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A call for aflatoxin control in Asia


Aflatoxins are secondary metabolites, produced by some fungal species of the genus Aspergillus, posing health and economic implications throughout the world. Developing countries in Asia usually have tropical conditions and grow crops susceptible to aflatoxin proliferation. Aflatoxin proliferation is more frequent in tropical regions due to optimal climate conditions required for their production. In general, the developing countries in Asia lack control and regulation strategies, like poor harvesting practices, improper storage and poor transportation conditions resulting in major losses from farm to fork level. A number of aflatoxin positive cases above safe limits have been reported in Asia in various commodities being consumed by the local population. This not only exposes to health issues like growth impairment, immunosuppression, hepatic disorders etc. but also result in heavy economic losses due to trade restrictions. However, rigorous aflatoxin standards mean that many nations would export their best quality food and keep contaminated food domestically, resulting in higher aflatoxin exposure in low or middle-income nations, where hepatitis prevalence is high. Aflatoxin control is needed to protect the Asian population from the risks of aflatoxins and to ensure good quality safe availability of commodities throughout the world by trade. In recent years a number of bioproducts have been introduced successfully worldwide that are safe, efficient and ecofriendly. Such initiatives may be taken in Asia as well to protect our food and feed commodities from aflatoxin contamination.


The world’s human population has raised to approximately 8 billion heads, alarming with the prime threat to food security and safety, subsequently resulting in hunger and starvation of more than 700 million people daily with constraining access to cereals, grains and other staple foods (FAO Global Quarterly Report 2021). The production of crops is not increasing proportionally to human population in the world, which is further deteriorated by natural disasters and plant pests and diseases. The majority of spoilage in the food and feed crops throughout the world is caused by fungi, and up to 60–80% of the total world’s food crops are damaged by mycotoxins, with aflatoxins as the prime etiological agent (Eskola et al. 2020). Aflatoxins not only damage the food crop but also pose serious threats to animal and human health when consumed.

Aflatoxins are secondary metabolites fluorescent heterocyclic compounds, produced by fungi- Aspergillus spp., in particular Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus (Gourama and Bullerman 1995; D’Mello 2003). Of the more than 18 different forms and metabolites currently recognized, four major types of aflatoxin are the best known and studied: aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), aflatoxin B2 (AFB2), aflatoxin G1 (AFG1) and aflatoxin G2 (AFG2) (Goldbalt 2012). Diets with high levels of these contaminants for longer periods can cause: stunted growth, immunosuppression, impaired food conversion, liver cancer and sometimes may even prove to be fatal (Coursaget et al. 1993; Gieseker 2004; Gong et al. 2008; Leroy et al. 2018; Voth-Gaeddert et al. 2018). Aflatoxin contamination of crops results in high risk of health hazards, therefore in order to prevent this, regulations are being developed world-wide. However, developing countries usually fail to implement these regulations, resulting in reduced trade and food insecurity (Matumba et al. 2017a, b; Chilaka et al. 2022).

For the past decade studies revealed 55% of the cereal grains worldwide were found to be contaminated by aflatoxins (Lee and Riyu 2017). Aflatoxin contamination of peanuts, particularly AFB1, AFB2, AFG1 and AFG2 has also peaked to an alarming situation, which in turn results in production of contaminated peanut products like peanut butter, granola bars etc. which are sold in the markets of developing countries of Asia and Africa (Jiang et al. 2005; Waliyar et al. 2003).

Aflatoxin- a silent killer

Aflatoxins go often undetected, despite their great negative impact. As aflatoxins are odorless, colorless and tasteless, consumers are unable to detect aflatoxins and they cause harms to the health of population (Cassel et al. 2001; Udomkun et al. 2017). Consuming aflatoxin contaminated food directly, or the animal products, previously on aflatoxin contaminated feed, may result in immune suppression, growth retardation and even, death (Gieseker 2004; Probst et al. 2010; Kamala et al. 2018).

