Economic impacts of aflatoxin

Four potential impacts of aflatoxin have been identified (Lubulwa and Davis, 1994): (i) deterioration of the food and nutritional quality of agricultural products with an accompanying reduction in sensory characteristics, e.g., taste, odor, texture and color, (ii) health-related productivity losses due to mutagenic and carcinogenic effects on humans who consume aflatoxin-contaminated food over an extended period of time, (iii) loss of income from livestock resulting from feeding aflatoxin-contaminated feedstuffs, e.g., higher mortality rates and lower feed to weight conversion ratios for chickens, ducks, egg-layers, and pigs, and (iv) losses of export markets and related economic gains due to regulations that restrict international trade of aflatoxin-contaminated grain. Aflatoxin contamination in agricultural commodities can result in considerable microeconomic losses, e.g., at the farm, household and community levels, as well as macro-economic losses, e.g. at the country or regional level, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Losses from rejected shipments and lower prices for poor quality grain can devastate a developing country's export markets (IFPRI, 2003).

The economic impact of aflatoxin on livestock production includes mortality and reductions in productivity, weight gain, feed efficiency, fertility, and the ability to resist disease. A decrease in either the quantity or the quality of meat, milk and eggs produced may result in significant financial losses. For example, in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, 5% of the maize and peanuts produced are discarded due to fungal contamination. The annual costs of contamination due to aflatoxin and other molds in these countries in terms of product spoilage, human health effects, and losses in the poultry and pork sectors was estimated to be US$ 367 million (Cardwell, 2001).

Human health impacts of chronic aflatoxin exposure are just now being evaluated (Jolly et al., Chapter 5; Gong et al., Chapter 6). The interaction of aflatoxins with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C to increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma is well known. The risk af-latoxin imposes on children who fail to thrive when their diet is highly contaminated with the toxin appears to be large enough to account for a significant proportion of the deaths of children under age 5 in Sub-Saharan Africa. For older children and adults, immune system suppression appears to occur and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and lower innate resistance to seemingly unrelated diseases. These losses in mental and physical development, the quality and quantity of output from a worker, and the added costs to already overburdened health care systems will be both economically and socially significant but have yet to be quantified or examined in any detail.

Aflatoxin is a major constraint affecting exports and foreign exchange for developing countries including Sub-Saharan Africa. FAO estimates that 25% of the world's food crops are affected by mycotoxins each year (Scholthof, 2004). Income losses due to aflatoxin contamination cost US producers more than US$ 100 million per year, on average, including US$ 26 million paid to peanut farmers alone (US$ 69.34/ha). These losses will be larger and more important for Sub-Saharan Africa due to the favorable environmental conditions for the growth of mycotoxigenic fungi and the lack of adequate storage infrastructure. The economic losses are compounded by lowered productivity, reduced prices, i.e., poor quality discount, reduced feed efficiency, and greater disease incidence as a result of immune system suppression. Many countries have regulations on aflatoxin levels that restrict international trade in food and feeds contaminated with unacceptable levels of aflatoxin contamination (FAO, 2004). Member states of the African Groundnut Council (Gambia, Mali, Nig er, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan) have estimated that the annual cost of implementing a program to reduce aflatoxin contamination is approximately US$ 7.5 million (IFPRI, 2003). Economic returns from preventing aflatoxin contamination through better production, harvesting, and storage practices under these conditions can be quite high.

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