Importance of Natural Resources

Mycotoxins and Climate Change – How Europe contributes to global efforts

A changing climate can
affect food production worldwide. Drought can reduce crop yields. Heavy rain can disrupt food supply chains. Unseasonable frost and hail
can affect fruit production. Plants and animals are more
susceptible to pests and diseases. Warmer and wetter weather can
lead to more moulds in food crops. These can produce unseen
poisonous chemicals called mycotoxins that enter into food. So they have to be monitored,
assessed and controlled to protect consumers. When the moulds contaminate a food
-it can be during production or during storage. If the conditions are right
large amounts of this toxin or poison accumulates in the food. And if large amounts
of the food are consumed, consumers are therefore consuming
large amounts of the toxin. In some cases you can
have acute outbreaks, people die very quickly from eating
highly contaminated commodities. In the past decade, contamination
by a mycotoxin called aflatoxin has spread to Southern Europe
during hot, humid summers, affecting maize crops. Aflatoxin is carcinogenic,
it is genotoxic, and it is effective in reducing
the immune defences of animals and humans. Climate change is really challenging
for people working with mycotoxins because increasing temperature
we have an increase in carbon dioxide and a different distribution of rainfall. It means that we will face changes
in fungal behaviour in the future. As part of Europe’s food safety system, EFSA assesses the potential risks from
mycotoxins in maize and other crops across Europe. Since EFSA was established in 2002, we have developed around
25 risk assessments on mycotoxins. These risk assessments advise
the European Commission and the Member States and by legislation the consumers
and the farm animals are protected. Member State organisations in the EU
can submit data to EFSA on mycotoxins which we would then use in our risk assessments. We also fund various research projects
to gather data or as a result of the risk assessment when we identify
gaps in the results, then we stimulate new research. EFSA funds and supports scientific work
in Member States, including monitoring and data collection, developing databases
and computer tools for analysing data and predicting future mycotoxin levels. We had a project with EFSA to predict
the risk of aflatoxin contamination in maize, wheat and rice in climate change. We have maps for the actual situation and we have also two further maps:
one for the plus 2 degrees centigrade scenario and one for the plus 5 degrees
centigrade scenario. The plus 2 scenario is related with
the highest risk of aflatoxin contamination. In southern Europe we have the risk
to produce maize with a contamination higher than the legal limit in Europe. So, the crop must be managed
to minimise the mycotoxin contaminant. Now when we consider the climate change
we can see already now that some of the mycotoxins, particularly in the southern part of Europe,
are moving to Central Europe. And in the northern part when the weather
is getting a bit too warm for them, they are disappearing.

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