Faculty members combat crop molds in kids’ diets

Malnutrition is responsible for more than two million children’s deaths annually, and too little food is not the only problem. Sometimes even adequate diets – rich in corn and nuts, for instance – aren’t enough to nourish babies and children, when the crops are contaminated before they reach the table.

New studies show that corn and peanuts, common foods in the African diet, often contain harmful mycotoxins produced by molds. When eaten by pregnant women, these toxins may contribute to prematurity and low birth weight, stunting and immune suppression in their babies. The damage continues when young children begin to eat solid foods. Improving how rural farmers grow, harvest and store these crops could dramatically improve health outcomes for some of the world’s most vulnerable children while boosting the safety of the global food supply.

Following a 2008 Academic Venture Fund (AVF) award from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF), faculty fellows Rebecca Stoltzfus, Rebecca Nelson and Dan Brown teamed up to solve this puzzle with additional AVF support.

Stoltzfus has a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and another from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science to determine whether and how mycotoxins compromise the health of mothers and babies. Stoltzfus and doctoral student Laura Smith are working with the Sanitation Hygiene Infant Nutrition Efficacy project, a major field trial in rural Zimbabwe, where maize and ground nuts are dietary staples. They recently completed a survey of more than 1,700 pregnant women and found that nearly all of the women frequently eat commonly contaminated foods – and harvesting and storage practices that encourage mold growth are the norm in these rural households.

Two-thirds of the corn and three-quarters of the ground nuts were harvested early or stored in damp conditions that make dangerous aflatoxins grow. More than 30 percent of pregnant women showed aflatoxin metabolites in their urine, confirming widespread consumption of toxic foods. The researchers are assessing whether these moldy foods cause stillbirths, miscarriages, premature delivery and stunting of infants.

In Eastern Kenya during an outbreak in 2010, Nelson’s group confirmed the presence of mycotoxins, including aflatoxins and equally dangerous fumonisin, in more than a third of samples. In some communities, as much as 60 percent of corn was contaminated, and the problem was most acute with crops from smallholder farms. Findings from the study, supported by the Atkinson Center, were recently published in the journal Phytopathology.

The international research effort involves researchers in East Africa at work on improving the safety of the local diet. Two Kenyan scientists, Samuel Mutiga and Francis Ngure, contributed to Cornell’s aflatoxins research as doctoral students working with Nelson and Stoltzfus. Mutiga, now at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), collaborated with Nelson and plant pathologist Michael Milgroom on an ACSF-funded project that helped start a thriving mycotoxin lab at ILRI’s Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa hub in Nairobi.

With funding from another Gates Foundation grant, Nelson and Stoltzfus are designing a large field trial of a strategy to reduce these toxins in the diets of pregnant women and their babies. During the planning period, they will decide on an African site, as well the strategy for intervention. Plant researcher Nelson and others are developing intervention strategies for small-scale farmers that promise to reduce outbreaks of the crippling mold.

Sheri Englund is science writer and editor at Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

From the Winter’s Tale


The spring comes like morning does,
quietly up from the darkness of Winter’s tale,
across the sheets, into our fields
of the clover and grasses still covered in snow.

We lay down in the dawn, shivering together.
Not from cold,
but reacquainting with that old feeling
of the air on our skin.

Those first few moments are like childhood;
not a fear nor worry in having enough; a kind of trust within
that starts the seeds to turn themselves
and returning songbirds song by song.

The light rises
and breaks the edge of the world,
from pieces into one,
and it all begins again.



Douglass DeCandia is the Food Growing Program Coordinator at the Food Bank for Westchester, which operates on five sites located throughout Westchester County – Leake & Watts Residential Campus, New York School for the Deaf, Sugar Hill Farm at Westchester Land Trust, Westchester County Department of Correction and Woodfield Cottage.

