Consumers are often left largely in the dark about what they are eating and drinking. How safe is the stuff what we put in our mouth? Consumers have often not much more to rely on than rumours about which product should be left from the plate. For example, it has become common knowledge that (processed) peanuts in Ethiopia contain high level of aflatoxins, often 500 till 1000 times the maximum levels set by the Commission Regulation of the European Union No 165/2010. What happens with these batches? They go back on to the market…. Nevertheless, hard data from reliable sources about such rumours are often impossible to obtain.
Recently, however, results of a study (D. Gizachew et al., 2016) on Aflatoxines in consumer products in Addis Ababa, give profound basis to rumours. Apparently, 93% of all milk in Addis Ababa contain unacceptable levels of aflatoxins, many milk bags have more than 100 times the maximum EU levels.
In Gizachew’s study, the focus was the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed because here, Aflatoxins is likely to become an increasing problem. The study in a nutshell:
Milk samples were collected and analysed for aflatoxins from Addis Ababa (n=27), Debre Zeit (n=23), Sebeta (n=9), Sendafa (n=31) and Sululta (n=10).
The maximum level for aflatoxins set by the EU is 0,05 µg/L milk. The highest concentration of aflatoxins detected in the study was 4,98 µg/L.
Fig. 1. Contamination of milk samples (N . 110) with AFM1 (mg/L) in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed. The numbers in the bar graphs represent the number of samples.
In comparison, for example, studies from urban centers in Kenya have reported toxin levels up to 0,68 µg/L. Only in Khartoum, Sudan, average concentrations were higher with an average of 2,07 µg/L with a maximum of 6,9 µg/L.
The major source that is contaminating the dairy value chain is noug cake, made from niger seed, an animal feed product.
Though all dairy farmers of different towns use similar types of animal feeds, differences in temperature, moisture and storage conditions might be the cause for the variation of aflotoxin contamination between areas. In addition, the composition of the feed mixture (in particular the proportion of noug cake) will have an effect on the toxin content.
So, the Aflatoxin is secreted in the milk and it is highly stable; heating will not break down the toxin sufficiently. Subsequently, the toxins are further processed into yoghurt, cheese and butter.
This means that milk and other dairy product pose a threat to humans, particularly children. Consumption of milk (products) suppress their immunity and contribute to stunting. In addition, it has been estimated that aflatoxins may play a causative role in up to 30% of the cases of liver cancer globally each year.
The research article does not provide any advice to consumers.
In any case, what I’m doing:
- Buying only milk and milk products imported from outside Ethiopia
- Making my own yogurt (it’s easy)
- Appealing to Dutch dairy farmers / feed company: “Can you provide us with proof that your product is safe for our children?”
- Hoping that the health and food authorities are taking swift action in setting up regulations and that the dairy industry are following them up.
For more information:
Link to research paper
Aflatoxin in Milk (pdf)
08-10-15 11:18:19: KK: Fyi, It’s posted somewhere on Facebook:
Dear all, in response to the flurry of concern on the aflatoxin report, I got in touch with the lead author at ILRI. I have copied some of her reply below. In a nutshell, the advice seems to be to avoid dairy and dairy products, but that there is no major concern about other foodstuffs for now (apart from local peanuts which was a separate study). I’ve asked to be alerted as soon as the public brief comes out so I will circulate it then. How long before the supermarkets run out of imported UHT milk, do you think? 😉
Director of Programmes
The situation is of concern and definitely warrants action. Levels of aflatoxins in milk in Ethiopia are some of the highest ever reported in the literature.
However, we compared milk to the EU standards which take a high level of precaution. According to the more lenient US standards, only one in four samples were above limits.
Drinking milk with aflatoxin levels above standards is not advisable, but in terms of risk, there are many things in Addis which would be more dangerous such as driving a motorbike without a helmet or drinking from surface water.
