Introduction

A wide range of mycotoxins are known food contaminants that can affect exposed persons and animals in various ways. Of particular interest to us are the antinutritional mycotoxin contaminants of peanuts, maize, sorghum and pearl millet that can cause various diseases in humans, livestock and domesticated animals throughout the world. According to Williams et al. (2004), as many as 4.5 billion persons living in developing countries are chronically exposed to largely uncontrolled amounts of aflatoxins.

Peanuts play an important role in the diets of rural populations, particularly children, because of their high content of protein (21-30%), fats (41-52%) and carbohydrates (1127%). They also are rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin E. Protein meal, a by-product of oil extraction, is an important ingredient in livestock feed. Peanut haulms are nutritious and widely used for feeding livestock.

Aflatoxin contamination of peanuts is a major hazard to human and animal health and is one of the most important constraints to peanut trade. Aflatoxins are considered to be an important cause of hepatocellular carcinoma, one of the most common cancers in developing tropical countries. Studies in the Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Sudan, Swaziland, China and Korea all have reported relatively high frequencies of liver cancer. A common factor is the presence of toxins - including aflatoxin Bi produced by fungi such as A. flavus and A. parasiticus - in peanuts and peanut-based foods.

Sorghum and millets are traditional African cereal grains that have gradually been displaced by maize over the past 150-200 years. Recently the rate of displacement has increased in Africa, often with the encouragement of international agricultural research institutes and aid programs. A major concern for the consumption of maize, especially as a high proportion of the diet (Marasas et al., Chapter 4), is that it may be easily contaminated with aflatoxin and fumonisin mycotoxins produced by Aspergillus and Fusarium spp., respectively. These toxins are associated with cancer, neural tube defects, immune system depression and acute toxicity in humans. Symptoms depend on the level of the toxin in the diet and the length of the exposure. International Sorghum, Millet and Other Grains CRSP (IN-TSORMIL)-sponsored research (Bandyopadhyay et al., 2007) has demonstrated that maize is significantly more heavily colonized by aflatoxin-producing Aspergillus than is either sorghum or millet, and that overall aflatoxin levels are higher in maize than they are in sorghum or millet from plants grown on-farm by subsistence farmers in Nigeria.

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