18 April 2016 – The International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) today released its latest Scientific Information Bulletin (SIB), which provides a summary of the most recent information on Aflatoxins for the global food science and technology community. SIBs are prepared for the more than 300,000 members of IUFoST Adhering Bodies worldwide and may be of interest to those serving in academia, industry, government, and development organizations.
The purpose of this IUFoST SIB is to highlight reports from two expert sources on health impact and management of aflatoxin. The first document relates to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report on the Global Burden of Foodborne Disease released late last year that quantitatively linked aflatoxin to primary liver cancer expressed in terms of DALYs – Disability-Adjusted Life Years. Released in early 2016, the second report of importance was issued by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) with the support by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is entitled Mycotoxin Control in Low and Middle Income Countries.
Aflatoxin has been a major food safety problem since its discovery in 1961. Natural mixtures of aflatoxin and aflatoxin B are highly toxic and potent liver carcinogens. In fully developed market economies, national food safety agencies and the food industry have been successful in reducing aflatoxin to acceptable levels but at considerable effort. Billions of dollars have been spent to address their presence in grain staples, especially maize, as well as in peanuts and tree nuts. Exposure in developing countries, however, is largely unabated. This is especially worrisome because of the high prevalence of the hepatitis B virus in many of these countries. Hepatitis B seropositivity combined with aflatoxin exposure increases the risk of liver cancer by factor of 30 over either agent alone.
The recent WHO report for the first time estimates the global foodborne disease incidence, mortality, and disease burden in terms of the harmonized health metric, the Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY). The report was prepared by the WHO Foodborne Diseases Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) and includes estimates of the public health burden of 31 foodborne hazards, including 11 diarrhoeal disease agents (1 virus, 7 bacteria, 3 protozoa), 7 invasive infectious disease agents (1 virus, 5 bacteria, 1 protozoan), 10 helminths and 4 chemical hazards (aflatoxin, dioxins, cyanide in cassava and peanut allergens). The report found that aflatoxin was associated with the highest global burden of DALYs (636,869) of the four chemicals studied. West Africa was the most severely affected region with 28 DALYs per 100,000 population.
The IARC report focuses on the overall health impact of aflatoxin and fumonisin in developing countries. The IARC Working Group of world-leading experts concluded that these mycotoxins are not only a cause of acute poisoning and cancer but are also likely contributors to the high levels of stunting in children seen in exposed populations. The group also identified effective measures to reduce exposure in developing countries, including post-harvest interventions that would involve the food science and technology community. It also addresses the dilemma in which starving people have no choice but to consume crops that are highly contaminated during ‘bad’ years, such as drought.
As one of the few means identified by the IARC report that can effectively reduce aflatoxin exposure, the IUFoST Food Safety Committee in collaboration with young food scientists from Africa have developed a project proposal that is intended to promote the introduction of peanut sorting technology in Africa. This will be accomplished through the establishment of pilot visual/manual sorting facilities at departments of food science and technology at universities in several of African countries to train students as well as staff of small- and medium-size peanut processing facilities in the method.
Aflatoxin Update and the other titles in the series of IUFoST Scientific Information Bulletins are available online at http://iufost.org/iufost-scientific-information-bulletins-sib. This SIB was preparedon behalf of, and approved by, the IUFoST Scientific Council by Dr Gerald G. Moy, IUFoST International Academy Fellow and Dr J. David Miller, Professor at Carleton University
, Ottawa, Canada. Both are members of the IUFoST Aflatoxin Working Group.