Food quality and safety are important traits used by people to select their diet. Internationally these standards are agreed through the Codex Alimentarius with national laws also having an important role (FAO, 2003). Contamination of staple foods is widespread in some locations, particularly in the developing world, and can occur at all levels of crop production: preharvest, harvest, and storage.
The safety and nutritional quality of food often is compromised by mycotoxins, which are metabolites produced by a few fungi that colonize both staple agricultural products and export crops from countries in the developed and developing world. The best known myco-
toxin is aflatoxin, which is produced by a few species of the fungus Aspergillus, and commonly occurs in maize, peanut, sorghum, and some root and tuber crops. Fusarium spp. also produce mycotoxins such as fumonisins, zearalenone, and deoxynivalenol. Mycotoxins are regulated because they are hazardous to health. In addition to their carcinogenic properties, many mycotoxins are anti-nutritional factors that result in poor growth and immune suppression in young animals and children.
In the developed world, regulatory standards control exposure of humans and animals to dietary mycotoxins. These food safety regulations reduce the risks of morbidity and mortality associated with the consumption of contaminated food. In the developing world, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, monitoring and enforcement of standards are rare. Mycotoxins also may form non-tariff trade barriers. The European Union has recently reduced regulatory limits for aflatoxin to 4 ng/g compared to the Codex Alimentarius Commission recommended standard of 20 ng/g in peanuts. This dichotomy in legislation could cost some developing nations several hundred million dollars in export losses (Wu, 2004). The costs of food safety regulation includes the cost of production, compliance, and administration, and the deadweight loss associated with these costs. In countries with widespread aflatoxin occurrence, the best quality foods are exported and the poorer quality foods are consumed locally and harm the local population. Thus, mycotoxins degrade food quality, can be barriers to international trade, pose serious risks to health, and are directly and indirectly responsible for human deaths in Africa and Asia. Exposure to aflatoxin increases the incidence of acute toxicosis, liver cancer, and morbidity in children suffering from kwashiorkor.
The centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) recognize mycotoxins as one of the most important constraints to the goal of improving human health and well-being through agriculture. The CGIAR centers pursue various strategies for the management of mycotoxins from "field to fork". For example, aflatoxin management practices in farmers' fields and stores have been developed and are being implemented through national partners represented in several chapters elsewhere in this volume. Work continues on the dissemination of management practices, biological control through competitive exclusion strategies, and breeding for resistance. The level of fumonisin contamination in field and stored maize has been surveyed, and management processes that can affect these levels have been identified. Fungal-insect relationships, both for Aspergillus spp. and Fusarium spp. in the field and in storage, have been investigated. Several aspects of mycotox-in research-for-development need further attention. These include food basket survey, strategies to reduce the impact of mycotoxins on trade, bio-ecological aspects of mycotoxin production, biological control, resistance breeding, and the impact of mycotoxin management options and nutritional improvement on children's growth and health in high-risk zones.
Regional research efforts on mycotoxins in the developing world for information exchange, transfer, and eventual implementation of tested mycotoxin management strategies by various regions need coordination for synergies to develop. A research-for-development program network may be required to deal with mycotoxins, food safety, and trade (Fig. 1). An important step already made by the CGIAR is the development of inexpensive ELISA kits that use monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies to detect aflatoxins, fumonisins and och-ratoxins in various crops, food (milk, confectionary, processed meals) and feed samples (Reddy et al., 2002). These assays enable rapid screening of samples for mycotoxins and speed the screening of breeding lines leading to quicker development of resistant cultivars. The cost-effective diagnostic kits provided a new impetus to the research to mitigate afla-toxin contamination, with high-throughput diagnostic labs established by the International
Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Malawi, Mozambique and India. Up to 300 samples per day can be analyzed for mycotoxins by ELISA in these labs.
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