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Canada grain sector on top of quality control

In June, the World Mycotoxin Forum will take place in Winnipeg, Canada. The location is known as a major grain producing area. We talked to Sheryl Tittlemier from the Canadian Grain Commission on how they secure grain quality and how they deal with mycotoxins.

Canada is known for its grain handling and major grain terminals, and many companies can be found in (mainly) the Western states of the country. According to statistics from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (December 2015), the country's production of grains and oilseeds (G&O) is estimated at 77.6 Mt, a 4% increase from 2014 due to higher area seeded and higher yields (Table 1). However, the production of pulses and special crops is estimated at 6.3 Mt, 5% lower than 2014 as lower average yields more-than offset the higher area seeded. In general, abundant world grain supplies are expected to continue to pressure world prices, but the weak Canadian dollar, which is anticipated to remain at a discount of about 25 percent to the US dollar, is expected to provide significant support to prices in Canada since the US dollar generally represents the benchmark for grain prices. Wheat, barley and canola prices for 2015-16 are expected to average slightly higher than 2014-15 but durum, oats, flaxseed and soybean prices are expected to average slightly lower than 2014-15. The Canadian Grain Commission (GCG) is an important party in the Canadian grain sector as it is responsible for establishing and maintaining Canada's grain quality standards. Its programs result in shipments of grain that consistently meet contract specifications for quality, safety and quantity. Research scientist Sheryl Tittlemier explains the tasks and challenges for GCG in more detail.


What are the latest efforts of the CGC regarding microbiological research, visual inspection and grading to prevent infected/contaminated grain into the grain handling system?

"Every year we examine grain from the new harvest to study a number of factors. It's a group effort that includes teams in microbiological research, analytical chemistry, and grain inspectors. For example, for the 2015 harvest we've studied various wheat classes for: Presence of a variety of toxigenic fungal species and associated mycotoxins, fungal pathogens associated with Fusarium Head Blight, mildew damage and other plant diseases affecting end use quality and grain safety and the relationship between the percentage of fusarium-damaged kernels (which is used as a grading factor) and the concentration of the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON). The Grain Research Laboratory investigates microbial factors of grain storage that can cause grain spoilage and contamination with ochratoxin A (OTA). Toxigenic fungi such as Penicillium species are studied in vitro and further characterized for their propensity to form mycotoxins such as OTA".

Do you notice the mycotoxin prevalence in Canadian grain getting better or worse? What are the main factors in Canada that determine the mycotoxin situation in grain? Are there particular grain species more susceptible?

"Our monitoring work shows there is year-to-year variation in the mycotoxin concentrations we observe. We have also seen an increase over the years in some disease symptoms that are associated with the presence of mycotoxins, such as an increase in the percent of ergot infection in wheat. Main factors affecting mycotoxin situation for each year are environmental-precipitation and temperature for Fusarium mycotoxins such as DON, as well as the predominant fungal species and/or chemotype present in a given grain-growing region. There are certain grains that are more susceptible. A good example is the higher susceptibility of rye to ergot (because of its biology, it is physical more open and susceptible to infection during critical periods of plant development). There are also differences in susceptibility to fungal infection within a grain group too.  Varieties of soft wheat often have higher susceptibility to Fusarium infection than hard wheat".

A terminal elevator in Prince Rupert, BC.

How is the grain sampling organised? And how is this different than the grain sampling techniques that you used 10 years ago? And is this different than other countries in the world?

"For our work, there is a variety of different protocols of grain sampling used. It all depends on the activity. For the annual Harvest Sample Program, producers voluntarily supply samples of their recent harvest. They are given a set of basic instructions to follow.  On the other end of the grain handling chain, when we are analyzing samples from grain exports, there is a much more systematic and rigorous sampling protocol followed. This protocol includes specifications for the design and use of automatic samplers, how to combine increments taken, how to divide the composite sample, etc. Then we have specific protocols for how the laboratory sample is ground and sub-sampled within our lab too. For mycotoxin analysis, our big change with respect to grain sampling is that we are using a larger laboratory sample (10 kg), ensuring that it is ground to finer particle sizes, and that the ground sample is split using a rotary sample divider. Research from our lab has shown that some mycotoxins are not distributed evenly amongst the different particle sizes, therefore care must be taken to prevent ground sample from stratifying according to particle size and affecting sub-sampling. Even pouring ground grain from one container to another, or transporting a container of ground grain using a shaky cart can cause stratification to occur. There are variations in sampling and sample processing procedures even amongst organizations and laboratories within the same country. It's a balancing act to reduce the uncertainty of a measurement and manage the time and resources needed for obtaining a larger sample, grinding to smaller particle sizes, analysing a larger sample, etc. which can all contribute to reducing measurement uncertainty."

Have the rules been tightened regarding exporting of Canadian grain? In what way?

"This is a very broad question. I would say that globally, there are more regulations that deal with mycotoxins in grain and other commodities being established. For example, there are maximum levels for DON in cereal-based infant and children's foods, flour, and raw cereal currently being established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Industry standards continue adapting to customer requirements derived from public opinion and consumers. For producers, handlers and processors of grain, this is a customer driven process extending over the short or long term."

Is CGC involved in scientific research programs, and can you give some examples of the studies and results of some recent projects?

"We are involved in many studies. Just to name a few: GCG have done a study on the 'occurrence of ergot and ergot alkaloids in western Canadian wheat and other cereals', published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. We also published a paper in the World Mycotoxin Journal on 'Byproducts of grain cleaning: an opportunity for rapid sampling and screening of wheat for mycotoxins'. We are involved in a pilot study to examine a quicker way to sample grain for mycotoxin analysis using existing grain inspection protocols and we have developed of novel, more rapid detection methods for toxigenic moulds and mycotoxins in stored grain."

World Mycotoxin Forum 2016

The 2016 edition of the World Mycotoxin Forum - officially named WMFmeetsIUPAC - takes place in Winnipeg, Canada from June 6-9. The event combines the 9th Conference of The World Mycotoxin Forum and the XIVth IUPAC International Symposium on Mycotoxins. The aim of the conference is to increase the awareness of human and animal health risks due to mycotoxin contamination. It offers a platform for the food and feed industry, science and regulatory authorities to exchange current knowledge, to promote harmonisation of food and feed safety regulations and control procedures, and to make recommendations for integrated strategies ensuring the safety and security of food and feed supply chains. The World Plant Toxin Forum will also be held during June 6-9. It is the second time that this event is organised, after the first successful edition in Vienna. All About Feed is media partner of WMFmeetsIUPAC. More info: www.wmfmeetsiupac.org.

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