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has declared group-1 aflatoxins (comprising AFB1, AFB2, AFG1, AFG2, AFM1) to be highly carcinogenic to human health (IARC 2002). Exposure to aflatoxins can indeed cause detrimental health effects. These mycotoxins act as potential pathogens, mutagens, teratogens and genotoxic complexes, which means they have the ability to cause acute and chronic health effects, including carcinogenicity (Peles 2019; Jalili and Scotter 2015). The exposure to aflatoxin contaminated food may increase the risk of incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma up to 30 times, especially in case of exposure to hepatitis B virus (El-Serag 2020; Bruix et al. 2016; Yoshida et al. 2016). Aflatoxins can pass the blood-testis barrier and cause damage to the testicular tissue, negatively affect spermatogenesis, and result in the deterioration of sperm parameters (Ataman 2014). Even the inhalation of air particles contaminated with aflatoxins may result in tumorous growths in respiratory system (Agag 2004).

Lactating mothers who consume aflatoxin-contaminated food, produce milk that may be hazardous for the breast-feeding infants (Radonić et al. 2017). The AFB1 present in the food is converted to AFM1, that may instigate immunosuppression, retarded growth, hepatic disorders and carcinogenic effects in children (Khlangwiset et al. 2011).

Aflatoxins are not only harmful to human health but also implicate a detrimental effect on the health of animals. In developing countries, 40% of the loss in animal production has been recorded due to aflatoxin contaminations and results in either acute or chronic illness (Wagacha et al. 2008). Both directly affect the economy of the farmers, either by reducing the production of the animal or by causing health impairment to the animal.

Aflatoxins may cause morbidity as well as mortality in animals, which has been observed in various cases in history. The deaths of 100,000 turkeys in England in the 1960’s set up an alarming situation, when it was noted that they were fed upon feed imported from Brazil (Homei and Worboys 2013). Since then, various cases of deaths of animals like rainbow trout, pigs, dogs, cattle have been observed in different parts of the world due to ingestion of aflatoxin contaminated feed (Council of Agriculture Science and Technology 2003). Aflatoxins have negative impacts on the health and production of human as well as animals (Unnevehr and Grace 2013) as major outbreaks have occurred in the history that have affected both animal and human populations, as described in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Major aflatoxin outbreaks reported in animals and humans

In a nut shell, it is inferred that aflatoxin contamination has a negative effect on well-being of humans and animals, revenue, food security and trade (Wu 2015; Bandyopadhyay et al. 2016).

Aflatoxins—a threat to Asia

Up to 70% of the world inhabitants are exposed to aflatoxins beyond safe limits (Brown 2018). The most common staple food throughout the world are cereals and cereal by-products, out of which maize and rice are most prone to aflatoxin contamination due to the modified agricultural practices (Temba et al. 2017; Hesseltine 1974). Approximately, more than 4.5 billion people living in developing countries of Africa and Asia are exposed to unsafe aflatoxin levels due to contaminated food consumption (Williams et al. 2004). About 300 million people in South Asia live in poverty, 70% belong to the rural population. Figure 2 represents a map showing wide distribution of Aspergillus in Asia.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Regional distribution of Aspergillus in Asia (CABI Compendia, 2023)

South Asia

Annually, almost 200 billion children worldwide face impaired growth and development with a significant prevalence in South Asia. These children endure deprived health conditions leading to financial burden on affected nations (Black et al. 2013; Stevens et al. 2015).

India has faced a number of serious aflatoxin outbreaks, causing harms to human and animal lives as well as, substantial financial losses to the country. An aflatoxin outbreak faced by India for two consecutive months in 1974 resulted in the death of 200 lives. The reason was diagnosed as high aflatoxin content in maize used as a staple food, resulting in local population suffering from acute hepatitis (Krishnamachari et al. 1975). In 1982, another outbreak of aflatoxicosis occurred in poultry in Andhra Pradesh, India resulting in complete and devastating mortality rate reaching 100% (Choudary and Rao 1982). Since then, a number of outbreaks, as well as, case studies have become prominent to emphasize the importance of taking control measures for eliminating aflatoxins, as mentioned in Table 1.

Table 1 Studies with aflatoxin positive cases in South Asian Countries

Efforts are being made by governmental agencies, such as Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), have developed and implemented analytical methods and quality control procedures to monitor mycotoxin levels in a range of food matrices and assess risks to human health over the last two decades (Chatterjee et al. 2023).

