Knowledge for Development

Feature articles

Food Safety Challenges: The Case of Aflatoxin

Rose W. Njeru, Agro-Innovations International, Nairobi, Kenya, provides a comprehensive overview of current research and risk management measures for minimizing aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxins are naturally occurring toxins and pose major challenges to food safety, health and nutrition systems. Contamination can occur at any stage of the value chain; during production, harvesting, processing, storage and transportation. The goal is to minimize contamination in foods and feed by applying and enforcing standards and legislation. Exposure to high levels of aflatoxin has been known to lead to death from liver failure; the most devastating case occurred in Kenya in 2004. A promising long-term strategies is the development of resistant varieties and biological control measures but there are challenges. For example, two aflatoxin resistant maize lines have been identified and biological control measure are being used to reduce contamination in peanuts and maize in the USA and similar trials using local strains are on-going in Kenya and Nigeria. However few, if any, commercial cultivars are readily available and biological control measures are context specific. At the same time, empowering farmers, traders and processors with adequate knowledge and skills on controlling aflatoxin contamination from the field to the fork, adopting cost-effective processing technology and quality control measures, and adherence to food safety and quality assurance systems, as well as enforcement of standards and legislation governing maximum aflatoxin residue in food and feed will effectively contribute to reducing aflatoxin levels. This has been clearly demonstrated by MFK, which has implemented an effective aflatoxin control process in the groundnuts value chain in Haiti and is one of the CTA Top 20 innovations. The control process involves: crop rotation, use of high quality seeds, timely planting, proper pest control, timely harvesting, undamaged pods, fast drying and threshing, bio-controlled storage and regular moisture tests and empowering small-holder farmers. Image credit: ICRISAT. ICRISAT carries out research on Aflatoxin contamination of groundnuts:


European food safety regulation and the developing countries – regulatory problems and possibilities

This research paper seeks to identify the legal measures under the EU food safety policy which ‘cause the most problems for developing [country] exporters’ and propose possible solutions. It notes that food safety requirements have been identified as ‘one of the foremost issues affecting exports of agricultural and food products from developing countries’, with shortcomings in compliance that are estimated to cost African exporters over US$1 billion per annum in lost exports. The analysis identified seven key characteristics of the EU food safety regime, among which: its coherence in terms of all foodstuffs, including imported foodstuffs; its comprehensive nature, covering products from farm to fork; and the centrality of consumer protection concerns. It is argued that these characteristics of the EU food safety regime ‘do not take into account the consequences of the food safety regime which go beyond the Community’s borders’. Equally, EU standards do not take into account the different conditions of production and certification existing in developing countries. This, it is held, results in a situation where at times EU food safety standards ‘may constitute a barrier to exports into the Community’.Author: M. Broberg, Danish Institute for International Studies working paper 2009:09


New dossier: Food safety

Consumers need to be sure that the food they eat is safe. Stringent standards which generally vary from country to country are increasingly imposed on the international food trade by both public institutions and private corporations. As product and process requirements and supply logistics systems become more demanding, ACP trade in global markets is being impacted. This dossier identifies key challenges and strategies for the ACP community in meeting international quality and food safety requirements. Dr. Sietze Vellema, Wageningen University, explores the challenge in combining food safety, quality performance and sustainability standards with innovative technological capacity in the upper end of the supply chain. He suggests a form of coordinated innovation in which both market opportunities and institutional arrangements are integrated to enhance the innovative capacities of actors and organizations. Dr. Jennylynd James examines international and regional ACP initiatives on meeting health and safety requirements and outlines recommendations for ACP countries. The lead articles are complemented by background information through links to related websites and publications. This dossier was prepared by KIT in collaboration with CTA – September 2007. Read this new dossier>>>


How to make standards work for performance improvement in agri-food chains?

Quality and safety requirements in cross border agri-food chains have become strict and rigid. This is related both to public regulation, such as the European General Food Law, and private voluntary regulatory systems e.g. EurepGAP, a pre-farm-gate-standard initiated by European retailers. Standards are primarily designed to maintain consumer confidence in food quality and safety. Attached to these, are goals to minimize environmental impacts of farming operations, optimize the use of inputs and ensure the health and safety of workers. This indicates that, increasingly, food quality and safety requirements do not only address issues, related to the actual product, but also incorporate environmental sustainability and social welfare matters surfacing in the production processes. It can be expected that in the coming years, producer organizations and international trade and industry players, possibly in tandem with government agencies, will seek new forms of inter-related regulations.


ACP Science and the Global Food Safety Challenge

Industrialized nations have implemented regulations and preventive programmes in an attempt to stem the incidence of food-borne disease and safeguard the health of consumers. Surveillance and tracing of food borne outbreaks have become more sophisticated, for example PulseNet (network of labs of public health and regulatory agencies) and FoodNet (active surveillance for food-borne disease) in North America. African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) nations must conform to international food safety standards to compete effectively in global trade. International organizations such as FAO and WHO have assisted in identifying needs but, regional organizations and national governments must improve their monitoring and traceability systems to minimize the risks to human life or markets. Vigilant and effective regulatory systems would also assist ACP countries to prevent indiscriminate dumping of sub-standard products. The scientific community should lead the effort in designing and implementing food safety systems including programmes for training actors: from growers to consumers. Universities and research institutes in ACP regions should play a role in identifying specific food safety challenges and developing sampling and testing procedures which respond to the diversity that exists within the food industry.