Kenyans warned not to eat toxic maize

June 4, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 3 – The government has cautioned Kenyans against consuming maize that is contaminated with aflatoxin and said there is no cure for it.

Director of Public Health Dr Shahnaaz Shariff said on Friday that aflatoxin is a poison that causes death within a short period of time.

“The initial symptoms depend on the level of contamination. If the contamination is high, you develop vomiting, jaundice (change of skin colour to yellow) and death which will occur within 48 hours,” Dr Shariff said.

“If the levels are low then you will have vomiting, jaundice develops later on but death will occur within two weeks if you continue consuming the small quantities because the toxin accumulates in the body,” he stated.

Public Health Minister Beth Mugo called on political leaders and members of the public to cooperate with the government as it carried out maize screening in parts of the country where aflatoxin contamination had been reported.

Mrs Mugo said this was aimed at averting looming risks of aflatoxin to the health of the people.

She said extensive testing conducted by the National Public Health Laboratories, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services, Kenya Bureau of Standards and University of Nairobi showed that three quarters of the maize harvested in Eastern and Coast provinces was contaminated to unacceptable levels of aflatoxin.

“I particularly want to appeal to my colleagues- the Members of Parliament, especially those who come from the affected regions that first and foremost they must protect the lives of the people and must inform the people the danger of eating this maize,” she appealed.

“Cost and prices should really be secondary,” she said in reference to a call by a section of the MPs that the government reviews upwards the buying price of the contaminated maize from Sh1,000 to Sh2,300 to cover the production cost.

Mrs Mugo said a high level steering committee and district committees had been formed to oversee and coordinate the mop up of contaminated maize with the aim of removing it from the food chain and prevent an outbreak of aflatoxin related diseases.

“Consequently, the ministry has issued circulars to the Provincial and District Public Health Officers giving guidelines on rapid testing and withdrawal of contaminated maize at household level,” Mrs Mugo said.

She said another circular had been issued to all maize millers in the country instructing them that it was mandatory to test all maize before milling and the exercise would be supervised by the District Public Health Officers.

“I wish to remind all Kenyans that this is a matter of life and death. It is true that the maize is contaminated,” she said.

The Minister also said it was difficult for a lay man to tell what is good or bad maize and it had to be tested first to verify.

“What we have been told by the experts is that in some of the maize you can tell because the fungus is visible but others you cannot tell because it looks just like clean maize and that’s why we are asking Kenyans not to take chances,” she said.

She said farmers should sell the aflatoxin contaminated maize to the government to destroy.

“We wanted to destroy it through burning but we were told that would cause pollution and pose the same risk to the people. You also cannot bury it because it can get to the water systems so it is hard to destroy but the experts will tell us of the best way to destroy it,” she said.



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