Mycotoxin contamination in agricultural products also continues to be a problem for Pakistan to export its commodities. The location of Pakistan, is such that it gives mycotoxins a favourable hot and humid environment to proliferate on crops (Majeed et al. 2013). AFM1 poses a serious threat to the dairy industry, as it is present in milk and dairy products throughout the world. It is common in developing countries, like India, Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan and others, to have frequent occurrence of aflatoxins in food commodities above safe limits (Sharma et al. 2020; Sumon et al. 2021; Fallah et al. 2011; Iqbal et al. 2013a, b).

Currently, there are no regulations of AFM1 in milk and milk products in Pakistan. The concept of “aflatoxins” remains largely unfamiliar to almost 95% of the farmers in Pakistan (Yunus et al. 2022). In 2010, a study revealed 81% of AFM1 detection in raw milk collected from Lahore, the second most populous city of Pakistan, which depicts an alarming condition of aflatoxin exposure in the country (Muhammad et al. 2010).

Aflatoxin contamination of spices has also been detected in samples from various countries such as, Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran, India, Turkey, Spain etc. (Reddy et al. 2001; Aydin et al. 2007; Paterson 2007; Santos et al. 2010; Iqbal et al. 2010; Jalili et al. 2012). Pakistan is also the sixth largest exporter of red chilies, contributing to 1.5% of the share in total gross domestic product (GDP), yet aflatoxin contaminations at high levels are reported in red chilies grown in Pakistan (Hussain and Abid 2011). Controlling aflatoxin contamination may enhance chili export to even a better level. According to a study, some chili samples had aflatoxin contamination eight times more than the permissible limits set by the European Union (Iqbal et al. 2011). Although new improves methods are being introduced in cultivation and production but farmers in Asia use traditional methods for storage of crops that elevate the risks of aflatoxin contamination in crops. Due to high aflatoxin contamination affecting crops in Pakistan and very few testing laboratories, the local community is exposed to carcinogenic risk. In a study, branded and non-branded corn samples were tested, where AFB1, AFB2 and AFG1 were found to be several times higher than the prescribed limits by EU (Hussain et al. 2020).

Stunted growth is highly prevalent in Nepal, and one of the suspected causes is aflatoxin exposure (Nepali et al. 2019). A trial was conducted in Nepal to confirm the co-relation between chronic exposure of aflatoxin content with body growth. The four-year study confirmed that long term low exposure to pregnant mothers and infants caused impaired long-bone development in children, increasing the chance of stunted growth (Andrews et al. 2021).

In Sri Lanka, almost 30% of the imported coconut oil samples were found to be contaminated with aflatoxins, which is alarming for the industry (Karunarathna 2019). The suspected cause of this contamination was poor agricultural practices by the farmers and inadequater testing facilities. Regulations need to be implemented locally to meet the international requirements to export agricultural commodities and improving revenue generated from trade and for provision of healthy, contamination free commodities to local population (Yogendrarajah et al. 2014).

Corn is a major staple food in Sri Lanka, which is prone to AFB1 contamination. A study was conducted in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, to determine the aflatoxin contents in corn and corn-growing soils. It showed the aflatoxin content in corn increased with high aflatoxin content of soil used for corn cultivation. The study showed aflatoxin content to be higher in the soil in which the corn was grown, rather than the corn kernels themselves. By implementing control measures to reduce aflatoxin content in the soil, the presence of aflatoxins to the maize kernels can be effectively controlled. This in turn will lead to a reduced mycotoxin exposure to the local population (Jayaratne 2020). Table 1 illustrates several studies showing occurrence of aflatoxins in various commodities in South Asian countries.

East Asia

In China, aflatoxin contamination in rice was reported about 50% (Ali 2019). A research on peanut butter and sesame paste showed AFB1 presence above EU permissible limits. These results were positive for 37% of peanut butter samples and 32% of sesame paste (Li et al. 2009).

Various studies in Japan concluded that the presence of aflatoxins in various commodities is within the permissible safe limits. A survey illustrated that the total dietary intake of common Korean man exceeded the safe limits, and rice stands to be the major culprit for the bearing high aflatoxin content (Park et al. 2004).

