communicable from animals to humans. In the past, the disease was typical for the African continent and it appeared in Europe a couple of years ago, said Plavsic. That is when the EU passed new protection standards which Serbia adjusted its rulebooks to as far back as 2009. In 2015 the Ministry analysed the situation and, following the recommendations of the European Commission, procured the vaccines effective against the serotype causing the disease. The Veterinary Directorate recommended that the vaccines be procured using budgetary funds and proceeded to import two million doses. Since the number of vaccines proved insufficient, they were administered only where the presence of the disease was identified. The vaccination was conducted in November 2015 and the animal acquired immunity in January 2016 and will be protected until August i.e. the end of the year. Vaccination was conducted in the south, east and north-east of Serbia. This year, the Veterinary Directorate intends to maintain that the whole animal population on the territory of the country should be vaccinated and will propose it to the competent ministry and the Government, concluded Plavsic.

In the debate, the Committee members shared the reservations they had about the procurement of vaccines, spoke about the numbers of livestock which had succumbed to the outbreak, veterinary inspections’ work in the field, compensations for the vaccination, livestock register, change of the vaccination rulebook after the vaccines were procured, etc.

Following a long discussion the Committee members adopted a Conclusion, by majority vote, recommending that the circumstances surrounding the vaccination against the bluetongue disease be examined, whether the selective vaccination was legal, and that the matter should be reviewed by competent authorities.

The sitting was attended by representatives of agricultural producers’ associations, Serbian Chamber of Commerce and the Prime Minister’s advisor for agriculture Dragan Glamocic.

The sitting was attended by Committee members and deputy members Jovan Markovic, Marjana Maras, Sabina Dazdarevic, Dusan Petrovic, Velimir Stanojevic, Dejan Nektarijevic, Miodrag Nikolic, Milan Kovacevic, Vladan Milosevic, Zarko Bogatinovic, Zoran Antic, Milija Miletic, Miroljub Stankovic and Arpad Fremond.

The sitting was chaired by Committee Chairman Marijan Risticevic.

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