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1. Introduction

In today’s changing world, safety and security have generally remained basic human needs. Ensuring the safety of food has been a major focus of international and national action over the last years. Both microbiological and chemical hazards are of concern. Among chemical hazards, the contamination of food and feed by mycotoxins (toxic metabolites of fungi), fishery products by phycotoxins (toxins produced by algae) and edible plant species by their plant toxins have been recently characterized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as significant sources of food-borne illnesses (WHO, 2002a). Of these three categories of natural toxins, most attention has been directed to mycotoxins until now. In several parts of the world, mycotoxins currently represent a major food safety issue.

The knowledge that mycotoxins can have serious effects on humans and animals has led many countries to establish regulations on mycotoxins in food and feed in the last decades to safeguard the health of humans, as well as the economical interests of producers and traders. Setting mycotoxin regulations is a complex activity, which involves many factors and interested parties. The first limits for mycotoxins were set in the late 1960s for the aflatoxins. By the end of 2003, approximately 100 countries had developed specific limits for mycotoxins in foodstuffs and feedstuffs, and the number continues to grow.

A number of publications focusing on limits and regulations for mycotoxins exist (Krogh, 1977; Schuller et al., 1983; Stoloff et al., 1991; Gilbert, 1991; Resnik et al., 1991; Van Egmond, 1991; Van Egmond and Dekker, 1995; Boutrif and Canet, 1998; Rosner, 1998; Van Egmond, 1999). The most recent comprehensive review on mycotoxins was published by FAO in 1997 based on an international inquiry carried out in 1994 and 1995. Since the publication of this Food and Nutrition Paper, many new limits and regulations for mycotoxins have come into force or are under development, creating a need for an update of this document. A relevant international inquiry was carried out in 2002 and 2003, yielding much detailed information. This information was processed and analysed during 2003 to produce this document, which is based on information and amendments received by 31 December 2003.

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