To assess the safe consumption of food items, a research was conducted to evaluate aflatoxin content in peanuts and peanut products available in Taiwan. These commodities were imported from China, Indonesia, Thailand, United States and Philippines, which exceeded the safe limits set up by regulatory authorities (Lien et al. 2019).

Herbal drugs from various regions of South Korea were tested for AFB1 presence, resulting 59% positive cases above safe levels (Shim et al. 2012).

Table 2 presents the occurrence of aflatoxins in food samples across East Asia.

Table 2 Studies with aflatoxin occurrences in food and feed samples in East Asia

South East Asia

In 1991, the total social cost per year due to aflatoxin contamination of maize in Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines was estimated to be around 319 million $AUS (Balendres et al. 2019). In 2009, a burden of US$ 6.9 million per year has been estimated to exist (Lubulwa et al. 2015). These studies available might be outdated, potentially depicting lower levels of aflatoxins in the past and it is plausible that levels have potentially increased since then.

Thailand was one of the top exporting maize country in 1980’s but its export potential has reduced due to a number of reasons; one of which is aflatoxin contamination, especially during rainy years (Ekasingh et al. 2001).

In 2020, a study was conducted in Malaysia to determine aflatoxin content in corn. The results showed that 45% of the samples contained aflatoxins, in which the highest prevalence was in the region Kampong Raja (Rahim Khan et al. 2020).

In a study conducted in Indonesia, 30.6% of broiler feed samples used at small-scale farms had aflatoxin content more than the allowed limit set by standard setting bodies (Thaha et al. 2021).

Middle East

Significant loss in Yemen’s poultry industry have been reported due to aflatoxin contaminated feed. Aflatoxin contamination in post-harvest crops is already high, which further increases in storage conditions (Algabr et al. 2018).

The content of aflatoxin does not denature on boiling, pasteurizing or treating with Ultra-high Temperature (UHT) (Prandini et al. 2009). Iranian milk products were tested in 2011 for AFM1 content, which exceeded the standards set by the Institute of Standards & Industrial Research of Iran (ISIRI) and EU (Fallah et al. 2011).

AFM1 content is only found in milk and milk products and are not found in animal’s feed source. It can enter the animal’s body through animal feed which contains AFB1 and are then converted to AFM1 in the animal’s body and are later released in milk and urine produced (Veldman et al. 1992). A study in Qatar showed incidence of AFM1 in dairy products, when tested for confirmation of aflatoxin contents. The samples of milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter and laban showed 85%, 76%, 85%, 67% and 76% aflatoxin content respectively, although the content of AFB1 did not exceed the safe limits (Hassan et al. 2018).

A study was conducted on yoghurt samples obtained from five different countries of Asia to determine aflatoxin contents. About 31.25% of the samples from Turkey and 32.35% Lebanon contained AFM1 exceeding the safety standards set by the EU (Mohammadi et al. 2021).

Impact on socio-economics of Countries

Aflatoxins pose a global threat, yet the major impacts in the developing countries, specifically due to their geographic location that provides favourable factors for aflatoxins to proliferate and also due to poor regulatory implementations. The highest incidence of aflatoxins has been detected in the products of Sub Saharan African countries, like Kenya, Gambia, Tanzania etc. and Asian countries like Pakistan, India, China, Thailand, Vietnam etc. which eventually increases the risk of outbreaks and incidence of hepatocellular carcinomas in the local population (Liu and Wu 2010).

In developing countries of Africa and Asia, more than 5 billion human population is potentially exposed to contaminated products with aflatoxin contents more than the permissible limit due to poor safety checks and regulations (Williams et al. 2004). Due to absence of proper testing of aflatoxin levels, aflatoxin contaminated commodities enter into the food and feed supply chains increasing the input costs, that either get rejected by international markets or are consumed by the local population, posing a silent threat (Bhat et al. 2010; Chang et al. 2002).

Due to health problems caused by aflatoxins, the developed nations have imposed rigorous regulations for the controlled movement of food commodities from other countries, as well as their own local produce (Benkerroum 2020).