The other good news is we have identified the culprit (noug cake) and it can be fixed either by using decontaminants or avoiding risky feeds. If a cow is not fed contaminated feed even for a few days the milk clears. The transfer of aflatoxin to meat and eggs is much, much less and these animals probably get less noug so we would not be concerned about meat or eggs (although testing might be useful to be sure). You can get more information in brief 5 attached.
The paper authors are preparing a brief/blog that will set out the issue in simple and non alarmist terms that reflect both the need for safe foods and to grow the dairy sector; this should be ready in the next couple of weeks and should help allay excessive concern
Sent from mobile, therefore brief.
In order to address some of the questions raised, we recently published a follow-up blog communication on the ILRI news site:
This article is written by ILRI scientists Dawit Gizachew, Barbara Szonyi, Azage Tegegne, Jean Hanson and Delia Grace
A vibrant dairy sector is important for the economic development of Ethiopia. Dairy offers a pathway out of poverty for a large number of households keeping livestock. At the same time, the dairy industry can provide highly nutritious animal-source foods (milk and dairy products) to meet the increasing food security and nutritional requirements of an expanding population.
Estimates place Ethiopia far below recommended milk intake, and even below the African-wide average in per capita consumption. However, tremendous potential exists to increase production and consumption of dairy products (source: United States Agency for International Development/Land O’Lakes: ‘The next stage in dairy development for Ethiopia’). As the dairy sector in Ethiopia is growing, attention needs to be paid to quality testing of both dairy feeds and milk to ensure that the milk is safe for consumers.
We recently published the results of a survey on aflatoxins in cow’s milk and dairy cattle feed in the Addis Ababa area. Our results showed levels of aflatoxin in some of the milk samples significantly higher than that allowed by European Union (EU) and USA standards. While the situation is of concern and definitely warrants action, only less than one in five samples were above the limits set by the US (but these are more lenient than those set by the EU). On the other hand, other countries are adopting the standards of the USA or EU, which has implications for international trade.
Drinking milk with aflatoxin levels above standards is not advisable, but in terms of risk, says ILRI’s Delia Grace, ‘there are many things in Addis Ababa that are more dangerous, such as driving a motorbike without a helmet or drinking from surface water. Therefore, we do not recommend that consumers stop consuming milk and dairy products in Addis Ababa, because milk has very high nutritional value.’
The other good news is that we have identified the main culprit—noug cake, an animal feed made from Niger seed that is a by-product of noug oil factories.
Though all dairy farmers of different towns use similar types of animal feeds, differences in temperature, moisture and storage conditions might be the cause for the variation of aflatoxin contamination between areas. In addition, the composition of the feed mixture (in particular the proportion of noug cake) will have an effect on the toxin content.
This contamination can be fixed either by improving handling and storage, using decontaminants or aflatoxin binders in animal feeds, or by avoiding risky feeds. Milk from cows not fed contaminated feed even for a few days is free of aflatoxin. Passing of aflatoxins into meat and eggs is much, much less, so we are not so concerned about contamination in meat or eggs, although testing these products for aflatoxin levels would also be useful.
We suggest the following approaches to move forward:
- The survey, though statistically sound, was relatively small. A larger survey would help identify hot spots where problems are worst and areas where the problem is less.
- Having identified noug cake as a major problem, it would be possible to work with dairy producers to reduce or mitigate contamination by applying intervention methods.
- Other countries successfully adapted a test and certificate scheme. This could be explored in the Ethiopian context.
ILRI is seeking funds to support follow-up studies on aflatoxins in Ethiopia.
B.S. | Post-Doctoral Researcher, Food Safety and Zoonoses Program
International Livestock Research Institute |ilri.org
Correspondence with the Manager Operation and Sales at Alema Koudijs Feed PLC, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia.
The correspondence has been translated from Dutch to English by Robert tH.
Apologies for the late response.
