“At Mars we want to improve food safety and security for people around the world including the most in need and low income populations” says Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer, Mars Incorporated.
Mars Incorporated is an American global manufacturer of confectionery, pet food and other food products and also a provider of animal care services.
Although there is still much work to be done, scientists are already seeing forward momentum with more promising amino acid strings produced with every iteration, it is only a matter of time before synthetic biology produces an enzyme that can do the job.
Until then, Aflatoxin remains a “silent killer”.
It’s difficult to believe, but 4.5 billion people globally are chronically exposed to harmful aflatoxins through food intake, yet they are either unaware or aware but without alternative options.
According to science, aflatoxins are potent carcinogens produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus and several other related species which are common in warm and humid environments.
They infect and contaminate crops from the field until the crops are consumed.
Maize, groundnuts, millet, chili pepper and tiger nuts are excellent crops for Aspergillus infection and aflatoxin contamination.
Studies show that human and animals are exposed to aflatoxins mainly through diet (consuming food, feed prepared from contaminated crop produce).
The health impacts of aflatoxin are staggering: it is the most potent naturally recurring liver carcinogen ever known, and is estimated to play a part in up to 28 per cent of liver cancer cases globally.
Furthermore, consuming aflatoxin-contaminated food is associated with stunting in children, damage to the immune system, maternal anaemia and mortality. Acute doses result in death.
According to Professor Richard Tuyee Awuah of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), men who consumed high contents of aflatoxin in maize, sorghum, millet and groundnuts have high risk of male sterility and liver cancers.
Prof. Awuah, who is at the KNUST Department of Crop and Soil Sciences said women who consume high contents of aflatoxin also exposed themselves to several female reproductive problems.
Research and field demonstrations show that maize, groundnuts, millet and sorghum produced by farmers in the country (Ghana) contained high aflatoxins contents.
Acute exposure to aflatoxins could result in outright death and cases and complications had been reported in the country.
Though there is no record of aflatoxin contaminated deaths reported in Ghana, statistics showed high contamination of aflatoxin in food killed 18 people in Tanzania in 2008 and 10 people in Kenya in 2010.
High aflatoxin content affects the potential of countries to engage in the export trade.
Speaking at a business forum in Techiman in the Bono East Region, Prof. Awuah said aflatoxin levels in cereals and legumes and their products and other food items in Ghana are far above the European Union (EU) and United States of America permissible standards of 4 and 20ug/kg respectively.
This means many foods and food items from Ghana would not be allowed into the EU and USA and perhaps many other foreign markets.
Organised by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and attended by buyers and producers of grains, the forum sought to share results of 2018 field demonstrations with agribusinesses using Aflasafe on target crops in major producing regions in the country.
Globally, Prof. Awuah said a total of $1.2 billion is lost annually in agricultural trade due to aflatoxin contamination, saying out of this, African countries lose $500 million.
According to World Bank estimates, if aflatoxin contamination was properly managed, $281 million would be added annually to groundnut exports from Senegal.
In April 2018, Aflasafe GH02, a biological pesticide for aflatoxin mitigation in maize, groundnuts and sorghum was cleared by the Environmental Protection Agency for commercial distribution in Ghana.
The chemical has successfully undergone field efficacy trials for two years and results are quite impressive.
It consists of roasted, sterile sorghum grains coated with spares of four native non-toxin producers (antoxigenic) of Aspergillus flavus strains with the acid of a polymer and a blue food colorant is added to differentiate the product from regular sorghum.
As an innovative aflatoxin mitigation strategy, Aflasafe targets and eliminates the source of infection and contamination, the aflatoxin producing fungi.
The chemical is applied by broadcasting method while crops are still growing on the field (pre-harvest application) at the rate of 4kg/acre or 10kg/ha.
Together with good agricultural practices, and proper post-harvest interventions, the use of Aflasafe allows the production of maize, groundnuts and sorghum that are compliant with both domestic and international regulatory standards.
Dr. Daniel Agbetiameh, the Technical Consultant, Aflase Technology, Transfer and Commercialization Programme of the ITTA, advised farmers to apply the Aflasafe GH02 on their farms to produce quality grains and avoidable deaths among the people.
By Dennis Peprah