The biggest constraint arises at the regulatory levels between developed and developing nations. The developed countries have rigorous rules and regulations to protect their human and animal populations from aflatoxin exposure through food and feed commodities checkingscreening local and imported products. However, developing countries that are producing a number of commodities either fail to make proper regulations or implement them. This situation causes problems to both, as the exporting country fails to generate their agricultural revenue and the importing country fails to meet their local demands due to unavailability of aflatoxin safe food (Okoth et al. 2018; Gilbert et al. 2018; Van Egmond and Jonker 2004). This problem does not only affect the financial revenues of farmers but also the operators, processors and exporters of the region (Williams 2008; Wu 2015).

Regulatory authorities

Developed countries have rigorous regulations for the control of aflatoxins and their implementation will not only ensure safety of human population and animal population of the nation but will also improve economy (Cheli et al. 2014; Matumba et al. 2017a, b; Chilaka et al. 2022) (Tables 3, 4). Many Asian countries have developed regulatory bodies that check and maintain aflatoxin levels within the countries, as represented in Fig. 3.

Table 3 Studies with aflatoxin occurrences in food and feed samples in South East Asia
Table 4 Studies with aflatoxin occurrences in food and feed samples in middle east
Fig. 3
figure 3

List of regulatory authorities in various Asian countries

The EU, FDA (Food and Drug Authority), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) have set safety limits of aflatoxin content in food and feed stuffs as indicated in Table 5. These safety limits are also applied onimported goods from producing countries (Van Egmond and Jonker 2004; FDA 2021).

Table 5 Maximum levels of aflatoxin contents safe for human use set by EU and FDA (Van Egmond and Jonker 2004; Robens and Cardwell, 2003)

Factors effecting aflatoxin production

Aflatoxin contamination greatly depends upon the geographical distribution due to differences in climatic conditions and the preference of food commodities by different ethnic groups and nations (Lakshman et al. 2022).

Fungal growth significantly depend on biotic and abiotic, which include temperature, humidity, pH, damage by pests, drought etc. (Miraglia et al. 2009; Prandini et al. 2009). The world is also facing another serious issue of global warming, which has resulted as increase in temperature and humidity content of the atmosphere of Earth. These conditions provide favourable conditions for Aspergillus fungi to proliferate and consequently produce aflatoxins (Adhikari et al. 2020; Khodaei et al. 2021).

The species A. flavus is quite resilient to climatic conditions due to its evolved mechanisms survive and adapt to changing climatic conditions. (Nesci et al. 2004; Medina 2014).

Aflatoxins can also contaminate during post-harvest if the storage conditions are not adequate (Payne 1992). It was found out that aflatoxin prevalence in Pakistan is higher in winters, followed by spring, autumn and lower in summers (Ismail et al. 2016). Climate change in Europe has led to an increase of almost 2 °C temperature allowing proliferation of Aspergillus and contamination of aflatoxins in the region (Battilani et al. 2016). The projected climatic change favors the growth of toxin producing Aspergillus in cereals and grains with in over the next 30 years posing a significant threat to food security in the region (Moretti et al. 2019).

Management of aflatoxins

Aflatoxins can contaminate the crops both before and after harvest. However, some conditions provide pre-disposing factors for Aspergillus growth; like dry environmental conditions at crop maturity onset, high moisture content of grains, insufficient drying of commodities and inadequate storage facilities (Stepman 2018). If the rice kernels are not completely dried to a moisture level of less than 14%, then they are more prone to aflatoxin contamination. The contamination also damages the rice grains externally by discoloring the grains and lowering the quality (Oyebamiji et al. 2021).

In both field and storage conditions, groundnuts and beans are highly susceptible to aflatoxin contamination, which are of common use. Further, aflatoxins have also been detected in poultry eggs and cow’s milk in Cameroon (Tchana et al. 2010).

In Asia, crops are widely exposed to contaminants at various stages, from farm to fork level due to inadequate understanding and awareness of health concerns associated with the contaminants. The contamination begins at harvest, continues at storage, adds on at production level and finally complements in distribution level. The most economic and common method of drying in Asia is sun-drying, which requires the grains to be spread in open air for long periods. However, this method also potentially exposes the grains to aflatoxin contamination (Lakshman et al. 2022).

Control methods

Aflatoxin biodegradation is relatively difficult because of the resistant nature of the xenobiotic poly-heterocyclic toxins that is resilient to common treatments (Brana et al. 2017). The control of aflatoxin production can be regulated, either by preventing the growth of Aspergillus in crops or by decontaminating the affected product (Pleadin et al. 2014; Lavkor and Var 2017; Benkerroum 2020). Prevention and decontamination both can be done at pre-harvest and post-harvest stages of the crops (Kabak et al. 2006; Lavkor and Var 2017). Figure 4 and Table 6 provide a concise overview of the methods that have been devised for the control and mitigation of aflatoxins.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Methods for aflatoxins control in food commodities

Table 6 List of methods used to control aflatoxins

Physical and chemical methods usually have some constraints or adverse effects on the environment; while microbial and enzymatic treatment of aflatoxins provide an eco-friendly and more effective alternatives. Using Flavobacterium aurantiacum can remove AFM1 from milk and milk commodities (Peles et al. 2021). Many methodologies have been devised for the control of aflatoxin contamination, but they are either expensive or harmful for the environment. The current approaches are moving towards a more promising solution that is biocontrol of aflatoxins, which is safe, eco-friendly and less costly.

Similarly, using non-toxigenic strains of A. flavus can be used as biocontrol agents to mitigate the aflatoxin contamination by providing a competitive environment to toxigenic species (Dorner 2009; Azmoun et al. 2022).

Biological treatment

Biological control of aflatoxins is a cost effective and ecofriendly method used for mitigating aflatoxin contamination in food and feed stuffs, also to minimize contamination in the food value chain (Bandyopadhyay et al. 2019). This method uses micro-organisms like bacteria, fungi, algae etc. or the metabolites produced by these micro-organisms, like enzymes (Yin et al. 2008). They either degrade the invasive fungi directly or compete with the other microorganisms for food and space. These methods provide products, that are safe for human and animal consumption by reducing the secondary metabolites.

As biocontrol agents, non-toxigenic strains of A. flavus themselves act as a counter to control the growth of toxigenic Aspergillus species. The non-toxigenic strains of Aspergillus lack the polyketide synthase genes that are needed to produce aflatoxins. These strains have been found to be up to 99.3% effective to control the aflatoxin production in crops, although proper timing of application and dosage must be ensured for optimum results (Khan et al. 2021).

Bioproducts—the new trend

Using non-toxigenic strains of A. flavus reduced the aflatoxin contamination in various crops like maize, cotton and peanut by 67–95%. (Cotty and Bayman 1993; Dorner 2008; Atehnkeng et al. 2014; Mauro et al. 2018).

Aflasafe, an aflatoxin biocontrol product, was used for the first time in maize and is being manufactured by a local supplier for easy availability to local farmers. The product uses sterile sorghum grain, coated with a spore suspension of non-toxigenic strains of A. flavus (Senghor et al. 2020). The coating on the grain of sorghum is made by a polymer and the blue color of the product is due to a food-safe colorant, added to differentiate the product from ordinary sorghum grains (Bandyopadhyay et al. 2016).

Aflasafe-SN01 is the first biocontrol product registered for aflatoxin mitigation in Senegal and Gambia (Senghor et al 2021). The term “Aflasafe” is a trademark belonging to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), who manufactured it for use in Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Gambia and Ghana (Senghor et al 2021). In Africa, the biocontrol product Aflasafe was successfully applied in soil on maize crop, which provided up to 99% efficacy (Kinyungu 2019). The product included non-toxigenic strains of A. flavus that inhibit the growth of toxigenic Aspergillus flavus. Several bio-products, under the tradename “Aflasafe” have been registered in Africa and are now commercially available to farmers. After the success in maize, Aflasafe use has been extended to in other crops, like sorghum, sesame, millet and sunflower (Bandyopadhyay et al. 2019; Agbetiameh et al. 2020; Senghor et al. 2020).

A list of bioproducts, registered and not yet registered have been enlisted in Table 7.

Table 7 List of bioproducts for aflatoxin control

Afla-Guard and AF-36 are two biocontrol products in the United States, comprising non aflatoxic strains of Aspergillus species, which have also been approved by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as food safe in maize, peanut and cotton seed. Afla-Guard possesses a non-toxigenic strain of Aspergillus, NRRL 21882, which was isolated from contaminated peanuts in Georgia (Dorner 2004). Afla-Guard contains strain of Aspergillus that does not have the capacity to produce aflatoxins (Lewis et al. 2019). Similarly, AF-36 contains, NRRL 18543, as a non-aflatoxin producing strain of Aspergillus, that was originally isolated from Arizona in cottonseed (Cotty 1989).

In South Asia, CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International) has taken the initiative to replicate this approach and develop the first biocontrol product in Pakistan named as, AflaPak to manage aflatoxins in maize. In collaboration with Rafhan Maize, National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), AflaPak is being evaluated in several maize growing areas (Ajmal et al. 2022).

One world one health

Humans are intricately linked to the over-all health and well-being of ecosystems. This is due to linkage and inter-dependency of all species on each other, for food, shelter, company etc. Therefore, aflatoxin management needs of a multi-disciplinary approach that covers implementing agricultural practices to reduce aflatoxin proliferation, ensuring proper storage and handling of crops and food products, and monitoring aflatoxin contents in both human food and animal feed. One health approach recognizes the interplay between, human, animal and environmental health, enabling a comprehensive response to aflatoxin contamination and ensuring the well-being of all. The available evidence suggests lack of knowledge regarding the extent of aflatoxin problem, associated health risks and mitigation strategies in developing countries. Contaminated food often becomes a component of diets of impoverished populations of the developing countries. Hence, there is need for an initiative to be taken by the scientists and regulatory bodies all over the world to make the food in the plates of every person in this world free of aflatoxin.


Following are some recommendations to minimize the negative consequences caused by aflatoxins in our food chain:

  • Raising awareness in Asia about the benefits of eco-friendly biocontrol options and encouraging a transition from chemical to biological ones that can contribute to environment conservation and sustainable agricultural practices

  • Developing aflatoxin resistant plant varieties can play an important role to mitigate aflatoxins in crops

  • Collaborating with the governments to provide solutions to farmers facilitating access to resources, technical assistance and incentives to promote the adoption of effective measures against mycotoxins

  • Establishing a globally recognized standard limit for aflatoxins to promote consistent regulations worldwide and help safeguard public health on a global scale

  • Establishing laboratory facilities in developing countries for aflatoxin testing may help early detection, prevention and mitigation of aflatoxin-related risks, ensuring safety of public health

  • Designing and developing more bio-control products specifically targeting aflatoxin producing fungi that may be applicable to a wider range of crops


Aflatoxin contamination in food commodities is a serious threat that needs to be controlled worldwide, particularly in developing countries. The best and efficient method to reduce aflatoxin exposure to consumer is to mitigate aflatoxin proliferation at farm level. This is possible by adopting modern sustainable technologies, with the use of bioproducts being a particularly promising option. Bioproducts using non-toxigenic strains of Aspergillus have been developed and successfully being applied on various crops in different regions of the world. Similar bioproducts need to be developed in Asia for a sustainable solution against mycotoxins. Rigorous standardized regulations with effective pre and post-harvest measures should be implemented to ensure food safety.

Availability of data and materials

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Aflatoxin B1


Aflatoxin B2


Aflatoxin G1


Aflatoxin G2


Gastro-Intestinal Tract


Gross Domestic Product


European Union


Australian Dollar


Ultra High Temperature


Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran


European Commission


Food and Drug Authority


Food and Agriculture Organization


Codex Alimentarius


Sri Lanka Standard Institute


Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority


Philippines National Standards


Environment Protection Agency


Centre of Agriculture and Biosciences International


National Agriculture and Research Centre


United Stated Department of Agriculture


The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture


Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority


Food Safety Services International Group


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We acknowledge CABI to give a chance to support the financial aid to publish this paper


This study was funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the CABI’s project “Regulatory Harmonization in Pakistan for MRLs and Biopesticides”. CABI is an international intergovernmental organization, and we gratefully acknowledge the core financial support from our member countries (and lead agencies) including the United Kingdom (Department for International Development), China (Chinese Ministry of Agriculture), Australia (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research), Canada (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), Netherlands (Directorate-General for International Cooperation), and Switzerland (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation). See for full details.

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Umar, A., Bhatti, H.S. & Honey, S.F. A call for aflatoxin control in Asia. CABI Agric Biosci 4, 27 (2023).

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