Mycotoxins: Top take-aways for practitioners and funders
What are mycotoxins and aflatoxins? How do they affect humans, and what needs to be done to mitigate and control them? Below are some "top take-aways" about mycotoxins from Dr. Felicia Wu and Dr. John Leslie.
1. Aflatoxin is one of many mycotoxins.
Aflatoxin might steal the spotlight as the best-known mycotoxin, but our experts said that more research and funding needs to be directed towards the broader mycotoxin family. There are five mycotoxins commonly found in food: deoxynivalenol/nivalenol, zearalenone, ochratoxin, fumonisins, and aflatoxins. View a table of the staple food commodities they affect here.
2. Mycotoxin contamination is an interdiciplinary issue.
Few challenges illustrate the linkages between agriculture and nutrition as well as mycotoxins. Interdisciplinary research is needed to understand the magnitude and severity of mycotixin exposure. John Bowman made the case for directing funding towards establishing a comprehensive evidence base, particularly in order to build on investments already made.
3. Aflatoxin poisoning outbreaks make headlines, but sub-acute and chronic exposures are also important.
People exposed to high aflatoxin concentrations experience organ failure and rapid death. Between 2004 and 2006, around 200 people died in Kenya from acute exposure to the toxin. But, Dr. John Leslie stressed that we must be mindful that continued exposure in lower doses "half kills," which "keeps you from doing what you could and developing your potential."
4. Dietary diversity can reduce mycotoxins levels.
There are a number of interventions that can help to reduce mycotoxin levels in the food supply. Dr. Felicia Wu is an avid proponent of diet diversification to reduce expsore. Smallholder diets are often undiverse, consisting primarily of one or two staple food sources. Certain staple crops such as cassava, maize, and groundnut are more prone to aflatoxin contamination. Dr. Wu asks, "Instead of only focusing on how to reduce aflatoxin in these staple crops, how can we feasibly increase dietary diversity?" Wu proposed incorporating indigenous crops such as sorghum, millet, fonio and teff into diets to diversify and reduce exposure.
Click here to view a recording from a the May Ag Sector Council seminar about mycotoxins, as well as presentation slides and the transcription.