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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs