Moldy Grains Gibson


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Moldy Grains Gibson

  1. 1. EDIT THIS, LOCATED IN BFC<br />An African farmer looks over his yield. Most of the sorghum looks healthy, but there are a few grains that are blackened and moldy. He can’t sell those grains, but he needs to get as much money as possible for his product. So he sells all the good grain and saves the moldy ones for his family to eat.<br />He didn’t have much choice – he needed the money from his yield. But this decision could make his children sick and could, in the long run, cost the family their lives.<br />Moldy grains release poisonous chemicals called aflatoxins. Aflatoxins in the body target organs, especially the liver. High enough levels of the toxins can cause cancer or liver malfunction. In small doses, the chemicals can attack the immune system, leaving people more open to other infections, said John Leslie, a primary investigator for INTSORMIL based at Kansas State University.<br />Mold can cause problems even for people who don’t directly eat contaminated grains. Some of the toxin-producing fungi in moldy grains, if eaten by animals, can be passed on. So a cow that ate unsanitary grain could have contaminated meat and milk that could make people sick, according to an article by Christian Abnet, a researcher with the National Cancer Institute. And, the article said, new mothers can pass on these toxins to infants through their breast milk. <br />Mold is particularly a problem in Africa because of the climate. According to researchers at The Ohio State University, aflatoxin-producing mold commonly grows in places where daytime temperatures are greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, where humidity is above 80 percent or where plants are particularly stressed by insects or drought.<br />Luckily, Leslie said, dangerous mold affects sorghum and millet less than other grains like corn. In one of his studies, Leslie measured how many grains in a sample had more than 20 parts per billion, which is the international cutoff for acceptable levels. He found 74 percent of corn grains were unacceptable, whereas 13 percent of sorghum grains and none of the millet grains were too moldy. Scientists are not really sure why mold affects some kinds of grains more than others, Leslie said. <br />“It’s potentially a really important thing because it means in general for food safety sorghum and millet are better choices,” he said. “Effectively it looks like sorghum is a healthier diet than maize in terms of toxin production.”<br />Scientists may not know why mold attacks maize more than other grains, but they do know that in African climates, reducing mold exposure and educating farmers is essential to preventing mold-related health problems.<br />One problem in this area is that some agricultural development agencies have been trying to introduce short-season maizes into drier areas in Africa to try to help food shortage problems. But the more maize becomes a food staple, the more likely people are going to expose themselves to moldy grains, Leslie said. This is a big focus for INTSORMIL researchers, he said – to convince others to use sorghum and millet rather than maize.<br />“We’ve been trying to tell the aid agencies that it’s not a good idea to encourage this,” he said.<br />“And we’ve been trying to find evidence to document that.”<br />Farmers know how to identify and separate moldy grains from good ones, Leslie said, and by avoiding the blatantly moldy grains, farmers can reduce their toxin exposure by 90 to 95 percent. But this isn’t practical – many farmers are going to continue selling all their good grain despite the warnings because they need the money. So INTSORMIL researchers like Leslie are focusing on decreasing plants’ susceptibility to mold and reducing the reliance of maize.<br />“The general gist is that sorghum and millet is preferable to maize because maize poses such a health risk in these hot dry areas,” Leslie said. “That should be the main message that comes through.” <br />