There is a difference between feed and noughcake. Noughcake is for us an ingredient. However, hundreds of thousands of farmers use this cake more or less as full feed. Normally, a cow farmer gives his cattle noughcake and wheat grit. He shovels it in and ready.
We use wheat grit and noughcake as an ingredient, beside dozens other ingredients such as, cassavabran, soy-cake, sunflower-cake, maize, rape-seed cake, lentilhusks, etc.
We analyse monthly all ingredients and end-product for ‘Weende analysis’ (protein, fat, fiber and moisture). For the end-product we also analyse for calcium, phosphorus. All this to know the nutrient values of the base materials to be used for input of our formules, and to monitor the end-product (reality vs formula).
Some base ingredients have a high risk on aflatoxine, these ar in particular noughcake and peanut cake. We check these base-ingredients very regularly. The aflatoxine level is used as base-ingredient-value in our formula. This means that if there are high aflatoxine values found in the base-ingredient, this ingredient would not be used or mixed in very low quantities. We, therefore, have a maximum value of aflatoxines in our end-product.
We do our analyses at our company as well as at Bless laboratories here in Legetafo, and also in our lab in the Netherlands. We are working on purchasing of an aflatoxine tester, but that brings up practical problems: the range of these rapid-test are usually between 5 and 150 ppb. While we often find values of around 300 ppb.
I hope you have more or less an ideanow! Message is; noughcake = not a main feed but a base-ingredient. Our feed contains balanced number of nutrients and the aflatoxine concentration is guaranteed for a level which makes milk save to drink.
Mr. H. S.
Manager Operation and Sales
Alema Koudijs Feed PLC
Debre Zeit, Ethiopia.
An interesting article was published about the whole Afltatoxine Milk affair from the ENLBA.
However, I do have several questions and remarks about this article:
“When there are huge gaps between the variable of the samples analyzed [ranging between 0.028 and 4.98 micrograms per liter of aflatoxin M1 contamination in milk], the researchers should have relied on the median result,” Bewket argues. The ILRI research puts the median result at 0.094 micrograms per liter of aflatoxin contamination in milk.
Well, in that case, I would also like see the mean value with its standard deviations, because median can provide an under/over-valued figure from skewed results.
But dairy farmers like Teshome say “it has been years” since they last used noug cake as animal feed.
That is not the issue here. The issue is that the majority of milk contains high concentrations aflatoxins. So where Teshome think that the aflatoxine contamination comes from?
Dereje, the milk collector, shares the dairy farmers’ frustrations whose daily lives have been severely impacted. (…) Teshome anticipates his daily milk production to grow to 500 liters per day in three years. But he says what happened over the last months has “crushed my moral”.
Nothing is said, however, for the parents who gave their children every morning milk with skyrocketing levels of toxines! How about their moral?
Azage says that was a result of misinterpretation of the research finding. “The research was interpreted in a manner that exceeded our expectation,” Azage says. “Because of that the sector has been affected but nowhere in our research have we concluded that people should stop drinking milk or resort to powdered milks.”
It’s called ‘deduction’ and ‘logical thinking’.
The result showed that only nine (8.2 percent) milk samples contained less than or equal to the stringent European Union (EU) parameters set in 2010 for aflatoxin contamination of 0.05 microgram per liter. Furthermore, 29 (26.3 percent) milk samples exceeded the US standard of 0.5 microgram per liter, ten times lenient compared to the EU parameter.
Standards in US are much more lenient. Food industries in US have much more power in how the legal guidelines are set. There are many notorious examples from the US food industry where public health follows the money. #TTIP
“Ethiopia and EU are far apart with regards to per capita milk consumption, using the EU standard to gauge the health risk of aflatoxin is wrong,” he argues.
It’s wrong to generalize like that. Speed limitations are not important because Ethiopians drive on average less cars than Europeans.
Do you have any comments? Please send them to me for publication on this site.
Beside the aflatoxin, additional worrisome data on antibiotics and other residues in local milk…