Aflatoxin

The Aflatoxin problem has not been adequately addressed in many low-and medium-income countries, and the importance of its reduction in food systems cannot be overemphasized since it can pose heath, nutritional and economic burdens. For several decades, most of the effort to control aflatoxin has been directed toward improving primary production but with little success. Aflatoxin contamination remains a widespread problem, particularly in Africa.

In many countries, aflatoxin is considered an unavoidable contaminant and, therefore, post-harvest control options need to be considered.  It is possible to use sorting to remove highly contaminated kernels and effectively lower the concentration of aflatoxins because of the heterogeneous growth of aflatoxin on maize and peanuts. Industrialized countries use sophisticated optical scanning equipment to do this, but these are not appropriate for developing countries.

The Aflatoxin Working Group is advocating the adoption visual/manual sorting technology, which was recently endorsed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as “ready for implementation”.  Adoption of this sorting technology will be mostly by peanut butter processors in urban or peri-urban areas, as it is estimated already that a majority of people in Africa will live in cities by the year 2020.

Potentially millions of people will benefit by reducing aflatoxin in peanut butter and ultimately other peanut products and commodities. Providing safer, more nutritious food products is consistent with the traditional role for food science and technology.

Resolution

The IUFoST Working Group on Aflatoxins would like to request that IUFoST Members consider for adoption the Resolution on Aflatoxins found below. The Resolution is a logical extension of the IUFoST Budapest Declaration of 1995 and Cape Town Declaration of 2010 that committed IUFoST and its Adhering Bodies to work to assure that all people have access to safe and nutritious food as a basic human right.

Although great efforts have been made to reduce aflatoxin contamination at the primary production level, inadequate attention has been given to post-farmgate technologies to reduce aflatoxin contamination. Consequently millions of people in Africa and Asia are still exposed to high levels of aflatoxins in their diet. Recently the International Agency for Cancer has evaluated two food processing technologies to reduce aflatoxin levels in food and have concluded that both are ready for wide scale implementation, namely nixtamalization and visual/manual sorting. As a first step, the IUFoST Working Group on Aflatoxins has developed a proposal that uses the highly effective and easily implemented process of visual/manual sorting of peanuts, to reduce exposure to aflatoxin of people living in Africa who are particularly vulnerable to the serious health effects of aflatoxin, namely liver cancer and stunting of young children.

Adoption of this Resolution by the IUFoST Members will alert IUFoST Adhering Bodies, governments, non-governmental organizations and donors of the essential role of food science and technology in combating this persistent and perilous problem.

RESOLUTION ON REDUCING AFLATOXINS IN THE DIET (IUFoST)

Recalling the Budapest Declaration of 1995 and the Cape Town Declaration of 2010 that committed the international food science and technology community to work towards elimination of hunger and reduction of all forms of malnutrition;

Recognising the central role of food science and technology in eliminating many hazards in food and ensuring the availability of a diverse variety of safe and nutritious foods;

Noting that the problem of aflatoxin contamination of food has persisted in many developing countries for decades in spite of major efforts to control the problem at the primary production level;

Having considered the reports of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on the health consequences of exposure to aflatoxins, including cancer and stunting in children1;

Noting that the four interventions identified by IARC as ready for implementation, namely 1) dietary diversity, 2) improved post-harvest handling, 3) nixtamalization, and 4) sorting, involve, direct or indirectly, food science and technology;

Mindful that access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is the right of each individual and of the inextricable links between food safety, nutrition and food security;

Aware that climate change could be a factor in the increasing rates of growth of fungi resulting in higher levels of aflatoxin;

Acknowledging the need for the food science and technology community to work closely with other stakeholders to reduce exposure to aflatoxin in developing countries:

URGES IUFoST Adhering Bodies and Associates to:

  1. Promote the establishment of science-based regulations at national authority and at regional levels to control the level of aflatoxins in susceptible foods and to facilitate trade;
  2. Promote awareness of the food sector and governments of the serious adverse health and economic consequences of aflatoxin contamination, especially in staple foods;
  3. Promote a systems-approach for reducing aflatoxin contamination encompassing the complete food-production chain from farm to consumption;
  4. Enhance the implementation of relevant interventions identified by IARC by the food processing sector to protect all consumers;
  5. Promote appropriate education programs aimed at consumers about the risks posed by aflatoxin and the need to reduce their exposure through self-sorting, nixtamalization and diversifying their diets;
  6. Continue to develop project proposals to establish pilot sorting plants (e.g. at departments of food science and technology at universities) in developing countries to train students and staff of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) in sorting technology;
  7. Promote dialogue and collaboration with food aid, food security, food safety and nutrition programs as well as standards setting bodies to reduce exposure to aflatoxin;
  8. Conduct further research and development of interventions to reduce exposure to aflatoxins using food science and technology.

For further information, to support this Working Group in sponsorship or activity and to register your agreement regarding the proposed Resolution, please contact the IUFoST Secretariat (Secretariat@iufost.org – Subject Line Aflatoxin Working Group Support)

1 Read the IUFoST Information Bulletin – Aflatoxin Update April 2016

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