3,000 lives lost to food poison yearly: experts

Thursday October 20 2016

Workers arrange maize bags at the National Food

Workers arrange maize bags at the National Food reserve agency storage facility in Mbozi District,Songwe region. PHOTO|FILE 

By Syriacus Buguzi @buguzi sbuguzi@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania loses over Sh550 billion ($264 million) with at least 3167 people dying annually due to food poisoning caused by aflatoxins, a report that has surveyed the prevalence of the deadly poison says.

Titled Economic Assessment for Aflatoxin Contamination and Control in Tanzania, the report compiled, by researchers under the coordination of the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), says the food poison is prevalent in the country and that over 3,300 people are diagnosed every year with liver cancer that is linked to aflatoxins. About 95 per cent of them die.

“Estimation of the health and economic impact due to aflatoxins shows that there are about 3,334 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), annually and that 95% of these cases (3167 persons) die each year from the disease,” says the report that was compiled with the support of the African Union Commission’s Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA). The aim of the study that was conducted in 2014 and released in June this year was to assess the prevalence of aflatoxins and suggested mechanisms that could be taken and integrated in the Tanzania Agriculture and Food Security Investment Plan (TAFSIP) that is being implemented through the support of AU.

The survey also builds on findings of a study conducted by Abt Associates Inc in 2012 that had more or less similar results.

The report was released a few months after 14 people died and 54 others fell ill in Chemba District, Dodoma Region, after eating cereals contaminated with aflatoxins. The US-based Center for Disease Control (CDC) carried out tests on 19 blood samples and found that the contamination level was the highest ever (200 parts per billion) from aflatoxins.

But in the NM-AIST study has found that aflatoxins contamination is prevalent in maize and groundnuts and to a lesser extent in rice in Tanzania, but awareness is low, which complicates efforts to tackle the problem.


“Aflatoxin knowledge was probed by inquiring on whether one had ever heard or understood the meaning of aflatoxins. Of the 54 (27 in Bukombe, 17 in Kongwa and 10 in Njombe) stakeholders, 20 per cent were aware of aflatoxins,” the report says.

The study found that over 40 per cent of maize samples from the eastern and western regions of the country contain aflatoxins at levels that exceed the national regulatory limit of 10ppb.

Aflatoxin levels in over 18 per cent of groundnuts exceeding the regulatory limit of 5ppb set for aflatoxin B1—a cancer causing substance, the report says.

“Results of the analysis suggest that aflatoxin contamination in rice grown and consumed in Tanzania is very low. The levels of aflatoxins in the positive samples ranged from 0.01 – 3.83ppb. Based on the maximum limit of 10ppb set for total aflatoxins in rice for human consumption in Tanzania, all the rice stocks from which the samples were taken are fit for human consumption,” the report says.

However a policy brief released by the Tanzania Foods and Drugs Authority says global standards requires 0ppb in foods but that the Tanzania Bureau of Standards gave a leeway of 10ppb of aflatoxins consumed in Tanzania due to the prevalence of the toxins.

The report also found that the policy framework was totally lacking in Tanzania to tackle the scourge.

“The review of policies revealed that there is a poor institutional framework for food safety control under the ministry responsible for agriculture. It further showed that although TFDA is mandated to oversee food safety issues in Tanzania, it is so strongly aligned to the ministry responsible for health that it could not adequately address food safety issues under the ministry responsible for agriculture,” the report reads in part.

It also says the ministerial Board for TFDA does not have representatives from key ministries responsible for food safety regulation such as the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries.

The report suggests, “It is…expected that if the coordination office and mechanisms established at TFDA are improved as proposed by stakeholders, Tanzania will be informed on regular basis of all aflatoxin works taking place in the country, including those being unilaterally implemented by universities and research institutions.”

They argue that the disability and human loss caused by the poison could have been averted and the money which was lost could have been saved by strengthening measures to curb the aflatoxin contamination.

Aspergillus mycotoxins are estimated to contaminate 25 per cent of the global food supply - with 4.5 billion people exposed to high, unmonitored levels - primarily in developing countries, various reports on bioscience in Africa indicate