The Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) has called on the public to avoid the consumption of grains, meat and fish products that have mould growing on them, as they are cancerous.
According to the GSA, such growth, known as aflatoxin, was life-threatening and poisonous and could cause liver cancer, a weak immune system, stunted growth and death.
The authority also called on the public to desist from feeding their animals with contaminated grains, as the animals passed the aflatoxins on to humans when their meat was consumed.
A member of a GSA team that called on the Editor of the Daily Graphic ‘to solicit the newspaper’s support for a GSA public sensitisation campaign on aflatoxins’ in Accra yesterday, Ms Ruth Mma Alando, said the prevalence of mould conditions was high in the country.
Ms Alando, who is a Business Development Officer at the GSA, called for all hands to be on deck to help break the cycle of aflatoxin contamination, which also had international trade implications on Ghana, such as the rejection of food exports contaminated with aflatoxins, which often cost the country huge sums of money.
Describing aflatoxin poison as a silent killer, she said the situation was more worrying because it was difficult for the public to identify processed food and animal protein contaminated by aflatoxin.
“Aflatoxin contamination in processed food can only be verified through laboratory testing because it is a colourless, odourless and tasteless chemical which is not visible to the naked eye.
“The mould growth responsible for its production may not only appear on the surface but also penetrate deep into food, which may or may not be visible every time. However, food showing signs of mouldy growth and having a musty flavour should be avoided as much as possible,” she said.
What are Aflatoxins?
Aflatoxins are poisonous substances that are produced by certain moulds which grow in the soil, on decaying vegetation, hay and grains.
They are regularly found in improperly stored staple commodities such as cassava, chilli pepper, cottonseed, millet, peanuts, rice, sesame seeds, sorghum, sunflower seeds, sweet corn, tree nuts, wheat and a variety of spices.
When contaminated food is processed, aflatoxins enter the general food supply, where they have been found in both pet and human food, as well as in feedstocks for agricultural animals.
Animals fed with contaminated food can pass aflatoxin transformation on to products such as egg, milk products and meat, and subsequently to consumers.
Pubic sensitisation campaign
The Leader of the GSA team and Head of its Public Relations Department, Mr Peter Agbeko, said the courtesy call was also part of a scheduled meeting with editors of media outlets to solicit comprehensive support from the media because a public sensitisation campaign would not be successful without the support of the media.
He said the two-year campaign, funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a farmer-centred organisation, was to empower the public with information on how to protect themselves as much as possible from aflatoxin contamination.
A representative from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITU), a partnering institution for the campaign, Ms Sally Naa Kai Adoley Adjetey, said the situation was very worrying, particularly because aflatoxins affected a number of local staples and delicacies, such as maize, groundnuts, mutton, fish and poultry, and also contamination could occur along the entire food production value chain, starting from the farm.
She appealed to the public to ensure that they got their processed food, such as corn dough and peanut butter, from approved and trusted sources.
“As much as possible, we must endeavour to sort out our grains and nuts, separating the unwholesome from the wholesome, as part of a conscious effort to prevent or reduce aflatoxin contamination,” she said.
While calling on the government to intensify efforts to reduce aflatoxin poisoning, she said the measures being put in place to that effect included the development of improved seeds and fertiliser that could prevent or reduce aflatoxin contamination.
The Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mr Kobby Asmah, recommended that such campaigns should not be limited to boardroom meetings but rather sent to the grass roots and public places.
He said such campaigns should be characterised by a deliberate process of sustainability to make the needed impact, rather than a couple of events which might not make so much impact.
He expressed the readiness of the Daily Graphic to support the campaign and all such initiatives that had the interest of the ordinary citizen in mind.
However, he was quick to add that information flow was a major challenge for the media to address many worrying public issues, especially in the area of public health.