Governor Cuomo Outlines Tax Exemption Proposal for Wine, Beer, Cider and Spirits Industries

Further Tax Exemptions Included in the 2015-16 Executive Budget Aim to Further Industries’ Rapid Growth

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today outlined new tax exemptions proposed in the 2015-16 Executive Budget that will further the rapid growth of the wine, beer, cider and spirits industries. These proposals include tax exemptions at tastings offered by the beer, cider and spirits industries, which are similar to exemptions already enjoyed by the wine industry, as well as the further expansion of tax exemptions for wineries at tasting events.

“New York’s craft beverage industry is creating jobs and driving economic activity in communities across the state – and this year’s Budget is designed to keep that momentum going well into the future,” Governor Cuomo said. “By expanding tax exemptions for wine, beer, spirits and cider industries, we’re helping local producers thrive and creating an environment that encourages their success. This proposal is a smart investment in some of our most rapidly growing small businesses, and I encourage New Yorkers to try one of the Empire State’s many world-class craft beverages today.”

Current law provides an exemption on the “Use Tax” for wine tastings, which applies to products that are produced for sale but end up being used for promotional and marketing purposes. The proposal in the 2015-16 Executive Budget expands this exemption to include tastings provided by the beer, cider and spirits industries, which will allow hundreds more craft beverage producers to better market their products and reinvest in their businesses.

The Governor’s Budget also proposes to expand the “Use Tax” exemption for all craft beverage producers by including an exemption for off-premises tastings. Current law only provides a “Use Tax” exemption for wine tastings on a producer’s premises, and even then this applies to only wines furnished at such tastings. Bottles, corks, caps and labels do not have such exemptions. The proposal outlined today in the Governor’s Executive Budget not only exempts bottles, corks, caps and labels from this tax, but also allows for a “Use Tax” exemption covering all New York craft beverage producers both on and off their premises.

Jim Trezise, President of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, said, “In 2012, the New York grape and wine industry generated $4.8 billion for New York State’s economy. We greatly appreciate Governor Cuomo’s initiative to exempt from tax bottles, corks, caps and labels at tastings. In the past four years, Governor Cuomo has created the best business climate for wine in New York State’s history, which allows our industry to grow faster and contribute even more to the state’s economy.”

Paul Leone, Executive Director of the New York State Brewers Association, said, “This proposal further demonstrates that Governor Cuomo’s administration is doing everything it can to foster and develop the growth of the craft beer industry in New York State. Removing the tasting tax would further allow brewers to put more money back into their businesses so they can continue to grow here and create more jobs.”

Nicole Austin, President of the New York State Distillers Guild, said, “New York spirits producers rely on tastings to introduce their products to consumers and build awareness of the high quality and diversity of our craft spirits. Reducing the cost and paperwork associated with these tastings will allow distillers to focus on championing their product and growing their business. The New York State Distillers Guild supports this important step towards simplifying and streamlining distillery operations.”

Alejandro del Peral, cider maker and proprietor, Nine Pin Ciderworks, the State’s first licensed farm cidery, said, “By allowing Use Tax exemptions to be implemented for cideries, breweries, and distillers that are already enjoyed by wineries, this legislation is another welcome step in growing the state’s farm cider industry. Nine Pin applauds Governor Cuomo for making this a priority this year.”

Statistics on the growth of New York’s craft beverage industry can be found here.

In Ripples on the Snow


Outside it’s quiet and it is still,
but the winds of last night remain
in ripples on the snow.

Magic tugs on a parent eyes
while their kids go about playing
like it’s always there.

It is safer
to stay inside, in away
from any chance to slip and fall upon the ice.

It is safer to hide the fear away within oneself,
and to curse the frozen world outside
without taking the chance to feel it first.

But out there, we find
in the cold and wind, and ice and snow
that there is much more to life than living safely and afraid.

Our courage is out among those rippled patterns;
a courage to face the ideas we have of what is real,
of how to feel and how to live.

To step outside of what we know
is to invite in
the beauty of what we don’t.



Douglass DeCandia is the Food Growing Program Coordinator at the Food Bank for Westchester, which operates on five sites located throughout Westchester County – Leake & Watts Residential Campus, New York School for the Deaf, Sugar Hill Farm at Westchester Land Trust, Westchester County Department of Correction and Woodfield Cottage.