Trade and economics

The debate on the trade-off between health for developed country consumers and trade opportunities for developing countries is a powerful perception polarizer. Aflatoxin has been characterized as a useful tool to protect markets and to prevent market access by developing countries seeking to sell their products to the developed countries. Recent publications have estimated the trade-off between trade declines and the additional health benefits provided by the European Union regulations (Otsuki et al., 2000; Coulibaly et al., Chapter 7) adding to the perception that health-based regulations are being used to manipulate market access.

I think that a more important question for developing countries is, "What is the true health cost of neglecting aflatoxins?" I suspect that the health costs incurred are much higher than the trade benefits lost. If one stops at the point of sale one, then the conclusion that the economic loss through reduced market opportunity is the most important issue is easily reached. If the effects of aflatoxin include the full impact on health then a very different economic reality may become evident. Embracing this reality is an important challenge for developing nations. In developed countries we can estimate the cost of management actions to minimize contamination, and the costs of failing to meet the standards. But the cost of not addressing aflatoxin contamination must include both the lost exports and the loss of additional health costs incurred due to uncontrolled exposure.

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