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Aflatoxins Pose New Risk to European Maize Production

March 14, 2013

The European Commissions’ Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) has reported 10 notifications on aflatoxin B1 in maize of European origin since the last maize harvest in autumn 2012. In the 10 years prior to the last harvest -- between 2001 and 2011 -- a total of nine cases of aflatoxins were reported in maize. Aflatoxins have been mainly an “import problem” up to now. However, global warming is increasingly affecting the mycotoxin map in Europe, producing “tropical toxins” within Europe’s borders.


This is most likely not the last case of aflatoxins in maize for European farmers. “Conditions are very favourable for the growth of Aspergillus in southern areas of the European mainland due to climate change. This means that Europe will have more homemade aflatoxin cases in its crops in the future.” says Prof. Rudolf Krska, an international mycotoxin expert from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria. “The food & feed industry has to adapt its risk management to cope with this new threat and minimize aflatoxin exposure in Europe.”

The origins of the contaminated maize reported in the RASFF were mainly southeastern Europe, including Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Serbia and in Italy. The average level of aflatoxin B1 was 59.28 ppb (parts per billion or µg/kg) and the maximum 204 ppb in Serbian maize – 10 times above the maximum level for feed. The EU regulatory limit for aflatoxin B1 in feedstuff is 20ppb, whereas in food it is 5ppb.

Aflatoxin B1 is one of the most carcinogenic substances on the planet, 100 times more toxic than pesticides, for instance. The producing molds, which are different species of Aspergillus, have been mainly a problem in tropical regions and can either occur on the field, but also in inappropriate storing conditions. Major  maize exporting nations such as Argentina, Brazil and the USA have developed risk-management systems over recent decades to handle the aflatoxin risk. Europe can take these examples to adapt their systems to this new reality where aflatoxins are now on the agenda. Testing for aflatoxins requires sophisticated sampling methods which need to be done at the very beginning of the supply chain to deal with the heterogenic distribution of this contaminant. Testing methods have to be very sensitive as limits are between 5 and 20 parts per billion (ppb). At the reception point, this testing can be done with lateral flow devices (e.g. AgraStrip® Aflatoxin) or Fluorometric methods (e.g. FluoroQuant® Afla). The reference method of choice in laboratories is nowadays LC-MS/MS, which is a technology that can simultaneously detect all major mycotoxins, including aflatoxins.

Further Information:
Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)