A number of liver cancer cases in Africa are linked to aflatoxins, a family of toxins produced by fungi. The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) national expert on the value chain, Heiner Lehr, made this known on Wednesday while delivering a keynote address at the first Nigeria food safety and investment forum in Lagos.
He said the presence of aflatoxins, which affects crops on the field, during harvest and storage, poses serious danger to consumers.
According to him, if a lactating mother is exposed to aflatoxins, the breast milk is also contaminated with aflatoxins. Cows that eat feeds contaminated with aflatoxins also will produce contaminated milk.
He also said 70% of all shipments of beans that came to Europe were filled with pesticide, and subsequently led to EU trade suspension with Nigeria.
He said that a conduit of excellence was required to ensure that local products meet international requirements adding that it would ensure that food could be exported without any issues in the international market.
Following the conduit of excellence, the UN chief said, meant good agricultural practice, proper record keeping and a clarification on the roles of extension services.
Lehr added that meeting the quality and safety needs of foods meant for export required inputs from the private and public sectors.
“The inter-ministerial committee had adopted the conduits of excellence as a key methodology to achieve the goal of zero rejects.
“Nigeria needs to be perceived in the international community as a deliverer of quality and safe food.”
Facts About Aflatoxins
Aflatoxins are toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi in/on foods and feeds like Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are abundant in warm and humid regions of the world.
They are probably the best known and most intensively researched mycotoxins in the world. The occurrence of aflatoxins is influenced by certain environmental factors; hence the extent of contamination will vary with geographic location, agricultural and agronomic practices, and the susceptibility of commodities to fungal invasion during preharvest, storage, and/or processing periods.
Aflatoxins have received greater attention than any other mycotoxins because of their demonstrated potent carcinogenic effect in susceptible laboratory animals and their acute toxicological effects in humans. As it is realized that absolute safety is never achieved, many countries have attempted to limit exposure to aflatoxins by imposing regulatory limits on commodities intended for use as food and feed.
Aflatoxins have been associated with various diseases, such as aflatoxicosis, in livestock, domestic animals and humans throughout the world.
It is known that high aflatoxin levels in the bloodstream depresses the immune system, thereby facilitating cancer, HIV, and stunting the growth of children. A cross-sectional study conducted in Ghana and cited by Dr Williams shows that immune systems of recently HIV-infected people are significantly modified even they have above median levels of natural exposure to aflatoxin.
Aflatoxin poisoning is also known as aflatoxicosis, causing nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, convulsion, collection of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), collection of fluid in the brain (cerebral edema), abnormalities of the blood, including blood cancer even in children, bleeding, liver damage and cancer, kidney and heart damage and even death.
Consumption of aflatoxin may not hurt severely immediately, but may over a period of time result in liver damage or cancer. Lung cancer may come from the inhalation of mold dust, especially in the cases of people who inhale mold dust from affected crops.