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13.09.2005 General News

Conference on grain safety opens

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Accra, Sept. 13, GNA - Policy makers, scientists and other key players in the food sector are meeting in Accra to deliberate on how to make grains and legumes safe for consumption and to reduce the incidence of disease and death associated with food items.

The five-day international conference, being attended by 120 experts from 26 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, would focus on how to reduce mycotoxins, or chemicals produced by fungi on grains and legumes responsible for various health conditions including cancer and liver problems.

The theme for the conference is: "Reducing the Impact of Mycotoxins in Tropical Agriculture with Emphasis on Health and Trade in Africa." Dr Gheysika Agambila, Deputy Minister of Environment and Science, in a speech read for him, said mycotoxins had plagued mankind since the beginning of organised crop production and continued to occur in a wide variety of foods and feeds.

"These fungal toxins are recognised as important constraints to improving human health and well being of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. "For example, in Benin and Togo, aflatoxin levels in maize averaged five times the safe limit in up to 30 per cent of household grain stores.

"Acute exposure to mycotoxins at high levels can be lethal as exemplified by more than 150 deaths due to aflatoxins poisoning in Kenya in 2004," Dr Agambila said.

"The ability of some mycotoxins to compromise the immune response, and consequently reduce resistance to infectious disease is now widely considered to be one of the most important effects of mycotoxins." The Deputy Minister said chronic exposure to aflatoxin was associated with cancers, growth retardation and suppression of the human immune system.

"Significant economic losses are associated with their impact on human health, animal productivity and both domestic and international trade," he said.

"Fortunately, simple mycotoxin management techniques can lead to significant reduction in food and feed."

He called for continued cooperation among researchers and players in the export and local food supply chains to ensure that appropriate data was generated for consumer safety. Premature harvesting and storage of wet grains and legumes are among some of the practices responsible for mycotoxins. Prof. Emmanuel Owusu-Bennoah, Director-General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), said for Africans there was the need to give attention to agricultural practices that met international standards and targets set under the Millennium Development Goals to reduce hunger and poverty. Several institutions are sponsoring the conference organised by the Myco-Global Project of the European Union, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the CSIR. 13 Sept. 05

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