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Authorities Take Healthy Milk Activist to Court in Serbia

Street art in Novi Sad, Serbia. Photo by molimonster69 on Flickr.

Street art in Novi Sad, Serbia. Photo by molimonster69 on Flickr.

Another Twitter user from Serbia has been called in by police to appear in court for his activism on social networks and “in real life”. Marko Živković from Belgrade was involved in March 2013 protests against a government decision to increase the allowed quantity of aflatoxins in milk and dairy products manufactured and imported into the country.

This morning the police called me to tell me that they have a warrant to bring me in to court because of #MlekoUp (#MilkUp). More than 20 months later this is the epilogue of the Aflatoxin Affair.

— dr Marko Zivkovic (@MarkoZvkvc) November 21, 2014

Aflatoxins are toxic metabolites that are produced from certain types of fungi and can be found in milk and other foods. Up to certain levels these are safe for consumption. But in 2013, the government of Serbia decided to increase the legal limits on what is deemed to be safe levels of aflatoxin in milk from 0.05 to 0.5 micrograms per kilogram. This overnight increase of ten times the previously allowed amount led both citizens and some manufacturers to demand comprehensive explanations of the change from the government and for some, a protest of the decision.

A small group protests peacefully against the decision to raise permitted aflatoxin levels in milk in Belgrade in March 2013. Photo from Istinomer.

A small group protests peacefully against the decision to raise permitted aflatoxin levels in milk in Belgrade in March 2013. Photo from Istinomer.

After being pressured in the early months of 2013 by citizens, local organizations, and the European Union, which warned Serbia that its dairy products would no longer be welcome in most of Europe as the allowed quantity of aflatoxins in milk is 0.05 micrograms per kilogram in the EU, the government reverted its decision.

Živković, an IT developer from Belgrade, was involved in social media activities against the government's decision, and was incidentally chosen by other individuals protesting in front of the headquarters of the Government of the Republic of Serbia to speak to journalists on behalf of the protesters on March 1, 2013. At the time, Živković told press:

“Okupili smo se spontano na Twitteru i već danima razgovoramo o ovome što se dešava (sa mlekom), a kada smo juče na televiziji čuli odluku vlade da za 10 puta uveća dozvoljenu koncentraciju toksičnog aflatoksina, odlučili smo izrazimo protest.”

“We gathered spontaneously on Twitter and have been discussing what has been happening (with milk) for days. When we heard of the government decision to increase the allowed concentration of toxic aflatoxin by 10 times on television yesterday, we decided to express our protest.”

Over a year and a half later, Živković received an unpleasant call from police, informing him that he was wanted not only for questioning, but to appear in court. In other tweets, Živković said that the police official on the other end of the line would not tell him exactly what the charges against him were, but that he was to appear in court for failing to respond to a request to come in for questioning regarding what has been popularly dubbed the “Aflatoxin Affair”. The Twitter user claims never to have received any such request to report to authorities prior to the telephone call.

Živković has received tremendous support from other Belgrade residents and Twitter users from throughout Serbia and the Balkans. He has also said that he will let his supporters know when he will be reporting to the police regarding this matter in the days to come.

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