Panel discussion at Future Food Summit puts aflatoxins in the limelight

Aflatoxins and their impact on health and how to control them were one of the topics of a panel discussion at The Future of Food: The Nexus of Food and Health summit co-hosted by the global affairs magazine Diplomatic Courier and Mars Incorporated  at the National Press Club, Washington DC, on 13 May 2015.

The topic was “Aflatoxins, the most urgent food safety challenge facing the world? The panel members were  Dr Kitty Cardwell, National Program Leader; the US Department of Agriculture (USDA); the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA); John Lamb, Principal Associate, Agriculture and Food Security, Abt Associates Inc.; Barbara Stinson, Senior Partner, Meridian Institute; and the Project Director, Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA) –in which IITA is a key partner. The event was moderated by Dr Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer, Mars Incorporated.

The discussion highlighted the toxic threats faced by many communities in developing countries especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Dr Shapiro said over 4.5 billion people were affected by aflatoxins annually and termed it “a crisis”, yet the issue is underfunded and does not receive adequate attention.

Dr Kitty Cardwell, a former plant pathologist at IITA and leader of maize research, said it was during her research at IITA that the alarm was raised on aflatoxins when very high levels were found in maize in Nigeria. Barbara Stinson spoke on the ongoing efforts by PACA, a Pan-African initiative launched in 2012 and led by the African Union (AU), to put in place measures to control the poison including a comprehensive policy regime across the continent. She also mentioned the biocontrol technology in which IITA is taking a lead as one of the solutions PACA is promoting. John Lamb from Abt said adequate reporting and investment were both lacking for aflatoxins although it was a major development problem. They had a negative impact on agriculture affecting animals, livestock, fish, and humans directly. They also had a huge impact on the value of agricultural produce in the market. The poison is suspected to directly cause stunting, lowered immunity, and liver cancer and increases vulnerability to hepatitis B, TB, and HIV/Aids. There was a lot to be worried about in health, agriculture
and nutrition, and trade. The summit brought together leading experts on issues concerning food, health, nutrition, and wellness and looked at the vital role collaboration across sectors can play in sustainably addressing the world’s most pressing food and health challenges.
It was attended by representatives from diverse organizations such as the
UN World Food Programme; the University of California, Davis; and the White House. See video on the session here.

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