Aflatoxin in cereals, a “silent killer”

A GNA feature by Dennis Peprah, GNA     

Techiman, (BE/R), Aug. 21, GNA – “There
isn’t time to wait to solve the problems that aflatoxin creates, because it is
already impacting the health and well-being of 4.5 billion people across the

“At Mars we want to improve food safety and
security for people around the world including the most in need and low income
populations” says Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer, Mars

Mars Incorporated is an American global
manufacturer of confectionery, pet food and other food products and
also a provider of animal care services.

Although there is still much work to be
done, scientists are already seeing forward momentum with more promising amino
acid strings produced with every iteration, it is only a matter of time before
synthetic biology produces an enzyme that can do the job.

Until then, Aflatoxin remains a “silent

It’s difficult to believe, but 4.5 billion
people globally are chronically exposed to harmful aflatoxins through food
intake, yet they are either unaware or aware but without alternative options.

According to science, aflatoxins are potent
carcinogens produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus and several other related
species which are common in warm and humid environments.

They infect and contaminate crops from the
field until the crops are consumed.

Maize, groundnuts, millet, chili pepper and
tiger nuts are excellent crops for Aspergillus infection and aflatoxin

Studies show that human and animals are
exposed to aflatoxins mainly through diet (consuming food/feed prepared from
contaminated crop produce).

Health Effects

The health impacts of aflatoxin are
staggering: it is the most potent naturally recurring liver carcinogen ever
known, and is estimated to play a part in up to 28 per cent of liver cancer
cases globally.

Furthermore, consuming
aflatoxin-contaminated food is associated with stunting in children, damage to
the immune system, maternal anaemia and mortality. Acute doses result in death.

According to Professor Richard Tuyee Awuah
of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), men who
consumed high contents of aflatoxin in maize, sorghum, millet and groundnuts
have high risk of male sterility and liver cancers.

Prof. Awuah, who is at the KNUST Department
of Crop and Soil Sciences said women who consume high contents of aflatoxin
also exposed themselves to several female reproductive problems.

Research and field demonstrations show that
maize, groundnuts, millet and sorghum produced by farmers in the country
(Ghana) contained high aflatoxins contents.

Acute exposure to aflatoxins could result in
outright death and cases and complications had been reported in the country.

Though there is no record of aflatoxin
contaminated deaths reported in Ghana, statistics showed high contamination of
aflatoxin in food killed 18 people in Tanzania in 2008 and 10 people in Kenya
in 2010.

Economic Impact

High aflatoxin content affects the potential
of countries to engage in the export trade.

Speaking at a business forum in
Techiman in the Bono East Region, Prof. Awuah said aflatoxin levels in
cereals and legumes and their products and other food items in Ghana are far
above the European Union (EU) and United States of America permissible
standards of 4 and 20ug/kg respectively.

This means many foods and food items from
Ghana would not be allowed into the EU and USA and perhaps many other foreign

Organised by the International Institute of
Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and attended by buyers and producers of grains, the
forum sought to share results of 2018 field demonstrations with agribusinesses
using Aflasafe on target crops in major producing regions in the country.

Globally, Prof. Awuah said a total of
US$1.2 billion is lost annually in agricultural trade due to aflatoxin
contamination, saying out of this, African countries lose US$500 million.

According to World Bank estimates, if
aflatoxin contamination was properly managed, US$281 million would be added
annually to groundnut exports from Senegal.


In April 2018, Aflasafe GH02, a biological
pesticide for aflatoxin mitigation in maize, groundnuts and sorghum was cleared
by the Environmental Protection Agency for commercial distribution in Ghana.

The chemical has successfully undergone
field efficacy trials for two years and results are quite impressive.

It consists of roasted, sterile sorghum
grains coated with spares of four native non-toxin producers (antoxigenic) of
Aspergillus flavus strains with the acid of a polymer and a blue food colorant
is added to differentiate the product from regular sorghum.

As an innovative aflatoxin mitigation
strategy, Aflasafe targets and eliminates the source of infection and
contamination, the aflatoxin producing fungi.


The chemical is applied by broadcasting
method while crops are still growing on the field (pre-harvest application) at
the rate of 4kg/acre or 10kg/ha.

Together with good agricultural practices,
and proper post-harvest interventions, the use of Aflasafe allows the
production of maize, groundnuts and sorghum that are compliant with both
domestic and international regulatory standards.

Dr. Daniel Agbetiameh, the Technical
Consultant, Aflase Technology, Transfer and Commercialization Programme of the
ITTA, advised farmers to apply the Aflasafe GH02 on their farms to produce
quality grains and avoidable deaths among the people.