Press release: Managing food and feed contamination in Asia through a holistic approach to protect human, plant, and animal health Vishwanath Sah June 2, 2023

Press release: Managing food and feed contamination in Asia through a holistic approach to protect human, plant, and animal health

Bangkok: 01 June 2023: ‘Managing aflatoxin contamination in Asia using One Health’ funded by the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) is a new project being designed by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), in collaboration with International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) and University of Minnesota.

For the first time, the concept of One Health is integrated in aflatoxin management in Asia. Based on a collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach, the project will aim to achieve optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.

Dr. Sasireka Rajendran, Project Manager, APAARI, stated, “The project aims to raise awareness about the importance of One Health in addressing the issue of aflatoxin contamination. APAARI will play a crucial role in facilitating collaboration between different ministries and departments to collectively address the aflatoxin issue using a One Health approach. We will be having multistakeholder consultations with the countries to prioritize potential crops that is affected by aflatoxin and develop key activities based on country and regional needs.” 

Aflatoxins are various poisonous carcinogens and mutagens that are produced by certain molds, particularly by two species of Aspergillus – a fungus found especially in hot and humid climates. However, climate change may impact their presence in other non-tropical parts of the world. Aflatoxins can occur in human and animal foods, as a result of fungal contamination before and after harvest. Human and animal exposure to these molds through food should therefore be as low as possible.

Dr. Titilayo Falade, Associate Scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), commented on the One Health approach from a gender lens and said, “In the context of the One Health approach, women play a vital role, often overlooked, in managing food and feed contamination. Women are actively involved along the value chain and are subjected to higher possibilities of transmitting aflatoxin to fetus. Therefore, creating awareness on safe production and handling practices among women becomes crucial.”

Aflatoxin mitigation has become a critical subject of the Codex Alimentarius Commission led by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Commission guides countries’ domestic and international trade on Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) of food and feed contaminants, such as aflatoxins, and additives in traded plant material and food products. Efforts made to reduce aflatoxins in food and feed around the globe have been mostly sectorial.

The project design will start on 1 June 2023 through a virtual workshop to galvanize commitment of partners and key stakeholders to the action. APAARI will lead the development of technical linkages with country partners and experts, creation of synergies with similar projects in the region, conducting country assessment and preparing a briefing paper.

Aflatoxin interactions between plant, animal and human health

Mitigating aflatoxin exposure in a comprehensive way requires the One Health approach to protect human, plant, and animal health, combined with multi-pronged and economically feasible approaches supported by private and public sectors. 

Dr. Johanna Lindahl, Veterinary Epidemiologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), emphasized that “Animals are highly susceptible to mycotoxins, including aflatoxin, which poses both an animal welfare issue and hampers productivity. The presence of mycotoxins causes significant suffering among animals and leads to reduced productivity in livestock. By feeding aflatoxin-contaminated feed to animals, farmers are unable to maximize their production potential.

Low- and middle-income countries often lack the expertise and infrastructure to effectively prevent and mitigate aflatoxin contamination in food and feed. The preparatory phase will focus on analytical work to assess the approaches used in Asia to control aflatoxin contamination, identify good practices for safe food consumption in Asia, and create synergies with existing initiatives. 

Involving multi-stakeholders, the new project will raise awareness and build capacities on One Health approach to mitigate aflatoxin, and thereby enhance safe trade while ensuring alignment with national development priorities.

APAARI is a membership-based, apolitical, multi-stakeholder, and intergovernmental regional organization that catalyzes collective action to improve agri-food research and innovation systems towards a more sustainable Asia-Pacific region.

STDF is a global partnership to facilitate safe trade, contributing to sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction and food security. It promotes improved food safety, animal and plant health capacity in developing countries.