Are the commercial feeds you give your chickens, dairy cows, pigs and even rabbits safe?
This is the question many farmers are asking themselves following the revelations by a new study that 90 per cent of broiler feeds manufactured in Nakuru County have high levels of aflatoxins.
The study by researchers from Egerton University revealed that the broiler feeds contain aflatoxins, whose level is higher than that recommended by regulatory bodies.
The study published in the journal, Livestock Research for Rural Development, 2019, found that most broiler starters contain aflatoxin level of 90 per cent and broiler finisher, 95 per cent.
Dr Meshack Obonyo from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, says that the samples were collected last December from several millers in Nakuru Town.
“Total aflatoxin levels in the field were analysed in the mycotoxins research laboratory in Egerton University, where the samples collected contained aflatoxins ranging from 1.07-41.01 per cent per kilo,” says Dr Obonyo.
The level exceeds that recommended by the World Health Organisation at 20 per cent per kilo in poultry feeds.
Poultry farmers in Nakuru County are worried following the revelations as they called on the government to enforce standards in the industry.
Last week, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) banned three peanut butter brands from the market over high aflatoxin content.
Patrick Kigen, a farmer in Nakuru, calls on Kebs to act on substandard feeds to save farmers and consumers.
“We also need to be educated as farmers and consumers on the danger of aflatoxins and the risks associated with them,” says Kigen.
“It would help if there is training on the correct measure to take and effects of consuming products that have aflatoxins,” adds Maurice Mutai, a farmer in Wanyororo.
AWARENESS ON AFLATOXIN
Prof James Tuitoek from Department of Animal Science, Egerton University, says that to avoid high levels of aflatoxins in broiler feeds, feed manufacturers should test for the chemicals in the raw materials and curb fungal contamination in the feeds at all stages of handling.
“Many feed manufacturers and even farmers believe that any rotten maize is livestock feed. We need to create awareness on the danger of such maize. When our livestock eat the feeds, the aflatoxins end up in the tissues and people will consume the meat, eggs and milk.”
Awareness on aflatoxins, according to Prof Tuitoek, should include input from the regulatory bodies, public health, communication bodies and researchers.
“Once consumers are aware, they will demand for aflatoxin-free products. Proper storage of cereals is highly recommended to prevent aflatoxins,” he adds.
According to Tuitoek, aflatoxins affect all organ systems in livestock and human, especially the liver and kidneys. “They can cause liver cancer and also have the potential to cause birth defects in children. Large doses of aflatoxins lead to acute poisoning that can be life threatening,” he says.
Prof Tuitoek advises that control measures must be taken both at pre and post-harvest when handing grains and related products like animal feeds.
“The most long-term, stable solution to controlling pre-harvest aflatoxin contamination is through enhancing the ability of the crop to resist fungal infection or prevent production of aflatoxins by the invading fungi,” he says.
“Mouldy foods are potentially contaminated with aflatoxins and are possibly harmful when consumed. The moulds grow on the surface and penetrate deep into food.”
Aflatoxins are produced by fungi that accumulate in several crops, including maize, peanuts and some milk products, that arise from improper handling or storage of harvested produce.
In chickens, the long-term effects of aflatoxins include liver damage, impaired productivity, decreased egg production, inferior eggshell quality, inferior carcass quality and increased susceptibility to disease.