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Since the discovery of the aflatoxins in the 1960s, regulations have been established in many countries to protect consumers from the harmful effects of mycotoxins that may contaminate foodstuffs, as well as to ensure fair practices in food trade. Various factors play a role in decision-making processes focused on setting limits for mycotoxins. These include scientific factors to assess risk (such as the availability of toxicological data), food consumption data, knowledge about the level and distribution of mycotoxins in commodities, and analytical methodology. Economic factors, such as commercial and trade interests and food security issues, also have an impact. Weighing the various factors that play a role in the decision-making process to establish mycotoxin tolerances is therefore of crucial importance.

Despite the difficulties, mycotoxin regulations have been established in many countries during the past decades, and newer regulations are still being issued. National regulations have been established for a number of mycotoxins such as the naturally occurring aflatoxins and aflatoxin M1; the trichothecenes deoxynivalenol, diacetoxyscirpenol, T-2 toxin and HT-2 toxin, the fumonisins B1, B2 and B3; agaric acid; the ergot alkaloids; ochratoxin A; patulin, phomopsins; sterigmatocystin and zearalenone.

International inquiries on existing legislation on mycotoxins in foodstuffs and animal feedstuffs have been carried out several times, and details about tolerance levels, legal bases, responsible authorities, and official protocols for sampling and analysis have been published. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has played a major role in providing information on worldwide regulations for mycotoxins in foods and feeds.

The last comprehensive overview on worldwide regulations was published as the FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 64 in 1997. At that time, 77 countries had specific regulations for mycotoxins in different foods and feeds and 13 countries had general provisions, while about 50 countries did not have data available. The number of countries with specific regulations for mycotoxins has increased over the years. This reflects the general concern that governments have about the potential effects of mycotoxins on humans and animal health and their implications for trade.

The present publication updates the information in the FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 64 and describes the situation of worldwide mycotoxin regulations as of December 2003, based on an international inquiry that was carried out in 2002 and 2003.

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