African experts move to combat spread of aflatoxins in food products
A group of African experts has developed an indigenous product that is aimed at eliminating the health hazards posed by aflatoxins. The product, named ‘Aflasafe’, was developed by experts largely drawn from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in partnership with other experts within and outside of Africa.
Aflatoxin is a highly toxic, cancer-causing poison that contaminates food. It cannot be seen, tasted or smelt, even when its level is lethal. Aflasafe is a natural anti-aflatoxin product made from pre-existing fungi that human beings have co-existed with in the environment for millennia.
According to a document obtained by The Guardian, Aflasafe reduces aflatoxin contamination by between 80 and 100 per cent.
“Aflasafe is a relatively inexpensive way to solve the problem of aflatoxin in human and animal food, with the potential to return hundreds of millions of dollars to African economies. This makes Aflasafe highly cost-effective,” the document said.
The most innovative component of Aflasafe is that it is country-specific, with products tailored for Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Burkina Faso, The Gambia and Benin, amongst others.
The document added: “For more than two decades now, IITA has been working with partners within and outside Africa on Aflasafe.” Aflatoxin in food is a plague everywhere, but particularly pronounced in the tropical world whose climatic conditions greatly encourage the proliferation of aflatoxin.
According to the African Union’s Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), aflatoxin causes an estimated five to 30 per cent of liver cancer worldwide, with Africa having the highest liver-cancer mortality in the world. An estimated 40% of commodities in the continent’s local markets exceed the limits of allowable aflatoxin in food.
Common staple foods in Africa such as groundnuts and maize are particularly susceptible to aflatoxin, as are chilli peppers, sorghum, cassava, sesame and rice.
Aflatoxin makes animals like cows, pigs and chickens sick too, and they pass the toxin on into milk, meat and eggs. In its 2016–2018 Total Diet Study, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) found alarming levels of aflatoxin in staples produced, traded and consumed in Nigeria.
Samples of maize, groundnuts and groundnut oil from key markets in Kano and Lagos had very high levels of aflatoxin B1, at 66 Parts Per Billion (PPB) in groundnuts, 15 in oil and similarly high levels in maize.
Aflatoxin B1 is the most toxic type of aflatoxin. So, while Nigeria’s limit for total aflatoxin is a maximum of four PPB, Aflatoxin B1 has a higher individual standard of two PPB.
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