Associated Press reporters passed on a bottled sample of Belarusian milk to a laboratory, which confirmed it contained levels of a radioactive isotope at levels 10 times higher than the nation’s food safety limits.
The journalists visited the vilage of Hubarevichy located on the edge of Belarus’ Chernobyl exclusion zone. A local dairy farmer offered his visitors a glass of freshly drawn milk but they were not quick to taste it.
The farmer, Nikolai Chubenok, proudly says his herd of 50 dairy cows produces up to two tons of milk a day for the local factory of Milkavita, whose brand of Parmesan cheese is sold chiefly in Russia.
Milkavita officials called the AP-commissioned lab finding ‘impossible’, insisting their own tests show their milk supply contains traces of radioactive isotopes well below safety limits.
“There is no danger. How can you be afraid of radiation?” said Chubenok, who since 2014 has produced milk from his farm just 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of the shuttered Chernobyl site, and two kilometers (a mile) from the boundary of a zone that remains officially off-limits to full-time human habitation.
Chubenok says he hopes to double his herd size and start producing farmhouse cheese on site.
His milk is part of the Milkavita supply chain for making Polesskiye brand cheese, about 90 percent of which is sold in Russia, the rest domestically.
The World Bank identifies Russia as the major market for Belarusian food exports, which represent 15 percent of the country’s export economy.