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Mycotoxins are naturally-occurring toxic metabolites produced by fungi (moulds). It is estimated that about a quarter of the world’s food crops, including many staple foods, are affected by mycotoxin-producing fungi. In the supply chain, mould growth can happen in the pre-harvest phase, and during transport and storage due to inadequate drying.

Many mycotoxins can remain intact and be carried over into processed foods. The risk to human health depends on toxicity, contamination level and the amount of contaminated food that is consumed. In addition to human health risks, feeding livestock contaminated grain has been shown to decrease animal productivity, with an according reduction in the food supply.

Modern agricultural practices and the presence of a legislative framework have greatly reduced mycotoxin exposure in developed countries. However, in the developing world, where humid climates and crop storage conditions are often favourable for fungal growth and mycotoxin production, a large proportion of the population farm on a subsistence level, or use local, unregulated markets.

A lack of awareness about health risks related to mycotoxins and effective strategies to manage contamination has led to health problems in developing agricultural communities. Recent research has also revealed how a particular mycotoxin is impacting efforts to provide childhood nutrition in situations of poverty.