UGANDA – In a high-stakes showdown between the Republic of Uganda and South Sudan that has stalled for a while now over imported cereals, rigorous analysis has revealed the presence of Aflatoxin B1 in some of the foodstuffs, including maize grain, milled maize (Corn), and dry beans.

Aflatoxin B1, a toxic and carcinogenic compound produced by certain fungi, is classified as a known human carcinogen and can lead to severe health issues, including liver cancer.

A joint delegation led by the Senior Presidential Advisor and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports and Industrial Development (PACEID) embarked on a critical mission to the Elegu-Nimule Border on July 8, 2023. Their mission: to negotiate the release of over 90 trucks loaded with assorted foodstuffs from South Sudan authorities back to Uganda.

Upon inspection at the border, alarming findings were uncovered, revealing the presence of Aflatoxin B1 in some of the foodstuffs.

Following rigorous analysis carried out in accordance with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 16050 using the High Performance Liquid Chromatographic (HPLC) method, the results proved that four out of eight consignments of maize grains exceeded the permissible limit for Aflatoxin B1 and one out of 12 consignments of maize flour also failed the Aflatoxin Test.

These findings have raised concerns about food safety and have sparked an urgent call for compliance with safety and quality standards in the food industry.

As a consequence of the Aflatoxin contamination, the 22 consignments that passed the Aflatoxin test are set to be released to their owners for proper management. However, the five contaminated consignments are facing seizure at Elegu Border, pending proper disposal.

Regulatory agencies on high alert

In the wake of this discovery, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) has issued a stern warning to traders and exporters to adhere strictly to safety and quality standards for all food commodities. Failure to comply may lead to the seizure and destruction of non-conforming products.

With food safety taking center stage in the midst of the Uganda-South Sudan maize row, authorities have vowed to intensify monitoring at exit points to ensure that all exports meet the required quality standards before leaving the country.

This vigilance seeks to safeguard consumers from potential health hazards and maintain the integrity of Uganda’s food export industry.

As the Ugandan delegation works tirelessly to secure the release of the remaining trucks loaded with foodstuffs stuck inside South Sudan, the urgency to address the Aflatoxin contamination looms large.

The outcome of these negotiations will undoubtedly shape the future of food trade between the two nations, setting new benchmarks for food safety and quality assurance in the region.

As the situation unfolds, experts and stakeholders in the food industry are calling for increased awareness and education on Aflatoxin contamination among farmers, traders, and consumers alike. This collaborative effort aims to create a more robust and resilient food supply chain, ensuring that only safe and quality food reaches the plates of millions in the region.

Aflatoxins result from moulding on grain caused by poor storage of foodstuffs in warm and humid conditions, and to a lesser extent, planting of affected seeds.

It is a type of mycotoxin produced by Aspergillus species of fungi, such as A. flavus and A. parasiticus. The umbrella term aflatoxin refers to four different types of mycotoxins produced, which are B1, B2, G1, and G2.

High levels of Aflatoxins contaminate food crops like cereals, legumes, oil crops and others, posing a serious health threat to humans and livestock.

Besides health, high Aflatoxin levels are a major barrier to the exportation of Uganda’s agricultural produce to the East African Region and internationally.

Internationally, Aflatoxins pose a significant economic burden, which according to World Health Organization (WHO) 2018 report, causes an estimated 25% or more of the world’s food crop loss, consequently contributing to hunger.

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