News / Europe

Serbian Scandal Highlights Fungal Poison Danger

Serbian Scandal Highlights Fungal Poison Dangeri
X
March 02, 2013 2:48 PM
A scandal over contaminated milk in the Balkans highlights a global threat to food safety: Aflatoxins are naturally occurring poisons produced by fungi that infect many food crops worldwide. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
A scandal over contaminated milk in the Balkans highlights a global threat to food safety: Aflatoxins are naturally occurring poisons produced by fungi that infect many food crops worldwide.

Serbian Agriculture Minister Goran Knezevic says the country’s milk is safe to drink.

Tests late last month had found aflatoxins in some milk at levels higher than permitted under a law passed two years ago.

The government has now raised those limits ten-fold. But Knezevic notes that this higher level is considered safe in the United States and many other countries.

Aflatoxins can get into milk through contaminated animal feed.

Keeping it out of feed has been a challenge recently, and not just in Serbia, says U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Peter Cotty.

“We have seen increased levels of aflatoxins this year associated with the very hot, dry conditions we had, particularly in our maize production regions in the U.S," he said.

Heat and drought put stress on crops, making it easier for the fungi that produce aflatoxin to move in.

Cotty says while high levels of the chemical in any food are a concern.

“We’re more concerned when aflatoxins occur in a staple food that people consume a great deal [of]," he said.

For example, in parts of Africa, people eat maize at every meal. And the warm environment and poor drying and storage practices make aflatoxin a perennial threat. There was a major outbreak in 2004, according to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s Ranajit Bandyopadhyay.

“More than 200 people in Kenya died due to aflatoxin poisoning. However, even more dangerous is its slow poisoning effect," he said.

The poisonous fungi growing on peanuts, maize and other crops in these areas are a leading cause of cancer and more, says Peter Cotty.

“They’re also associated with stunting in humans, reduced development in children. They’re also associated with reduced functioning of the immune system. And they can actually cause your liver to die,” he said.

To lower the risk, farmers in Africa, the U.S. and elsewhere are fighting fungus with fungus.

In a natural method Cotty and Bandyopadhyay developed, farmers spread their fields with grain infected with fungi very similar to those producing aflatoxin.

“And those fungi compete with aflatoxin producers and displace them in the environment. And that results in 80 to 90 percent reduction in toxin in crops with a single application,” said Cotty.

But testing for the toxin along the supply chain is the last line of defense.

And it’s a test Serbia’s dairy farmers insist they’ve passed.

You May Like

Nearly 900 Dead, Missing in 2014 Air Disasters

Southeast Asia took a particularly heavy hit; 3 major events involved weather, two planes were shot down in eastern Ukraine, and one crash was attributed to mechanical problems More

Video Islamic State Emergence Transformed Syria, Iraq in 2014

'It was very clear that there were problems building up in Iraq at the end of 2013 but everybody was distracted by Syria,' says one expert, explaining group's rapid rise More

Rights Group: IS Executed Nearly 2,000 in Syria in 6 Months

Islamist group also killed 120 of its own members, most foreign fighters trying to return home, in past two months, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaisei
X
Daniel Schearf
December 25, 2014 4:34 PM
Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaise

Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Mombasa in Holiday Tourism Slump Due to Security Fears

Kenya's usually popular beachside tourist destination of Mombasa is seeing a much slower holiday season this year due to fears of insecurity as the country has suffered from a string of terror attacks linked to Somali militants. Mohammed Yusuf reports for VOA on how businessmen and tourists feel about the situation.
Video

Video For Somalis, 2014 Marked by Political Instability Within Government

While Somalia has long been torn apart by warfare and violence, this year one of the country's biggest challenges has come from within the government, as political infighting curtails the country's progress, threatens security gains and disappoints the international community. VOA's Gabe Joselow report.
Video

Video 2014 Saw Intensification of Boko Haram Insurgency

The year 2014 saw Nigerian militant sect Boko Haram intensify its five-year insurgency and target civilians in large numbers as it seized territory in the northeast. The kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok in April sparked global outrage, but failed to become the turning point against the sect that Nigeria’s president said it would be. The picture at year's end is one of devastation and uncertainty. VOA’s Anne Look reports.
Video

Video Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.
Video

Video US Political Shift Could Affect Iran Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis are continuing into 2015 after Iran and six world powers failed to agree by a November deadline. U.S. domestic politics, however, could complicate efforts to reach a deal in the new year. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video NYSE: The Icon of Capitalism

From its humble beginnings in 1792 to its status as an economic bellweather for the world, the New York Stock Exchange is an integral part of the story of America. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from Wall Street.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Fight to Survive Water Crisis

In a region choking from dwindling water supplies, Lebanon has long been regarded as one of the few places where there is enough. But in recent years, half the people in the country have faced severe shortages. And the more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon are hit the worst by the water crisis, making the country's most vulnerable people increasingly impoverished and sick. Heather Murdock reports for VOA in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid