By Dr. Suzanne Osborne
Climate change is a looming threat poised to drastically impact food safety. Elevated temperatures and rainfall fluctuations will increase fungal growth in crop fields, which has caused major food safety and security concerns. Several species of toxic fungi can produce mycotoxins. The consumption of mycotoxins through contaminated food can cause both acute (abdominal pain, vomiting) and chronic (kidney damage, liver cancer, death) health problems. It is estimated that 4.5 billion people are chronically exposed to mycotoxins with billions of dollars in economic loss.
Historically, mycotoxin contamination has been a major problem in tropical and sub-tropical regions where the climate favours fungal growth. The geographic distribution of toxigenic fungi will likely shift with changing climate conditions. In the past 15 years, Aflatoxin has emerged as a food safety risk in northern Italy and Eastern Europe; regions where it was previously uncommon. Environmental changes may also alter the quantity and types of mycotoxins produced.