Newsroom  Press releases  2002

9) Aflatoxin: A Deadly Hazard, 1 May, 2002

Facts about Aflatoxin: Things that you need to know...

Aflatoxins cause cancer and trigger mutations, especially to genes involved in the production of liver cancer. They are also immunosuppressive, which means, like HIV, they make you susceptible to other health disorders.
Aflatoxin contamination is harmful to both humans and animals. Poultry, cattle and sheep are especially susceptible.
More facts:

In 1994, more than 200,000 broiler chickens died in Ranga Reddy District as a result of Aflatoxin contamination of groundnut cake in chicken feed.

  • Nearly 25% of the milk supplied in Hyderabad through retail outlets is contaminated with Aflatoxin.
  • The exact number of humans infected is not well known but there have been several reports indicating high levels of aflatoxins in the blood and urine of people. ICRISAT's research assessed Aflatoxin contamination in such food items as groundnuts, chillies, and various spices like ginger, black pepper, turmeric and coriander.
  • In a survey of supermarkets across the city it was found that a large number of other groundnut products like chikkies (or peanut crunch), peanut butter, and milk-based confectionary were contaminated.
  • Studies reveal that milk, including popular brands meant for infants, is also contaminated. The milk used in children's formula often comes from cattle fed with contaminated food.

"A recent survey carried out in the rural regions in India showed that 21% of groundnut samples contained non-permissible Aflatoxin levels," says Dr William D Dar, the Director General of ICRISAT. "ICRISAT has developed cost-effective tools for estimation of Aflotoxins".

Aflatoxins act very slowly and prolonged consumption can lead to liver cancer in humans. A person's chances of contracting cancer are compounded significantly if he/she also carries the hepatitis B virus, which causes jaundice. In India, an estimated 20 million people are hepatitis B carriers. Importantly, the most commonly used cooking products are frequently contaminated.

One of the major drawbacks in fighting Aflatoxins is the fact that there is no awareness about it in India. Western countries, on the other hand, have strict regulations governing the testing of food products for Aflatoxins. "Concerns over Aflotoxin contamination of Indian groundnut in both domestic and international markets restrict access of groundnuts produced by marginal farmers to these important and lucrative markets," Dr Dar adds.

It is a vicious cycle. For various reasons, both small and large businesses rarely test their cattle and poultry feed for contamination. This inaction leads to widespread and silent Aflatoxin infection.

At present there are no easily accessible and inexpensive techniques or tools to check for infection in humans in India. But ICRISAT will begin work on this problem soon.

The institute has developed very inexpensive tools for estimating Aflatoxin infection in foods and feeds. ICRISAT also has the technology to reduce the contamination levels at the crop production level. The scientists at the institute are aware of some of the factors that lead to the production of Aflotoxin at the farm level. Farmers are welcome to avail of this technology to help avert potential disaster.

But first, they need to acknowledge that:

  • Their animals' health is affected – especially in the case of poultry. Chickens die within the first week of contamination. Feed suppliers, therefore, use the existing technology to check for contamination.
  • Farmers cannot export their produce (like groundnuts) to developed nations because of stringent regulations.
  • People need to become aware and demand for a consumer action that will ensure that basic food supplies are not contaminated.

For more information please contact Dr Farid Waliyar, Principal Scientist, Crop Management and Utilization for Food Security, ICRISAT, Ph: 3296161 or Dr DVR Reddy.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.